Judge Dismisses Pimping Charges Against Backpage.Com

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The owners and CEO of controversial website Backpage were exonerated of pimping and other felony charges in a case that had threatened the foundations of Google Search, Facebook, Twitter. and other hugely popular websites that publish third-party content. That threat still exists, as California Attorney General Kamala Harris may appeal Friday’s decision by a Sacramento judge, reports the Bay Area News Group. At issue were ads for “escorts” posted on Backpage.com. CEO Carl Ferrer, and controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin were charged with pimping children under 16, along with other felonies. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman cited the federal Communications Decency Act, which protects firms that host user content online from state criminal liability. “Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit,” Bowman said.

Harris, who said she was “extremely disappointed” in the ruling, is likely to appeal, said University of Santa Clara School of Law Prof. Eric Goldman. A successful appeal could pose serious problems for many major tech firms, Goldman said. “Every user-generated-content website has illegal content on it. If Section 230 is undermined in this case, it potentially could undermine the foundation of every user-generated-content website: Google Search, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube, Craigslist, eBay,” Goldman said. “Pretty much all the sites that we enjoy the most are user-generated-content websites, all relying on Section 230.”

 

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