Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ninth Circuit says hosts are usually not responsible for guests' use of their Internet connections unless they "know"; Trump's threat to regulate search engines and social media

In early 2017, when I was considering hosting (asylum seekers) I looked into the liability questions if a host supplying an Internet connection could liable, particularly on a guest account, for a guest’s copyright infringement in an illegal download.

Apparently the Ninth Circuit thinks, no, and this is reassuring.  That is, if the Internet connection has lawful uses and the host has no reason to suspect illegal downloads will happen.

EFF tweeted the result today, here in a case Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzalez, where the defendant offered an adult foster care home in Oregon. The text of the court opinion is here

The case would seem to have application, perhaps, with Airbnb rentals.

Of course, this is only one circuit.  The opinion is not technically binding in other circuits, but would probably provide good psychological cover.

Holding hosts responsible for guest behavior would hamper goodwill and charity in many situations, including helping some immigrants.  The last paragraph of Part II of the Opinion outlines the court’s reasoning.  Were this to go to the Supreme Court (after a future conflicting opinion in another circuit) there could be questions as to whether is moral reasoning, or whether there is something more literal in tort law, contracts, or previous opinions that serves as some sort of guide (Gorsuch-type thinking).
It looks like defendants had to pay attorney’s fees.

On another matter there is a question about Donald Trump’s silly threat to “regulate” Google over unfavorable results from search engines emphasizing “fake news”.  Of course, this is rubbish.  Google’s axioms for search engine placement have long been changeable and not quite transparent. But generally Google today will favor mainstream publications as sources of material when possible, and more “mainstream” publications are center to liberal than conservative; and furthermore Trump’s brand of conservatism really is, numerically speaking, a small portion of the material.  Google does not consider political ideology in ranking results, but what you get is a statistical expectation.

When I first started writing on the web under Web 1.0 in the late 90s, I ranked high in search engines because I didn’t have as much competition, and because my sites were simple (plain html, without databases) to index, according to the technology of the time. Of course, my material doesn’t rank as well now as it once did, but I am also not as dependent just on Google searches to be found.
Trump’s statements are a little alarming for another reason.  Back in December 2015, in pre-primary debate, Trump threatened to “shut down the Internet” if necessary for national security.  Consider that remark now.  Also consider Trump’s own use of Twitter.  The Dec. 8 2015 posting here reports that threat in terms of cutting down recruiting of potential terrorists. Trump, at the time, had little experience in using personal computers and didn’t trust them.

Update: Aug 30

Paula Bolyard writes in the Washington Post (paywall, p. A15 Aug. 30) "Trump cited my Google study but I oppose regulation".  She does criticize the social media company is in some cases.  Why did YouTube restrict access to some Prager U videos on some troublesome questions? (story).  She recommends readers take the initiative to visit sites on their own, and donate, subscribe, or enable ads for these sites to enable their writers to make a living so these sites can stay up.  OK, some independent bloggers (myself) don't need the income to stay up, but they may need to be allowed to stay up in the current political climate if self-funded (which is ironic). 

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