| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Oct 6 A U.S. judge expressed
skepticism toward a bid by Airbnb to halt a San Francisco law
that imposes fines on home rental companies for processing
bookings by hosts not registered with the city.
In its lawsuit against San Francisco, Airbnb said it was
protected by the federal Communications Decency Act, and cannot
be held responsible for ensuring hosts have complied with the
city's rules. Airbnb has asked for a court injunction
prohibiting the ordinance from taking effect.
At a hearing in San Francisco federal court on Thursday,
however, U.S. District Judge James Donato said he was
"concerned" with Airbnb's position because the statute only
targets bookings, not what Airbnb publishes on its website.
"I'm just struggling with understanding how this ordinance
inherently requires me as a district court to treat your client
as a publisher," Donato said. The case is a test of a federal
law that protects website operators from liability for content
posted by others, which tech companies argue has been crucial
for the growth of the internet.
The Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, was intended
to protect free speech online by removing liability for a
newspaper, say, for libelous comments posted on their websites
by readers. The law has since shielded social media and
e-commerce sites from liability for a variety of lawsuits.
The disputed San Francisco ordinance requires Airbnb and
similar services to verify that people booking short-term
rentals on their sites have registered with the city. The
services would face fines of $1,000 each time they process a
booking from an unregistered host.
Donato expressed some concern about how Airbnb could comply
with the ordinance without disrupting its business, and asked an
attorney for San Francisco if the city would be willing to delay
the ordinance until it developed an automated system for Airbnb
to verify host registrations quickly.
City attorney Sara Eisenberg said she was not authorized to
agree to such a delay. She suggested that Airbnb could adopt a
system similar to Uber, which requires its drivers to upload a
copy of their drivers license before being allowed to operate on
the ride hailing platform.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)