Common carrier and message bases

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Nov 18, 1991, 11:03:25 PM11/18/91

I am working on a column about free speech on StarText, an electronic
newspaper offered by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. They recently stopped
offering a "letters to the editor" style feature, and part of the reason
was the fear of liability for the messages that people posted on it. I
would like to know if the EFF has any information on this and related
"common carrier" issues, and I would love to be able to offer StarText a
better perspective of the legality of offering subscriber comments online.

Mike Godwin

Nov 19, 1991, 10:14:42 AM11/19/91

I'm not sure why the Startlegram is worried about this. Don't they
publish letters to the editor in their print edition? Presumably those
letters are reviewed for defamatory or otherwise legally troubling
content, of course.

If the problem with the "letters to the editor" feature of their online
services is that they don't (or can't) review everything before it is
posted, then there is less of a liability problem. In that case, the Star-
Telegram is acting more like a bookstore owner or similar information
distributor, and the law tends not to hold such vendors liable for the content
of the information they distribute. It is this reasoning that led to a summary
judgment for CompuServe in the recent libel suit called Cubby Inc. v.

I'd be happy to talk to StarText managers about this, by the way.


Mike Godwin, |"... my work consists of two parts: the one presented | here plus all that I have *not* written. And it is
(617) 864-0665 | precisely this second part which is the important one."
EFF, Cambridge | --Wittgenstein, writing about the TRACTATUS

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