May 06, 2009

Matthew Albaugh Comments on Laws Involving Cyberspace

Another chapter in e-commerce jurisdictional laws and rights is unfolding, according to E-Commerce News in its story on "South Carolina AG Raises Threat Level in Craigslist Row." Ever since France protested the sale of Nazi memorabilia on Yahoo more than a decade ago, local authorities have struggled with how their laws should apply in cyberspace, the story reported.

The story focused on South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster's demand that Craigslist ban listings for "casual encounters." McMaster contends that the section houses thinly veiled ads for prostitution and other erotic services, according to E-Commerce News. McMaster is demanding that Craigslist dismantle the objectionable portion of the site, but it's unlikely that he has a legal peg to hang his hat on, the story said.

Craigslist is standing on solid legal ground, Matthew Albaugh of Baker & Daniels, who focuses on First Amendment and media law litigation, told E-Commerce News. "It's highly unlikely that Craigslist or any comparable Internet site could be assigned some sort of liability in this instance."

"The Communications Decency Act provides Internet sites like Craigslist with powerful immunities against lawsuits that attempt to treat them as publishers or speakers of any content posted by a third party," Albaugh continued in the story.

The CDA explicitly allows for the enforcement of state laws - thus, presumably triggering state criminal laws -  Albaugh acknowledged, but the CDA states that no "cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with" the CDA, E-Commerce News reported.

Courts around the country have almost uniformly interpreted the CDA as granting broad immunity to interactive computer services like Craigslist for claims based on content posted by third-party users, concluded Albaugh in the story.

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