Judge denies Craigslist's request for permanent injunction

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 11, 2010, 1:42pm


COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) -- A U.S. District Court judge has turned down Craigslist's request for a permanent injunction that would ban South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster from attempting to prosecute the popular classified advertisement website.

Last year, McMaster threatened to prosecute Craigslist executives for abetting prostitution unless the company blocked adult ads.

McMaster gave Craigslist a 10-day window on May 5, 2009 to remove what he said were South Carolina sections on which prostitutes were soliciting themselves and graphic material was being posted. On May 13, 2009, Craigslist reached a nationwide agreement to drop its erotic services section.

Craigslist responded by going to court to request an injunction banning the attorney general from threatening any further criminal investigation.

"Despite Craigslist's legal immunity from criminal or civil liability under state law for unlawful third-party content on its website, and despite the numerous good-faith actions that Craigslist has voluntarily taken to deter abuse of its service by third parties notwithstanding its legal immunity, Defendant McMaster has persisted in threats to criminally prosecute Craigslist on the basis of third-party content appearing on the Craigslist website," said the suit, filed in South Carolina federal court last May.

The company argued the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes it from crimes committed by users. McMaster agreed to refrain from trying to prosecute company officials while the case was pending.

Now, more than a year later, U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck has turned down Craigslist's request for a permanent injunction, saying any threat of prosecution is too remote to warrant action.

The company, Houck wrote, "requests an advisory opinion based on a hypothetical injury." Meaning, the court won't take any action unless and until McMaster tries to prosecute someone at Craigslist.

In November 2008, 43 state attorneys general brokered a deal with Craigslist that the site would crackdown on inappropriate content and illegal activity in its erotic services section.

In April 2009, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sent a letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, calling on the website to shut down its erotic services section amid evidence Craigslist had breached its agreement by not developing an effective screening procedure for ads.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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