Last summer, Boston’s City Council and Mayor Marty Walsh passed Boston's first ordinance regulating short-term rentals in the city, aimed at allowing homeowners to make extra money while stopping investor owners from buying up real estate to establish de facto Airbnb hotels.
The ordinance allows homeowners to rent extra rooms, or one entire apartment, as long as they register with the city and pay a small fee; and it prohibits short-term rentals by absentee, or so-called “investor” owners.
Airbnb lobbied hard against the measure; when it passed, the company threw the book at the City of Boston: Airbnb sued the city in federal court, arguing the ordinance is illegal.
The lawsuit here could have national implications.
That's because central to the company’s case is a federal law called the Communications Decency Act – or CDA – specifically, one part of that act known as Section 230.
It says that internet companies can't be held responsible for what users post on it.
“So basically what that means is I cannot be held responsible as the publisher of information that a user puts up there,” says Mason Kortz. Kortz is a clinical instructional fellow at Harvard Law School Cyber Law Clinic.
“If I post something defamatory about you on Facebook – I can be held liable, Facebook cannot be held liable,” Kortz explains. “Because they didn’t post the defamatory material, they just provided a service.”