Zeran v. America Online

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

04/23/1996

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Virginia, Oklahoma

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, an unknown person posted messages on an AOL bulletin board purporting to offer for sale t-shirts and other items which supported or made light of the bombing in Oklahoma City. The messages contained Kenneth Zeran’s first... read full description
Parties

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Kenneth Zeran

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

America Online, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Intermediary

Location of Party: 

  • Washington

Location of Party: 

  • Virginia

Legal Counsel: 

Patrick Carome, John Payton, Samir Jain, Randall Boe
Description

Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, an unknown person posted messages on an AOL bulletin board purporting to offer for sale t-shirts and other items which supported or made light of the bombing in Oklahoma City. The messages contained Kenneth Zeran’s first name and phone number.

After Zeran received outraged calls and death threats, he complained to AOL, which removed the postings but did not post a retraction. Similar messages continued to appear on AOL for several weeks despite Zeran’s request that AOL block such messages.

Zeran originally filed negligence and defamation claims in Oklahoma, claiming that AOL was responsible for the postings. AOL moved to have the suit transferred to Virginia, where it was decided.

On March 27, 2007, the district court granted AOL's motion to dismiss. See Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 958 F.Supp. 1124 (E.D. Va. 1997).

On November 12, 1997, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision on appeal. See Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327, 328 (4th Cir. 1997). The Court of Appeals based its ruling on Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act, which states: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

The Court of Appeals also rejected Zeran's argument that Section 230 should not apply in this case because the messages at issue had been posted before the statute was enacted.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Photo
  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • Third-Party Content
  • Section 230
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • Virginia
  • Oklahoma

Source of Law: 

  • United States
  • Oklahoma

Court Name: 

W.D. Oklahoma

Court Type: 

Federal

Case Number: 

5:96-CV-00598; 1:96CV01564 (EDVA); 97-1523 (4th Cir.)

Relevant Documents: