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cyberspace. At least one tech-savvy Savage imitator has already
offered his mercenary services online.11 In fact, the Soldier of
Fortune scenario could occur almost identically on the Internet
today, but with one important difference: the murder victim’s
family would probably recover nothing from the website. As long
as the website did not help create the ad, it would be completely
protected from liability by the Communications Decency Act
The CDA is an unyielding federal statute that protects websites
from liability for anything third parties create or post online.13 It
contains one of the most powerful legal immunities available—a
complete protection for any content placed on a website by a third
party, regardless of the website’s awareness of the content.14 The
CDA is a formidable legal hurdle to plaintiffs who have suffered
injury via the Internet. Victims of online housing discrimination,15
cruel gossip,16 and horrendously defamatory Internet profiles17 are
all equally unable to sue the websites that host the offending
However, there are many who question the far reach of the
CDA’s protections. These extreme scenarios seem to spout
injustice; but not all is as it seems. The immunity provided by the
statute’s modest four sentences has inspired volumes of
11. In 2008, the disgruntled girlfriend of an Irish millionaire was sentenced
to six years in prison after arranging for the “accidental death” of her lover and
his two sons. Although she stumbled upon a willing assassin through a “Hitmen
for Hire” website, the plot was foiled. Henry McDonald, ‘Caring, Loving and a
Decent Lady’—Millionaire Pleads for Woman who Sent Hitman to Kill Him,
THE GUARDIAN (U.K.), Nov. 4, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/
12. Or so the overwhelming majority of courts have suggested. See, e.g.,
Fair Hous. Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, 521 F.3d
1157, 1166 (9th Cir. 2008) (granting immunity if a website “does not create or
develop the information . . . .”) (quotations and brackets omitted).
13. 47 U.S.C. § 230 (2006).
14. See 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) (2006).
15. See Chi. Lawyers’ Comm. for Civil Rights Under the Law, Inc. v.
Craigslist, Inc., 519 F.3d 666 (7th Cir. 2008) (granting classified ad website
immunity from liability for discriminatory comments of its users who were
seeking roommates with certain sexual, racial, or religious qualities).
16. See Sunny Hostin, Online Campus Gossips Won’t Show Their Faces,
CNN.COM (Mar. 17, 2008), http://articles.cnn.com/2008-03-17/justice/sunny.
juicy_1_web-site-posts-page-six?_s=PM:CRIME (discussing the inability of
victims to recover against gossip websites that allow anyone to anonymously
post rumors about anyone else).
17. See, e.g., Zeran v. AOL, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997) (granting
website immunity for a fake profile that was opened on the website under
someone else’s identity to mock the Oklaho ma City bombing).