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A bulletin board system (also referred to as computer bulletin board, electronic bulletin board, bulletin board or BBS) is "an electronic interface between two computer systems that allows users to download digital files onto their computer systems.[1]

Internet bulletin boards, or "message boards," have the advantage of allowing users, or "posters," to express themselves anonymously, by using "screen names" traceable only through the hosts of the sites or their Internet Service Providers (ISPs).[2]


Before the Internet became a mainstream communications medium, computer users often communicated directly with one another via modems and Bulletin Board Services (BBS) programs. These connections are not relayed by way of the Internet. They are private communications established over common telephone lines directly between two computers.

How a BBS works[]

The BBS communications, while generally slower than the Internet, do not require an Internet connection. In order to access a BBS, a computer and modem are used to dial a telephone number to establish a connection with the BBS hosting computer. Typically, the BBS host authenticates (through user name and password) whether the user is authorized to use the system. After entry into the system, access is allowed to uploaded files and posted messages.

As noted by one court:

With an investment of as little as $2,000.00 and the cost of a telephone line, individuals, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, and businesses can offer their own dial-in computer "bulletin board" service where friends, members, subscribers, or customers can exchange ideas and information. BBSs range from single computers with only one telephone line into the computer (allowing only one user at a time), to single computers with many telephone lines into the computer (allowing multiple simultaneous users), to multiple linked computers each servicing multiple dial-in telephone lines (allowing multiple simultaneous users). Some (but not all) of these BBS systems offer direct or indirect links to the Internet. Some BBS systems charge users a nominal fee for access, while many others are free to the individual users.[3]

The BBS host has absolute control over users allowed on the system. For example, the BBS host can set different access levels within the BBS, allowing only the most trusted users access to the most sensitive information.


  1. Montgomery v. Noga, 168 F.3d 1282, 1286-87 n.2, 49 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1961 (11th Cir. 1999) (full-text). See also Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, at 408 ("Bulletin board is a computer system used as an information source and forum for a particular interest group. The bulletin board typically holds postings made by various participants and replies to those postings from other participants.").
  2. Krinsky v. Doe 6, 159 Cal.App.4th 1154, 72 Cal.Rptr.3d 231 (2008) (full-text).
  3. American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno, 929 F. Supp. 824, 833-34 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (full-text), aff’d, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997) (full-text).