Last year, we wrote about a former child prostitute who sued Village Voice Media
for its Backpage classified ads offerings, since this was a tool previously used to sell her. Now there has been a lot of controversy in the last couple of years (mainly from grandstanding politicians) about prostitution ads on Craigslist and Backpage. However, as has been pointed out over and over and over again, the liability belongs on the person actually committing the crime, not the service provider. And, in fact, the law, via Section 230 of the CDA gives service providers immunity.
Still, we were a little worried that since this case was highly emotionally charged, and involved a child prostitute, that the court might make a bad ruling. Instead, it appears that court has made a really strong and useful ruling explaining repeatedly why Backpage is not liable
. The girl's lawyers basically tried every trick in the book to get around Section 230 immunity, but the court debunked each and every one. Many of the claims she made are the types of claims we see in the comments from people who don't understand safe harbors (like saying that you lose safe harbors if you make money). Eric Goldman, at the link above, walks one by one through each of the lawyer's attempts to get around Section 230, and explains why the judge rejected it. It's worth reading the whole thing, but here's a snippet:
- Backpage allows keyword searches. Citing several cases, including Jurin and Rosetta Stone, the court says this is irrelevant.
- Backpage created an adult category. The court cites Dart v. Craigslist in concluding this is irrelevant.
- Backpage takes steps to increase its revenues. Backpage allegedly "tout[ed] its website as a 'highly tuned marketing site' and instruct[ed] posters of ads on how to best increase the impact of those ads." The court responds: "to find Backpage to be not immune from suit based on M.A.'s allegations about how it structured its website in order to increase its profits would be to create a for-profit exception to § 230's broad grant of immunity. This the Court may not do."
- Backpage allegedly knew prostitution was advertised on the site. The court cites several cases for the proposition that knowledge is irrelevant to 230's immunity.
It's nice to see, yet again, a court recognize that liability should be properly applied, and we shouldn't blame 3rd party service providers for the actions of their users.