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Massachusetts Port Authority v. Turo

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  1. Content Restrictions

Court: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Date Filed: Dec. 18, 2020

Update: On April 21, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the trial court’s injunction preventing Turo from continuing to operate at Boston Logan International Airport, with slight modifications. As Reporters Committee Legal Fellow Mailyn Fidler explained in a blog post about the ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court’s reasoning on Section 230 is hard to parse, adding to confusion around this central piece of internet legislation.

Background: In June 2019, Massachusetts Port Authority, known as Massport, sued the peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo, accusing it of illegally operating out of Logan International Airport. Massport claimed that operating the rental service at the airport constitutes trespassing.

Turo, however, argued that the company is immune from a claim of aiding and abetting the state tort of trespassing under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies and other online platforms from some liability for what users post on their platforms.

A Massachusetts trial court summarily held that because Turo offered payment processing, insurance and took a cut of the transactions at issue, the company was exempt from Section 230 immunity on such a claim. Turo then appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Our Position: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court should clarify that a host of third-party content that also provides ancillary services like payment processing, or algorithms to match users with interesting content, is not categorically exempt from Section 230 protections.

  • The Superior Court incorrectly held that certain activities, including payment processing, negate Section 230 immunity.
  • The Superior Court’s interpretation of Section 230 would undermine the operation of modern outlets for online speech.
  • The Supreme Judicial Court should clarify the law on Section 230 immunity and expressly state that Section 230 protections apply even when an online intermediary offers ancillary services for third party content creators.

The Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School served as the Reporters Committee’s counsel on this brief.

Quote: “The activities the Superior Court held to be beyond the scope of a publisher are activities that online hosts of third-party content frequently take. The lower court’s approach, if adopted without elaboration by this Court, could unintentionally weaken the Section 230 protections on which some modern online media platforms rely.”

Related: The Reporters Committee’s Technology and Press Freedom project closely monitors developments related to Section 230 in its weekly newsletter, This Week in Technology + Press Freedom. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each week.