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Craigslist Sues South Carolina AG in Showdown Over Erotic Services Ads

Posted May 20, 2009 5:44 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Threatened with potential criminal prosecution over its role in allegedly promoting prostitution through Internet ads posted by third parties on its website, Craiglist Inc. has responded with a pre-emptive strike.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in South Carolina today, the national classified advertising website seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief prohibiting the state attorney general, Henry McMaster, from continuing to threaten prosecution or following through on his threats, reports the Am Law Daily.

The suit, which contends that McMaster is violating both Craigslist's statutory rights under the federal Communications Decency Act and its First Amendment and commerce clause rights, also seeks reimbursement of attorney's fees. The federal statute makes posters rather than website operators responsible for the content of third-party posts they played no role in creating.

A copy of the 34-page complaint (PDF) is provided by the Am Law Daily.

In response to the suit, McMaster proclaimed victory, saying in a written statement the litigation "shows that Craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time." And, he added, "overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina."

Craiglist is represented by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Perkins Coie. The lawsuit asserts federal question jurisdiction.

As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the issue of Craiglist erotic services advertising recently heated up after a medical student in Boston was accused of murdering a woman he allegedly met through Craiglist and attacking at least one other website advertiser. After the attorneys general of several states expressed concern, Craiglist voluntarily implemented additional controls on the website advertising it now terms "adult" but McMaster still reportedly was not satisfied.

Additional coverage:

Craigslist Blog: "Craigslist Sues South Carolina Attorney General"

Bits (New York Times): "Craigslist Sues South Carolina Attorney General"

Computerworld: "Craigslist fires back, sues South Carolina attorney general"

Financial Times: "Craigslist sues S Carolina's attorney-general"

Horizons (Christian Science Monitor): "Craigslist’s terrible, horrible, very bad week"

Threat Level (Wired): "Sued by Craigslist, South Carolina’s Top Cop Declares Victory and Goes Home"

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