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Twenty years ago, in AOL v. Zeran, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that 47 U.S.C. §230 immunized defendant AOL from liability for hosting and failing to block a user’s mendacious electronic bulletin board posts about plaintiff, even after AOL received notice of the existence of the offending posts on its servers. This was the first federal appeals court opinion to define the scope of protection under the Communications Decency Act. This reason alone made the decision and opinion significant. But the Zeran opinion was most notable for its conclusion: an online intermediary may not be held liable for third-party user-generated content, even when it knows that the content is unlawful.

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