On February 23, 2023, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google. The case is, in a narrow sense, about whether certain algorithmic recommendations of a very large online platform can give rise to civil liability. But the Court’s ruling could fundamentally “reshape the internet”, redefining the circumstances in which a wide variety of websites and online services–including libraries–could be liable for the actions of their users. Internet Archive was proud to join the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a “friend of the Court” brief urging robust Section 230 protections for libraries and others.
As the Association of Research Libraries has previously noted, “libraries are included in” the protections of Section 230, and “[a]ny changes to the liability protections of 230 may endanger the ability of libraries to fulfill their public service missions.” Following from this, our brief highlights a number of important library projects and services “designed to share and build knowledge” which are currently protected by Section 230; these could be threatened by sweeping changes to the law. In fact, providing a space for the maintenance and development of these kinds of projects is exactly what the framers of Section 230 set out to do: it was enacted “to promote the continued development of the Internet” and so that it could continue to provide “a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.”
As the brief explains, substantial changes to Section 230 could frustrate these purposes by making it harder for libraries to use the internet to broaden and deepen the public’s access to knowledge (among other things). And while it is impossible to know exactly how Section 230 might be changed by the Court, and how those changes could impact the behavior of libraries and others who rely on Section 230 today, the brief highlights a number of concerning scenarios that we hope the Court will consider. These kinds of concerns have been raised by many, including Professor Eric Goldman, who has explained how changes to the law occasioned by this case could make it too costly or burdensome for many online services to operate the way they do today; this could result in an internet dominated by “a small number of voices” promoted by the largest corporations and hidden behind paywalls.
At the Internet Archive, despite the challenges, we continue to believe in the power of the internet to democratize and expand access to knowledge. As EFF said when it filed the brief, “[a]s the internet has grown, its problems have grown, too,” but we can “address those problems without weakening a law” that has provided meaningful protection to everyone, including libraries. As courts and legislatures consider changes to this existing legal structure, we hope they keep in mind the public’s interest, so we can work towards an internet that preserves public interest spaces and is shaped by public interest values.