Malwarebytes Conclusion Shows Section 230's Best Feature: Killing Dumb Cases Before They Waste Everyone's Time And Money
from the 230's-procedural-benefits dept
A few years ago, Professor Eric Goldman wrote an important paper, explaining how Section 230 is better than the 1st Amendment. The key part of the argument is that if you treat Section 230 as a rule of civil procedure that kicks out frivolous and wasteful cases quickly, you realize how important it is.
Last month, a federal district court in California dismissed Enigma Software’s high profile lawsuit against Malwarebytes. You may have heard about this case. We’ve been covering it for years, and it even got some (dubious) attention at the Supreme Court, regarding Section 230. Enigma didn’t like that Malwarebytes (and others) found Enigma’s “SpyHunter” software to be sketchy itself and started suing. Malwarebytes initially won on Section 230 grounds, pointing out that its opinions on what is and what is not spyware is a moderation choice — in this case protected by Section 230’s rarely used (c)(2)’s immunity for content that the provider deems “otherwise objectionable.”
Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit reversed that ruling with a very weird opinion that seemed to contradict its own previous precedent. In that ruling, the 9th Circuit carved a new hole in (c)(2) arguing that you could lose 230 protections if there was an argument that the decision to block content (or call something spyware) was done “for anticompetitive reasons.” From the ruling:
We hold that the phrase “otherwise objectionable” does not include software that the provider finds objectionable for anticompetitive reasons.
Either way, that sent the case all the way back to the district court… where it was dismissed anyway because calling something spyware is protected opinion.
Like in Asurvio LP, Enigma has not pleaded that Malwarebytes’ alleged labels are verifiably false rather than just subjective opinions. Enigma’s allegations that users view statements categorizing Enigma’s programs and domains as “malicious,” “threats,” and PUPs as statements of fact rather than subjective opinions are not supported by the facts presented. The allegations ignore that users of Malwarebytes are aware of why it opines that a given software program may be a PUP based on Malwarebytes’ disclosed criteria and can choose to quarantine or un-quarantine the detected program.
In other words, after all this nonsense and back and forth over Section 230, years later, Malwarebytes still wins the case because the 1st Amendment protects its opinions.
This is similar to another famous 9th Circuit ruling on 230 from a while back: the Roommates.com case. In that case, the court ruled that Section 230 did not protect Roommates.com for content it places in a pulldown menu (that users used to select roommate preferences), but in the end (many years later) Roommates.com still won the case because the 1st Amendment protected it.
Both of these cases demonstrate two very important things: first, most of what people complain about regarding Section 230 is actually protected by the 1st Amendment, so even if we got rid of Section 230, the 1st Amendment would still enable websites to moderate how they see fit. But, much more importantly, both of those cases demonstrate the procedural benefits of Section 230, in that they enable these kinds of cases to be dismissed quickly and relatively inexpensively, rather than having to go through a years long process. In short, Section 230’s civil procedure benefits are that they get frivolous cases tossed out of court much more quickly, and at less expense. And that’s important, since so many of these cases are, in some form or another, SLAPP suits, designed to pressure companies not to moderate certain content.