Friday, December 1, 2006
A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed the Fair Housing Act case against Craigslist citing the immunity granted in Section 230 to "providers...of interactive computer services". The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLC) had sued Craigslist under the Fair Housing Act alleging that the service had published "notices, statements, or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of dwellings that indicate (1) a preference, limitation, or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin; and (2) an intention to make a preference, limitation, or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin."
After examining carefully the mechanism by which users could post advertisements to the Craigslist site as well as the types of ads and the contents of the ads, the judge turned to an examination of the ways in which courts have construed Section 230 liability for ISPs. The judge also noted that the 7th Circuit had examined Section 230(c)(1), the particular clause in question here. The plaintiffs contended that Craigslist was the content provider; Craigslist contended that Section 230 barred all causes of action. The judge rejected both parties' positions.
In this case, the judge found that Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity only when the ISP acts as a publisher for information "provided by another information content provider". Said the judge, "While this language does not grant immunity per se...it does prohibit treatment as a publisher, which, quite plainly, would bar any cause of action that requires, to establish liability, a finding that an ICS published third-party content....This plain meaning...is not at odds with the intentions of Section 230(c)(1)'s drafters. Indeed, Congress did not intend to grant a vast, limitless immunity, but rather enacted Section 230(c) specifically to overrule the court decision in Stratton Oakmont...." Thus, to hold Craigslist as a publisher of information provided by its users in order to hold it liable under the Fair Housing Act "would be to treat Craigslist as if it were the publisher of third-party content".
Because in this case Craigslist published (in Section 230's meaning) content provided by another information content provider, the judge found it was immune from suit.