Website operators who allow the posting of user-generated content on their sites enjoy broad immunity from legal liability. This includes immunity from copyright violations if the site owner registers with the Copyright Office, does not encourage the copyright violations and takes down infringing content upon receiving notice from a copyright owner (see our post here for more information). There is also broad immunity from liability for other legal violations that may occur within user-generated content. In a recent case, involving the website Roommates.com, the US Court of Appeals determined that the immunity is broad, but not unlimited if the site is set up so as to elicit the improper conduct. A memo from attorneys in various Davis Wright Tremaine offices, which can be found here, provides details of the Roommates.com case and its implications.
In the case, suit was filed against the company, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, as the site had pull-down menus which allowed users to identify their sex, sexual orientation, and whether or not they had children. Including any of this information in a housing advertisement can lead to liability under the law. The Court found that, if this information had been volunteered by users acting on their own, the site owner would have no liability. But because the site had the drop-down menus that prompted the answers that were prohibited under the law, liability was found.