San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of public interest groups and law professors have asked a California appeals court to protect craigslist from a lawsuit that could spur websites to be less helpful in responding to complaints about user behavior.
In Scott P. v. craigslist, Inc., the plaintiff complained about a series of craigslist ads he said were written by impersonators. While craigslist removed the ads within minutes of his phone calls, the plaintiff sued, contending that craigslist broke a promise to "take care of it" when the impersonators posted additional ads. In cases like these, federal law -- specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- shields Internet forums like craigslist from liability. Section 230 was designed to encourage parties to pursue action against those who created the questionable content instead of the platform that hosted it. But the California Superior Court has ruled that this case can continue because of the plaintiff's allegations that craigslist said it would help.
Craigslist filed a writ petition with the Court of Appeal for the State of California Wednesday, arguing that the trial court should have dismissed the case because of Section 230's protections for forum hosts. In an amicus letter filed today in support of craigslist, EFF argues that the lower court reasoning could create a hole in Section 230, discouraging forum owners from helping users.
"Section 230 was a deliberate effort by Congress to encourage service providers to find innovative ways to self-regulate," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Yet craigslist is facing the prospect of extended litigation because it tried to do just that. Allowing this litigation to continue could result in websites being less helpful to users with complaints."
Additionally troublesome is the specter of further lawsuits, which could convince other Internet innovators not to host user content at all.
"Congress created Section 230 to allow for online interactivity without a flood of lawsuits. But this case could undermine the immunity that the law created," said Opsahl. "If litigation can survive merely because a plaintiff asserts that the site made a vague promise, sites may decide that allowing comments or user generated content is not worth the legal exposure. Then we'll lose the vibrant online environment that Section 230 helped create in the first place."
Joining EFF in the letter to court were the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Citizen Media Law Project, and law professors Eric Goldman, David S. Levine, David G. Post, and Jason Schultz. Separately, a group of Internet companies, including Yahoo!, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Linkedin filed another amicus brief in support of craigslist.
For the full amicus letter:
For more on this case:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation