May 18, 2009 | By Matt Zimmerman

Craigslist Demands Apology From South Carolina Attorney General [update: ... and Sues In Federal Court]

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster today posted a strongly-worded response to South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster's ongoing legally-baseless threats to bring criminal charges against him and founder Craig Newmark, culminating in a request for a long-overdue apology. Buckmaster is exactly right. As we and many others have noted, craigslist was never at risk of incurring criminal liability for material posted by their users because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act clearly protects them. Instead, McMaster and the other AGs took advantage of craigslist's previously-demonstrated interest in working with law enforcement to address any legitimate concerns and rewarded such voluntary cooperation with even more belligerent posturing. McMaster's threat to prosecute them knowing full well that craigslist is absolutely protected by federal law was, as Buckmaster correctly put it, "simply beyond the pale."

Update: Craigslist has filed suit in South Carolina federal district court seeking declaratory relief and a temporary restraining order (links here to the complaint, the exhibits, and the TRO motion). From CEO Jim Buckmaster's blog post announcing the suit:

Interestingly, if you read Mr McMaster’s ultimatum carefully, you’ll note that the only way to definitively comply with it is to take down the craigslist sites for South Carolina in their entirety. The open architecture of craigslist, quintessential to the value it provides for users, simply does not allow for the absolute prevention of solicitation or pornography, with respect to any of its categories and functions.

McMaster, not terribly surprisingly, argues that being sued in federal court was part of his plan all along:

“The defensive legal action craigslist has taken against the solicitors and my office is good news. It shows that craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time.

More importantly, 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.

Unfortunately, we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response. We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised. This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected.”

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