A federal judge has ruled that Internet classified ad giant Craigslist is not legally responsible for the content of its postings and therefore will not have to shut down its sex ads.
The judgment came in a closely watched lawsuit filed by Chicago-area Sheriff Thomas Dart, who argued that the adult services section on Craigslist constituted the "single largest source for prostitution in the nation."
The sheriff said he learned of the court ruling on Wednesday, and in the wake of his legal defeat, Dart now says he is poised to ask consumers to boycott Craigslist.
"I want people to know that this is what the company is all about…We are actively entertaining an effort to get real people to stop going to Craigslist for buying and selling things. We think they should go somewhere else. This company has exhibited callous and uncaring behavior," said Dart.
"We think people should know what the company is about. Their service is facilitating crimes and they do nothing about it…we want people to know," said Dart.
In a 20-page decision, U.S. District Judge John Grady ruled that the ads on Craigslist for adult services are often veiled and use code words, but that Craigslist is an "intermediary" and cannot be responsible for customers who "misuse their services to commit unlawful acts."
The decision stated that "Sheriff Dart may continue to use Craigslist's website to identify and pursue individuals who post allegedly unlawful content…but he cannot sue Craigslist for their conduct."
Dart said that while he acknowledges his lawsuit had some "challenges" he is considering an appeal because he believes Craigslist "facilitates crimes" by continuing to allow the posting of sex ads. And he is angry that the company has, he says, refused to help law enforcement crack down on prostitution.
"I have gone to them with arrest records, photographs, arrest reports. It's all about prostitution. They just can't tell me they aren't aware of what is going on," said Dart.
The ruling is a victory for Craigslist in a year in which the web-based classified ad company has seen a tsunami of bad publicity. In April, a Boston man, Philip Markoff, was dubbed the "Craigslist killer" after he allegedly used the service to arrange meetings to rob women who posted erotic ads on the Website. One of his alleged victims, Julissa Brisman, was murdered during the robber.
In May, under pressure from some very state attorneys general, Craigslist closed down its erotic services section and replaced it with a new adult category in which it promised to monitor the postings for illegal content.
In his lawsuit, Dart alleged that the word "roses" is a code word for dollars. One advertisement stated "15 min $50 roses" and "1 hour $150 Roses." "We continue to make arrests off of Craigslist even as late as this week," said Dart.
Dart admitted that Craigslist is only one online outlet for prostitution and even a complete shut down of the site wouldn't make "the sex trade go away."
A spokesman for Craigslist said in an email message, "We welcome the judge's ruling."