Battle lines being drawn

The case of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (a “fair housing” group) versus Craigslist is likely to produce a landmark decision as to whether the legal burdens are at all different for mainstream publications and those that are produced by end users. The lawyers are hauling out the same, tired language in suing Craigslist for publishing clearly discriminatory ads. The problem, of course, is that the ads are actually posted by users, not Craigslist, and the question is must Craigslist provide the same kind of vetting required by, for example, newspaper classifieds. In today’s politically correct world, I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out which way this suit will go. But it has ramifications that go way beyond a group of Chicago civil rights lawyers and this one site. Critics of new media are likely saying “attaboy” to the lawyers group, because there are a lot of things about the new that would be just fine with the old, as long as everybody had to play by the same rules.

This is nothing less that the modernist world pulling a collaborative postmodern effort back into its power structure, and it ought to send a chill down the spine of anybody in the web information business. I have argued previously that our legal system — which serves the best interests of itself (and the status quo) — would make a stand to restore control, and who better to attack than Craigslist, the poster child of a bottom-up business model.

Craigslist is arguing that it is not a publisher in the modern sense, and as such, not bound by the same rules. As Steve Outing asks in a commentary on the suit, “So, is Craigslist a publisher, or more of a common carrier? The outcome of this case will be interesting — and important.”

Hoo, boy, do I agree with that.


  1. You don’t get landmark cases in areas where the law is clear, as I believe it is here.

    The question is not whether Craigslist is a publisher or a common carrier. Under the CDA it is, unarguably, not a publisher. End of question . Case closed.

    The Communications Decency Act insulates Craigslist from exposure.

    Don’t let attorneys who are looking to bootstrap publicity by attacking a well-known site mislead you.

  2. It’s so obvious by mission and architecture that Craigslist is bottom up you almost wonder what the lawyers are really up to… perhaps finding full-filling work on the newspaper’s dime? Am I jumping to conspiracy since logic doesn’t apply? I’m wondering, can you sue an individual for blatant racist classifieds, i.e. “no (insert your color, religion, sexual orientation) need apply” or are their pockets not deep enough for that kind of leg work (there’s that jump again)? So the plan is to sue the messenger?
    By neighborhood and church we divide ourselves into little pockets of comfort food. If preference became a crime… well… since we already have the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world perhaps we shouldn’t be going down that road. When will the pc’ers understand that racism is the beard that covers the rungs on the social ladder; the warfront is the battle for competency not the perpetuation of the victim society.

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