Telecommunications law has a provision that has shielded countless websites from lawsuits. The provision holds sites responsible only for the content they create, not material posted by their users — a crucial safeguard that has enabled companies to build Internet platforms for the public to publish creative works, sell products, offer services and share photos of the most excellent breakfast they’re having.
It’s a good principle. Nevertheless, that shield has been under steady attack from people looking for deeper pockets to tap, and to make websites pay for their users’ misdeeds. One recent example comes from six Angelenos who say they were evicted from a North Formosa Street apartment building ostensibly because their units were being taken off the market, when in fact they were being offered for more lucrative short-term rentals on Airbnb. If that is indeed true, the landlord violated city ordinances and state law. But not content to seek damages just from the building owner and manager, the six (aided by the Eviction Defense Network advocacy group) also sued Airbnb, accusing it of forming a joint venture with their landlord to violate city rental codes and state unfair business practices law.