Monday, November 20, 2006

Web Publisher Not Liable for Discriminatory Housing Ads Posted by Third Party

This posting was written by Cheryl Montan, editor of CCH Guide to Computer Law.

Publishing company Craigslist was not liable for Fair Housing Act violations resulting from allegedly discriminatory advertisements posted on its website, the federal district court in Chicago has ruled. The Communications Decency Act operated to immunize the publisher from liability for content posted on its website by third parties. (Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Case No. 06 C 0657, November 14, 2006).

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. (CLC), a public interest consortium of Chicago law firms, sought to hold Craigslist liable for discriminatory housing advertisements appearing on its website. Craigslist requested dismissal of the suit, arguing that, as an interactive computer service provider, the Communications Decency Act shielded it from liability for the third-party ads. Craigslist operates a website (accessible at “,” as well as other web addresses), that allows third-party users to post and read notices for, among other things, housing sale or rental opportunities. In a typical month, more than 10 million items of user-supplied information are posted on the Craigslist website.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, including publishing and printing advertisements that discriminate or indicate a preference based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(c).


Courts have held that Section 3604(c) applies to a variety of media, including newspapers and print publishers. CLC contended that Internet publishers like Craigslist should be held to the same standard of liability as print publishers under the Fair Housing Act.

Craigslist asserted that the Communications Decency Act operated to immunize it from liability for content, including housing ads, posted on its website by third parties. The CDA provides that "[n]o provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher for information provided by another information content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).

The court agreed with Craigslist. While the CDA does not grant immunity per se to website operators, it does prohibit causes of action based on the website operator’s status as a publisher. The CLC’s Fair Housing Act cause of action depended on Craigslist’s actions as a publisher of content provided by third parties. Thus, the court dismissed the complaint as barred by the CDA.

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