Liability for linking?

Chris Craft has posted an

interesting scenario

about the potential legal liability of using Slideshare


, or any

non-district-sponsored web service, that has advertisements that may be

inappropriate for school-age children.

I will first offer my typical caveats that

  1. I am not in an attorney-client relationship with anyone reading this;
  • Although I'm pretty sure that I'm correct, you rely on my opinions at your
  • legal risk; and

  • I always encourage educators to consult with their local school
  • organization's attorney about any legal questions that they may have.

    That said, here are my thoughts...

    It seems to me that Chris' practice of embedding his Slideshare presentations within his

    district-sponsored Moodle system, combined with his district's blocking of

    Slideshare, should be enough to protect him from claims that he negligently

    exposed children to inappropriate Web content. He's not sending students to the

    Slideshare site directly. In fact, his district is blocking students' ability to

    do so. I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that Chris could be liable for

    students accessing the site from home. That would sort of be like trying to hold

    Chris accountable when a student used Google at home to look up inappropriate images

    just because the student also used Google at school (where access to such images

    was blocked).

    If he wanted, Chris might be able to strengthen his case by including an

    explicit notice that he and the school have provided safeguards against access

    to inappropriate content, that students should access school-related content

    only within those safeguards, and that he and the school are not liable for

    students' deliberately bypassing those safeguards at home. Such a notice could

    be on his Moodle site, in a note sent home to parents, part of the

    student-signed acceptable use policy (see, e.g., a model AUP from the Indiana

    Department of Education

    ), or all three. Another potential safeguard might be

    a popup window that appeared whenever a student clicked on a link to an external

    site. The text in the window could note that the student was leaving the

    district web environment and disclaim liability for any further actions by the

    student on other web sites.

    The essence of negligence

    is whether educators acted reasonably under the circumstances. Given the

    safeguards already in place and maybe the additional ones that I've briefly described,

    I think Chris is probably okay when the situation is viewed in its totality.

    It's one thing to hold him and his school liable for a direct link to

    inappropriate content. The further away from direct linking a student gets (2

    links? 5 links? 10 links?), the less likely a court would be to hold Chris and

    the school responsible. There's no bright line here, but 'reasonable

    conduct

    ' should win the day...

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