SW Legal studies in Business

ISP Not Liable for Discriminatory Content in Ad Postings
Description Appeals court affirmed that craigslist is not liable for ads posted for rental property that contained possibly illegal discriminatory content. It is the carrier of the material, it is not responsible for screening it for compliance with the law.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words ISP; Discrimination; Liability; Craigslist; Housing
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on account of race, religion, sex or family status when selling or renting housing. As part of that restriction, it prohibits ads that indicate a preference based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, family status or national origin. The law exempts single-family housing that is sold or rented by a person who does not own more than three such houses. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued craigslist for posting discriminatory ads. Some ads stated “No Minorities” or “No Children.” The district court held for cragislist. The Committee appealed.

Affirmed. Online services such as craigslist are somewhat like common carriers like the telephone or delivery services such as UPS. The telephone companies do not control the content of what is said on the phone. UPS does not control discriminatory words that may be in written materials it delivers. Craigslist would have a difficult time screening listings. If it banned certain words, such as black or white, it would affect many things besides reference to race. Hiring staff to read each posted ad would be very expensive and delay postings, as craigslist has more than 30 million postings monthly. The Committee objects to a statements such as “Catholic Church and beautiful Buddhist Temple within one block.” The Committee claims that is discriminatory on religious grounds; craigslist sees that as useful information about the neighborhood near a residence. Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act provides “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.” Craigslist is the publisher of information provided by others. It is just the messenger that may reveal a third party’s plan to engage in unlawful discrimination.

Citation Chicago Lawyers’ Comm. for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. craigslist, Inc., ---F.3d--- (2008 WL 681168)

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