Traditional copyright law makes a distinction between a “publisher” of information, and the “distributor” of the information. As the internet grew, neither category seemed to clearly fit companies involved in the internet infrastructure. To help alleviate this problem, Congress determined that in certain circumstances, internet infrastructure providers should be considered to be “distributors” of information. Congress codified this determination in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 – the “CDA.”
Understanding how this determination is made is crucial to on-line companies who seek better control over legal liability. Congress has made a distinction between an “interactive computer service,” which is similar to a distributor, and an “information content provider,” which is similar to a publisher. Internet businesses who do not actually create content should generally seek to structure their businesses so that they fall within the category of an “interactive computer service.”
Under the CDA companies who fall within the definition of an “interactive computer service” are not treated as a publisher of information. For purposes of legal liability, this may help limit your liability for the actions of your customers who are accused of defamation, libel and some intellectual property infringement. The resources to the right should help you further understand the concept of conduit liability.