The Work

November 7, 2008 5:00 PM

Perkins Coie Helps Craigslist Appease AGs Over Prostitute Postings

Posted by Zach Lowe

The relationship between Craigslist and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal did not start well, with Blumenthal in March accusing the classified ads giant of profiting from prostitution. Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster fired back by calling Blumenthal's statement defamatory.

Things have since gotten friendlier, and on Thursday Craigslist and attorneys general from 40 states announced that the site will implement new rules to make it harder for prostitutes to advertise. Posters to Craigslist's "erotic services" section will have to pay a small fee by credit card, which will help authorities track down law-breakers, according to the announcement. The agreement follows one made in March, when Craigslist required users of that section to send in a phone number so the site could verify identity and keep a database of banned numbers, says Perkins Coie partner Ed Wes, who represented Craigslist on the matter.

Wes worked for nearly a year with Blumenthal's office to craft the new rules--even though Craigslist was likely immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act, Wes says. The act protects companies like Craigslist from penalties related to user-generated ads.

Perkins Coie has represented Craigslist since 2003, when Wes nailed down Craigslist as a Perkins client after meeting the site's founder, Craig Newmark, while advising a company Newmark had invested in. In March, the firm won a landmark case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Craigslist can't be held liable for discriminatory housing ads posted by users to the site.

In crafting the new rules for the adult section, Wes worked closely with Anthony Janotta, a key lawyer on Blumenthal's staff.

The key turning point in the relationship between Craigslist and Blumenthal's office came in July, when Wes, Janotta, Blumenthal and Buckmaster met in an office near the Rye, N.Y. station on the Metro-North train line--a convenient spot for everyone. Wes says he and Buckmaster pitched the credit card fee idea, and Blumenthal liked it.

Janotta did not return a message seeking comment.

Craigslist and Perkins Coie also have filed 14 lawsuits against companies and individuals who promote various methods of getting around the site's security features. The targets include people who hawk unused phone numbers posters can use for verification on Craigslist, Wes says.

"We hope this is something other Internet companies can use as a model," says Wes. "This has been very gratifying and interesting work."

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