Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc. Cases of Interest >  Cyberlaw >  230

Chicago Lawyers Committee v. Craigslist

Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc.
- F.3d --, 2008 WL 681168
C.A.7 (Ill.),2008.
March 14, 2008

• Craigslist provides a website as a meeting place for those who want to buy, sell or rent housing. Craigslist also provides many other services. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law contend that the website Craigslist is violating 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a).
• Some postings on Craigslist say “No Minorities” and “No Children.” 42 U.S.C. § 3603(b)(1) exempts any single house sold or rented by an owner who does not own more than 3 such single-family homes. Many of the people posting on Craigslist own 4 or more single-family homes. Section 3604(c) thus applies to these posters. Courts enforce this statute against newspapers and other publishers.
• Online services, such as Craigslist, are similar to newspapers but in other ways are like common carriers such as telephone services. Common carriers are unaffected by §3604(c) because they do not make or publish the discriminatory advertisements or conversations. Screening is hard for websites.
• Simple filters will not work because getting rid of certain words will block legal descriptive statements as well. Craigslist could hire people to go through the posts and screen them, but it would be expensive and delay the system. Every month more than 30 million notices are posted to Craigslist. Fewer than 30 people operate the system. To screen posts would require a much larger staff.

Issue: Whether Craigslist is liable under section 230(c) for information posted by third parties that goes against the Fair Housing Act.

• Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination on account of race, religion, sex, or family status when selling or renting housing. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a) It is illegal to make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation, or discrimination. 42 U.S.C. 3604(c)
• Craigslist relies on 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) which is part of the Communications Decency Act. This act states: Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material.
o (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
o (2) Civil liability. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of-(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).
• As Craigslist understands this statute § 230 (c)(1) provides “broad immunity from liability for unlawful third-party content.” That view has support in other circuits.
• The Lawyers’ Committee says subsection (c) refers to “blocking and screening” and that unless Craigslist uses some form of filtering, all of section 230(c) is irrelevant.
• Section 230(c) makes ISPs indifferent to the content of information they host or transmit.
To appreciate the limited role of § 230 (c)(1), remember that “information content providers” may be liable for contributory infringement if their system is designed to help people steal music or other material in copyright. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster.)

• What § 230 (c)(1) says is that an online information system must not “be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by” someone else. Yet only in a capacity as publisher could Craigslist be liable under § 3604(c). Craigslist is not the author of the ads.
• Craigslist does not “cause” the ads. Craigslist does not offer a lower price to people who include discriminatory statements in their postings.
• Lawyers’ Committee can identify many targets and investigate them but it cannot sue the messenger just because the message reveals a third party’s plan to engage in unlawful discrimination.

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