Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act provides broad immunity for providers of interactive computer services – such as Web hosts. According to the statute, its purpose is “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”

It’s interesting, however, that the statute never actually uses the words “immune” or “immunity.” But what the statute does say, however, is that the service provider is not considered the publisher of content posted by third parties. It also says that no provider is liable for claims arising from its decision to restrict access to content it deems objectionable. In other words, the provider doesn’t lose the statute’s protection if it decides to remove content.

Here is a link to a case recently decided by the Federal District Court for the District of Nevada. It shows the statute’s reach. In short, the court found that Match.com was protected from liability by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for claims arising from its alleged negligence in allowing a user to be attacked by a person she met on the Match.com service.

The plaintiff contended that Match.com didn’t adequately screen users, or adequately warn users about the potential dangers of hooking up with complete strangers. But despite the plaintiff’s efforts to pin the blame on the deep pocketed dating service, the court found that the plaintiff’s damages ultimately arose from the profile posted by her attacker. And that is third party content, which Section 230 explicitly addresses. It dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

Occasionally a law intended to protect one interest – in this case the “vibrant free market” of the Internet – can have harsh consequences. But the court got this one right, harsh or not.