Doe v. GTE Corp., 347 F.3d 655 (7th Cir. 2003) (ful-text).
Factual Background Edit
Verizon subsidiaries GTE and Genuity are web hosting companies. They sell server space and Internet connections to others who actually create the websites that GTE and Genuity “host.” Most of GTE and Genuity’s customers use their websites for legitimate purposes. But a few did not.
Among the few who did not were websites with names like “youngstuds.com.” They used their websites to sell videos of college athletes that were taken by cameras hidden in locker rooms and shower rooms, including those used by football players at Illinois State and wrestlers at Northwestern.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
When the athletes learned of the tapes, they sued the companies that sold them. The video sellers defaulted, and a judgment of more than $500 million was entered against them. However, “there is little prospect of collection” from the video sellers, according to Court of Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook. The District Court dismissed their claims against GTE and Genuity, on the grounds that they are exempt from liability under the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
The athletes appealed, “in order to continue their pursuit of the deep pockets,” Judge Easterbrook commented. But their appeal was not successful. Judge Easterbrook agreed that GTE and Genuity are protected from liability by the Communications Decency Act, because it provides that web hosting companies shall not be treated as the publisher of the information of another content provider.
Judge Easterbrook rejected the athletes’ argument that GTE and Genuity assisted their customers in selling the tapes. And he ruled that even if the Communications Decency Act would have permitted the athletes to recover against GTE and Genuity for violations of state law, “None . . . of the states where their colleges and universities were located requires suppliers of web hosting services to investigate their clients’ activities and cut off those who are selling hurtful materials. . . .”