U.S. Judge Rejects Challenge to Craigslist's Erotic Services

CHICAGO — In a ruling of significant interest to online adult businesses, a federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit by Cook County’s top cop who sued Craigslist in an attempt to force the company to drop its erotic services category.

U.S. Judge F. John Grady granted a motion for judgment in favor of Craigslist and said that Sheriff Tom Dart can continue to use Craigslist’s website to finger Johns who use prostitution services, but he cannot sue Craigslist for its conduct.

Craigslist has maintained all along that it has been immune from liability and shielded by 47 U.S.C. § 230(c), known as the Communication Decency Act, which generally reads that you can’t hold the messenger liable for third-party content.

“Sheriff Dart alleged that Craiglist itself violated criminal laws prohibiting prostitution and related offenses,” Grady wrote. “He alleges for example that Craigslist knowingly ‘arranges’ meetings for the purpose of prostitution and ‘directs’ people to places of prostitution."

Grady, in his ruling, said he didn’t buy Dart’s argument and said that just because the site indexes and categorizes the ads, it’s a stretch to claim that the site arranges and directs ads.

“Craigslist does not ‘provide’ that information, its users do,” he said.

Earlier this year, Dart went on a crusade against the online classified ad site, calling Craigslist “the "single largest source of prostitution in the nation."

"Craigslist unabashedly facilitates prostitution, then ultimately makes a profit from it," Dart said in a release, pointing to the annual $80 million in revenue Craigslist generates.

Craigslist, in the past year, has changed its rules for the “erotic” category.

The San Francisco-based company pledged to crack down on prostitution ads as part of an accord with several attorneys general. It said it would require anyone who posts such an ad to provide a working phone number and pay a fee with a valid credit card.

Cook County spokesman Steve Patterson on Thursday said that Dart may appeal the ruling.