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Online User Account Termination and 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(2)

15 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2011 Last revised: 11 Mar 2014

Eric Goldman

Santa Clara University - School of Law

Date Written: September 23, 2011

Abstract

An online provider’s termination of a user’s online account can be a major-and potentially even life-changing-event for the user. Account termination exiles the user from a virtual place the user wanted to be; termination disrupts any social network relationship ties in that venue, and prevents the user from sending or receiving messages there; and the user loses any virtual assets in the account, which could be anything from archived emails to accumulated game assets. The effects of account termination are especially acute in virtual worlds, where dedicated users may be spending a majority of their waking hours or have aggregated substantial in-game wealth. However, the problem arises in all online environments (including email, social networking and web hosting) where account termination disrupts investments made by users.

Because of the potentially significant consequences from online user account termination, user-rights advocates, especially in the virtual world context, have sought legal restrictions on online providers’ discretion to terminate users. However, these efforts are largely misdirected because of 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(2) (“Section 230(c)(2)”), a federal statutory immunity. This essay, written in conjunction with an April 2011 symposium at UC Irvine entitled "Governing the Magic Circle: Regulation of Virtual Worlds," explains Section 230(c)(2)’s role in immunizing online providers’ decisions to terminate user accounts. It also explains why this immunity is sound policy.

Keywords: virtual world, communications decency act, 47 usc 230, user agreement, tos, eula, terms of service, end user license agreement, account termination, cda, mmorpg, virtual assets, virtual property, web hosting

JEL Classification: K12, K11, K2, D18, L51, L86

Suggested Citation

Goldman, Eric, Online User Account Termination and 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(2) (September 23, 2011). UC Irvine Law Review, Vol. 2, 2012; Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1934310

Eric Goldman (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States
408-554-4369 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.ericgoldman.org

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