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FOR several years, Craigslist.

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A fair housing group in Chicago has sued Craigslist, accusing it of violating the Fair Housing Act of by publishing discriminatory advertisements. If the lawsuit, filed by the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, succeeds, Craigslist will be forced to follow the same rules newspapers do in their classified advertising listings, screening each ad to make sure no antidiscrimination laws are violated.

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That means like the ones the lawyers' group said it spotted on Craigslist in a six-month investigation would be banned. Craigslist has only 19 employees.

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It permits anonymous users to post freewhich are unedited, unscreened and of unlimited length. It charges fees for businesses to post some job openings. Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist, said in a statement on the Web site that manually screening "the nearly two million free housing of unlimited length posted each month, a volume of greater than that received by all U. Buckmaster declined to say how the company would accomplish this if required to.

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It is unclear how much doing so would cost Craigslist, or what impact that expense would have on the company's bottom line. The the housing group said it spotted on Craigslist contained language like "African-Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me" and "No kids allowed.

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of that nature are illegal in newspapers and other publications, and the Lawyers' Committee says they should be banned online as well. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to publish that exclude potential tenants on the basis of race, gender, marital status, national origin and religion.

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Libowsky, a lawyer for Howrey, the law firm in Chicago that is assisting the group with the lawsuit. Libowsky said the Lawyers' Committee, a public interest alliance of prominent Chicago law firms, does not see a difference between classified published in newspapers and those posted on Web sites.

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Newspapers that post paid online, for instance, are held to the same laws regardless of where the appear. Buckmaster said Craigslist, whose listings also include jobs and music lessons, has little in common with newspapers.

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He said Craigslist users routinely report discriminatory by clicking on a link to flag that they find offensive. Buckmaster said.

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So when the lawyers group says they want Craigslist treated exactly as if it were a newspaper, on the face of it, that doesn't make any sense. Anne Houghtaling, the director of enforcement for the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington, said whether the laws applied should be determined by the service that was being provided, regardless of the medium.

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A ruling against Craigslist could be welcome news for newspaper executives, who have watched as the year-old Web site has siphoned away customers of their paid classified ad s. According to a report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a research group, users of online classified ad services increased 80 percent in from a year earlier, to Nearly nine million of those users posted on Craigslist.

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The report was based on data gathered by comScore Media Metrix. Some newspapers are fighting back against sites like Craigslist by emphasizing their advantages, like a specialized readership and customer service.

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Sue Clark-Johnson, the president of the Gannett newspaper division, addressed the competition of Craigslist at a newspaper conference in December. The lawsuit also poses a potential threat to Web sites like Back.

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Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, said, "It cuts both ways for us. If Craigslist loses, the paid ad business might benefit, he said, but a victory would be good for the free on the Web. Lee Rainie, the director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said the case may be ificant in determining how Web sites are policed.

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Rainie said. Of the Now Craigslist is the one under attack.


Craigslist has until March 15 to respond to the lawsuit. Updated July 30,a.

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