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Chicago trial court protects Craigslist over erotic ads

Oct 30, 2009 Chicago trial court protects Craigslist over erotic ads

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Last week, a Chicago federal trial judge extended protection beyond libel suits to listserv operators, online bulletin board operators, and bloggers for third-party postings concerning erotic services, even where those postings might be thinly-veiled or even non-veiled ads for prostitution:

[47 U.S.C.] Section 230(c)(1) would serve little if any purpose if companies like Craigslist were found liable under state law for “causing” or “inducing” users to post unlawful content in this fashion. See Chicago Lawyers, 519 F.3d at 671; cf. NPS, LLC v. StubHub, Inc., No. 06-4874-BLS1, 2009 WL 995483, *10-13 (Mass. Super. Jan. 26, 2009) (concluding that there was a material issue of fact whether the defendant “intentionally induced” its users to violate antiscalping laws). The fact that Craigslist also provides a wordsearch function does not change the analysis. The word-search function is a “neutral tool” that permits users to search for terms that they select in ads created by other users. Roomates.com, 521 F.3d at 1167 (“[O]rdinary search engines do not use unlawful criteria to limit the scope of searches conducted on them, nor are they designed to achieve illegal ends – as Roommate’s search function is alleged to do here.”). It does not cause or induce anyone to create, post, or search for illegal content.

Dart v. Craigslist, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (N.D. Ill., Oct. 20, 2009).

Dart is a natural follow-up to the Seventh Circuit’s 2008 granting of 47 U.S.C. § 230 protection to Craigslist against a lawsuit alleging discriminatory housing ads on Craigslist, which I blogged about here. Last March I warned sheriff Dart that he was climbing up the wrong tree with this lawsuit. It is time for him to hang up this matter.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to a fellow listserv member and the First Amendment Center for bringing the Dart opinion to my attention.

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