A recent ruling in Craigslist's favor may let our paid ad suppliers rest a bit easier, as they are all advertising conduits. Google already states that it's not liable for ads it serves, and this ruling provides ancillary support.
On Friday, a long-standing case against Craigslist came to a close when the U.S. Appellate Court ruled they aren't liable for discrimination as an advertising conduit. Two years ago, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a suit which accused Craigslist of posting discriminatory ads under the Fair Housing Act.
According to the ruling, “Doubtless Craigslist plays a causal role in the sense that no one could post a discriminatory ad if Craigslist did not offer a forum. That is not, however, a useful definition of cause….it cannot sue the messenger just because the message reveals a third party's plan to engage in unlawful discrimination.”
If some ad seems objectionable, we can flag it and Craigslist will respond and remove the ad. They cannot, however, be held responsible for the classifieds themselves and are not equipped to review all ads before they are posted.
Perhaps Google and Yahoo attorneys are pleased with this ruling, too. As ad networks, they cannot be expected to review all ads through their systems either. They do have some complaint systems in place, especially for trademarks. There's no external flagging system for ads which have been purchased through them.
One level removed, publishers who use ad feeds should look at their fine print. Google and Yahoo say they are not liable for the ads they show. In turn, this means publishers are not liable either. Try telling that to a complaining visitor who doesn't like a particular ad that shows up on your site? Well, that's for another day.