Lets say Bob develops an online marketplace that helps facilitate the sale between widget makers and widget buyers. In some states, widgets are illegal. It is also currently illegal to sell widgets across state lines. But Bob isn't directly selling the widgets. His marketplace simply facilitates the pairing of widget makers and widget buyers and takes a small fee for the transaction and acts like an escrow for the sale. Bob knows this might be a problem for a US based company. So he opens the company in Costa Rica (This is an arbitrary choice, Any other country just not in the US) and hosts the marketplace outside of U.S. territory. Furthermore, his T.O.S state that in countries with laws against widgets. It is the Buyers & Sellers responsibility to adhere to their countries laws.

  • Can Bob be held liable for the sale of widget's across state lines?
  • What if the Buyer & Seller are both in states in which widgets are legal?
  • What if the Seller is in a legal widget state but the Buyer is not?
  • What happens if the marketplace was built for zero knowledge transactions? (The site owner doesn't know about specifics of the transactions)
  • 3
    Well the founder of silk road is doing life in prison.
    – A. K.
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:05
  • 1
    Mostly for hiring hitmen and aiding in the trafficking of narcotics online. My example is mostly for the pairing of buyers and sellers of a good that isn't allowed to be sold across state lines but aren't necessarily illegal themselves within the states. For example, Marijuana between California and Colorado. Mar 25, 2019 at 22:10
  • 2
    I know, just a related example. I think its too hard to answer your question without a specific widget since laws are so varied. The only widget I can think of for such an example is firearms not being shipped from FFL dealer to FFL dealer. For which the answer is (unhelpfully) membership in club FED.
    – A. K.
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:14
  • Ussually these issues of liablity for the platform are handled in the terms of use where users agree not to use your platform to break the law.
    – A. K.
    Mar 25, 2019 at 22:55
  • 1
    Presumably if Bob's website asked for the users state and then applied the relevant law, such as not allowing states which ban widgets and only pairing with users in the same state, then it would be less of an issue. But maybe that is a separate question. Mar 28, 2019 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


Bob would be criminally liable, under 18 USC 2:

(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.

The premise is that there exists a federal statute criminalizing interstate trafficking of widgets, written more narrowly than the usual "affecting interstate commerce" statute.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .