Disappointing: Craigslist Sues Padmapper For Making Craigslist More Useful & Valuable

from the call-off-the-dogs,-craig dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the unfortunate news that Craigslist was continuing its old practice of bullying aggregator sites who added value to Craigslist listings and sent more traffic to the site, with a legal threat against the popular real estate site PadMapper. PadMapper takes a variety of real estate listings and adds value to them, such as by adding an embeddable map to show you where it is. However, it still directs the user back to the original. In many ways, it's no different than what something like Google does. Unfortunately, rather than call off the legal dogs, Craigslist has decided to go forward and sue PadMapper, along with 3rd party data provider 3taps. PadMapper had started using data from 3taps, rather than scraping Craigslist directly, on the belief that such a move would get around the legal issues.

The legal filing is below, and as with some of Craigslist's earlier lawsuits, this one raises a bunch of legal issues that are highly questionable. A lawsuit of this nature is much more suited to an old legacy gatekeeper, rather than a company that is supposedly of the internet generation. To say it's disappointing that Craigslist would engage in these kinds of tactics is an understatement.

The key arguments are that these services violate Craigslists' copyrights and trademarks. Neither claim seems particularly strong. In fact, both seem exceptionally weak. The internet would be a much worse place if either claim was found to be correct in court -- and it's surprising that Craig Newmark, who has fought the good fight for internet freedom, including being a major supporter of the Internet Defense League -- would move forward with such claims that could damage the basic workings of the internet.

The copyright claim is an odd one. Most of the content on Craigslist is created by the users, not by Craigslist. The Craigslist terms of use shows that users do not directly assign their copyrights to Craigslist (in fact, they're pretty explicit that "CL does not control, is not responsible for and makes no representations or warranties with respect to any user content"). However, users do provide a rather complete license to the works, including the right to sue over the copying of the work:
You also expressly grant and assign to CL all rights and causes of action to prohibit and enforce against any unauthorized copying, performance, display, distribution, use or exploitation of, or creation of derivative works from, any content that you post (including but not limited to any unauthorized downloading, extraction, harvesting, collection or aggregation of content that you post).
In light of the Righthaven debacle in which it was made clear that you cannot assign the bare right to sue, I'm curious if this particular clause is actually enforceable. Perhaps the assigning of "all rights" could be interpreted to mean the actual copyrights were assigned, but it's not that clear.

Either way, I'm still not convinced that the actions in question wouldn't then be covered by fair use. Sites like PadMapper are collecting mostly factual data. In looking around at Padmapper, including a number of Craigslist listings, all of the information provided appears to be factual. Here's an example:
All of the info is factual. It does not include the Craigslist writeup. It just includes information like price, number of bedrooms, bathrooms and location. That information is simply not subject to copyright. Furthermore, it appears to take none of Craigslist's look and feel. To suggest that it's infringement to collect and post that, non-copyrightable, information is ridiculous.

In its complaint, Craigslist points to the actual listings pages, claiming that PadMapper violates its copyright because it displays "misappropriated craigslist content." As far as I can tell that's not true. What PadMapper appears to do is to display actual Craigslist pages, but do so with a frame, showing its own toolbar on the lefthand side. That is, it's not copying Craigslist content or republishing it, but sending users to Craigslist, and providing additional (and quite useful) tools. Example below:
That right hand frame is served from Craigslist itself, not Padmapper.

The claim against 3taps might be a bit stronger, since it runs a site that appears to host content copied from Craigslist -- which 3taps then claims is public domain. That claim is questionable. 3taps CEO, Greg Kidd, told Jeff Roberts at GigaOm "that his company doesn’t “scrape” Craigslist but simply draws on data available on the public internet in the same way that other search engines do." That doesn't make much sense, because the way that other search engines work is to scrape content. Still, considering that search engines are considered legal, one could make an argument that 3taps is no different.

The second major claim in the lawsuit is even weaker. It's a trademark claim against both companies. Again, the argument against 3taps has slightly more credibility, since 3taps runs a (nicely designed) site called "craiggers." However, the site clearly has a tagline stating: "craigslist data, better than craigslist." I think most people would automatically assume, then, that the site has no relationship with Craigslist. When it comes to PadMapper, it's unclear how anyone could possibly be confused. The site is PadMapper and it sends people to Craigslist. There's simply no confusion there at all.

3taps' display of some of the data possibly represents a legal issue, but if any, it's a pretty minor one. It's difficult to see how making the data in Craigslist more useful creates any sort of "harm" for Craigslist at all. The arguments against PadMapper seem laughable to atrocious. Either way, for a company that often presents itself both as a strong defender of internet freedoms and as one that relies on safe harbor rules like the CDA 230, it's disappointing to see Craigslist become a legal bully over other sites who don't take away from Craigslist at all, but rather make the (increasingly out-of-date) site a lot more useful.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Digitari, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Not sure how one can sue for content they are not responsible for.....

    Did they not shut down part of Craigslist because they we not responsible for the Hookers posting there??

    If you are not responsible, how can you sue someone else for using said content..

    wont this open them up for liability for the old Hooker ads then??

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:28am

    All of the data is factual, except for one major point:

    The listing itself (existance of) is not a public fact, it's something that exists only on CL. Without scraping CL, nobody would know that.

    Otherwise, where would the mapper know to put the push pins?

     

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  •  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:29am

    It is all fun and games until someone loses an eye

    It appears that Newmark is onboard with internet freedom until he feels his freedom has been infringed. I for one feel that what PadMapper is doing is and should be legal. To claim it isn't would be to claim that search engines aren't legal either. I don't understand sites like Craigslist seeing things as a zero sum game. Since he isn't willing to make his site better, he should be glad someone else is doing it for him.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:37am

    Complaint for:
    ...
    (7) Federal Cyberpiracy Prevention

    Aside from the utterly ridiculous use of the prefix "Cyber", all of the other things in the list look like the things Craigslist is suing to stop.
    So Craigslist wants the cyberpiracy to continue?

     

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  •  
    icon
    Russ (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:41am

    Legacy Players

    I think we must acknowledge that the Web, especially Web 1.0 is old enough that there are now legacy players and they will be have that way. to wit: ' It works fine and I am threatened by anyone that does it differently'

    the second part is usually: " I have money and you don't. Let's go to court'

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    Enough with the bogus headlines!

    Padmapper was not sued for making Craigslist more useful and valuable. They were sued for a bunch of reasons DESPITE making Craigslist more useful and valuable.

    I understand that you might feel that you need to lie in the headline to get people to read your stuff, but you really don't. It might work for Fox, but it isn't going to help you.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Call me Al, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      You seem to struggle with the concept of headlines. There has always been a degree of license with what goes there and long may it continue.

      I see it as a form of Darwinism. Those people who take their news purely from the headline, without reading the actual content, then demonstrate their stupidity for all to see.

      You are also ignoring the likelihood that the reason why they are suing is because their are threatened by the competition. The copyright and trademark points are simply the tools to allow them to sue.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:23am

        Re: Re:

        You see it as Darwinism, I see it as being dishonest. It's a type of bait-and-switch.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 10:03am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Where is the dishonest part there bob?

          Is it dishonest to point people to your store?
          Is it dishonest to gather the prices from your store and list them elsewhere but still pointing to your store?

          The only people dishonest here appear to be the people who believe they can own information and all the ways it can be distributed or accessed.

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 10:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The 'bait-and-switch' is in reference to the headline and the story contents. The headline is sensationalist and inaccurate while the body of the story is reasonable.

             

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            •  
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 11:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The only bait and switch I see is your wording sir.

              The headline seems normal to me and accurate to what happened.

              When do creating a better interface for data is not making that data look better?

              It also encourage people to go pay Graiglists to list something since the data comes from there and that fact is not hidden at all, so you create an attractive interface(aka GUI) for Graiglists that encourages more expending on that service and you are the bad guy?
              How?

               

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              •  
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 11:49am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                The headline seems normal to me and accurate to what happened.


                You can click through the link Mike posted and see the court filing yourself. Nowhere in it does it say they are suing Padmapper for making Craigslist more useful and valuable. They are being sued for bullshit copyright claims.

                Lots of us get upset when others talk about copyright issues with imprecise language. Look at how many words have been published here admonishing people for calling infringement "theft". If we want others to use honest language, then we should do so ourselves. Mike should change the headline to use the word "Despite" rather than "for".

                 

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                •  
                  identicon
                  Prisoner 201, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 12:27pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Yes of course they are not saying that in the court filing, if they had that level comprehension they would not sue at all.

                  What the headline is referencing is what they in effect are suing for, creating a nice headline and at the same time calling CL out for their lack of understanding.

                  But go ahead and nitpick tiny details, while the rest of us (sans trolls) debate the relevant issues.

                   

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            •  
              icon
              G Thompson (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:58pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Ok, lets see..

              The first word in the headline is "Disappointing" with a colon following it. This leads anyone with a basic grasp of correct grammar and the English language to conclude that it was an OPINION , unless of course the reader is a complete moron.

              Then the opinionated emphasis is followed with "Craigslist Sues Padmapper For Making Craigslist More Useful & Valuable" which is a statement, and within the constrains of the proceeding colon a definition of that opinion.

              We then look at the holistic context of the heading in regards to the actual textual content that follows and saee lo and behold that the author opines absolutely the specific statement that the heading states.

              What part of the above explanation are you not aware of. Also for your elucidation I am not calling you a complete moron, in my opinion there are probably parts missing

               

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        •  
          icon
          John Fenderson (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 11:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I see it as being dishonest.


          I disagree. I think the headline is factual, albeit written to be sensationalistic. Just like, oh, most newspaper headlines and every TV news teaser in the history of news.

          Besides, this isn't a newspaper, and this isn't a news piece. It's commentary and opinion based on news. The headline is a part of that: an opinion.

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            So, when people conflate copyright infringement and theft in a headline, we shouldn't say anything because that's just an opinion?

            It's an interesting story that doesn't need sensationalism to get Mike some page views.

             

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            •  
              icon
              John Fenderson (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 3:00pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              So, when people conflate copyright infringement and theft in a headline, we shouldn't say anything because that's just an opinion?


              Well, first, conflating theft & copyright infringement is a different type of thing than the headline here. The former is just factually incorrect, the latter is not.

              But, aside from that, it depends on context. If the conflation occurs in the context of a news source (like, using your example, Fox News often does), that's a terrible thing because journalism comes with an (often ignored) responsibility to be as neutral as possible.

              In the context of an opinion piece, I don't see an issue so long as it's not just a flat out lie.

              Also, I never said that nobody should say anything about it. Just because I disagree with your take on the issue doesn't mean that I think you shouldn't speak you mind. You should. As should I. Otherwise we'd never have interesting discussions like this one!

               

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      Except that padmapper does make CL more useful? So, they make it more useful, they get sued? It fits nicely with Newmarks MO for every site he's bullied.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 10:56am

        Re: Re:

        Except that padmapper does make CL more useful


        Irrelevant. AFAIK, "providing a good service" isn't a defense against any of CL's claims in their lawsuit. I'm sure their success is what made CL notice them, but still the claims in the lawsuit do not include "Padmapper makes Craigslist more useful and valuable." That isn't something you can litigate.

        It's a shitty lawsuit and I hope CL loses. My only problem here is Mike giving in to sensationalism in the headline. Other than that bit of pedantry, it's a great write up.

         

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    •  
      icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:01am

      Re:

      WHOOOOSH!

      They're questionable suit of PadMapper for putting a usefull frame around the Craig's List page it interacts with is a key point of the article. I'm surprised you missed it....

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:28am

        Re: Re:

        I agree that it's a questionable law suit and I totally agree with Mike's take on it. But the headline is inaccurate. Change the word 'for' to 'Despite' and nothing is lost and integrity is maintained.

         

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        •  
          icon
          JMT (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 3:03pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's hilarious to watch you bang away at this, mistakenly thinking you're doing us all a favour criticising something that we all seem to understand much better than you.

          It's a headline in an opinion blog. It's supposed to grab your attention. It's supposed to make you want to read further. It's a succinct summary of the resulting situation.

          The more you argue against this the sillier you look.

           

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  •  
    icon
    BentFranklin (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:05am

    Here is Craigslist's robots.txt file. Why not just exclude 3taps or all spiders? Problem solved?

    ##############################
    # Exclude robots from these

    User-agent: YahooFeedSeeker
    Disallow: /forums
    Disallow: /res/
    Disallow: /post
    Disallow: /email.friend
    Disallow: /eaf
    Disallow: /reply
    Disallow: /?flagCode
    Disallow: /ccc
    Disallow: /hhh
    Disallow: /sss
    Disallow: /bbb
    Disallow: /ggg
    Disallow: /jjj

    User-Agent: OmniExplorer_Bot
    Disallow: /

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /cgi-bin
    Disallow: /cgi-secure
    Disallow: /forums
    Disallow: /search
    Disallow: /res/
    Disallow: /post
    Disallow: /email.friend
    Disallow: /eaf
    Disallow: /reply
    Disallow: /?flagCode
    Disallow: /ccc
    Disallow: /hhh
    Disallow: /sss
    Disallow: /bbb
    Disallow: /ggg
    Disallow: /jjj
    Disallow: /*rss$


    #####################################

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:10am

      Re:

      Why do that when he could take them to court and win statutory damages? Think of the number of counts he could have declared against them!

       

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    •  
      identicon
      CraigsList, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 9:33am

      Re:

      /*we're not going to do the simple thing because money*/

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Doug, Aug 31st, 2012 @ 9:58am

      Re:

      robots.txt is really just a suggestion -- it doesn't enforce anything, and the user-agent targets are free to ignore it. Even if it did enforce anything, it'd be circumvented by just changing their own user-agent on the scraper.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Alex Neth, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:08am

    Count me on board wanting a better Craigslist interface, however to answer this query is quite simple:

    "It's difficult to see how making the data in Craigslist more useful creates any sort of "harm" for Craigslist at all."

    If PadMapper becomes the go-to place for housing buyers, it can leverage that to become the go-to place for housing sellers, thus dis-intermediating Craigslist. A more useful interface to Craigslist that is not owned or hosted by Craigslist not only harms CL, it threatens to destroy CL's business.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 10:08am

      Re:

      Yes there is that risk but that is the nature of "competition" or you don't believe in that anymore?

      Besides that PadMapper depends on Craigslist to be useful is more of a symbiotic arrangement, because everybody will know that to have your listings appear there they need to pay Graiglists to put up the advert there so it can be pickup, coincidentally this is the place where Craiglist makes the bulk of its revenue, so I can't understand how encouraging people to use Craiglist is in any way a bad thing at all.

       

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  •  
    icon
    BentFranklin (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    Here is Craigslist's robots.txt file. Why not just exclude 3taps or all spiders? Problem solved?

    ##############################
    # Exclude robots from these

    User-agent: YahooFeedSeeker
    Disallow: /forums
    Disallow: /res/
    Disallow: /post
    Disallow: /email.friend
    Disallow: /eaf
    Disallow: /reply
    Disallow: /?flagCode
    Disallow: /ccc
    Disallow: /hhh
    Disallow: /sss
    Disallow: /bbb
    Disallow: /ggg
    Disallow: /jjj

    User-Agent: OmniExplorer_Bot
    Disallow: /

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /cgi-bin
    Disallow: /cgi-secure
    Disallow: /forums
    Disallow: /search
    Disallow: /res/
    Disallow: /post
    Disallow: /email.friend
    Disallow: /eaf
    Disallow: /reply
    Disallow: /?flagCode
    Disallow: /ccc
    Disallow: /hhh
    Disallow: /sss
    Disallow: /bbb
    Disallow: /ggg
    Disallow: /jjj
    Disallow: /*rss$


    #####################################

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:23am

    and exactly what is surprising about this? we see the entertainment industries shooting themselves in the foot every day!

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Nic, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 8:41am

    Can't support you on this one, Mike, sorry.

    I'm with Craigslist on this one. They HAVE to do this or they'll be cut out of the market by people stealing their listed ads from them.

    Legally, I can't really comment on whether their classified ads can really be copyrighted or not, but ethically speaking, what Carsabi, 3Taps and PadMapper did is utterly and completely morally bankrupt.

    You make a much better interface? That's great, good for you. Now, disrupt, try to build an audience and put Craigslist slowly out of business if it refuses to adapt. That's how market disruption works. And we've seen that happen very often.

    You don't go and copy every listing of your popular competitor just to make sure you have an audience overnight because you can't be bothered to actually work to build it yourself. That's using someone else's work to gain popularity. And that's freaking scummy.

    Might be a touchy subject for me since I'm in the business of scanlation and every day, we see our own work being copied so big manga readers can make money off it... and it still bothers me to this day. Even if I don't own the copyrights and do this for free/fun, it's us who did the work of getting it out.

    That being said, if Craigslist was smart, they'd buy out one of these and replace their own interface. But as it stands, it has to go after people copying their listings.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

     

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    •  
      icon
      HiggsLight (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 9:05am

      Re:

      Aggregating is not copying. It's a form of automated linking and it's done with all kinds of content everywhere. There are even aggregator aggregators now - like Kayak.com. Craigslist is odd because it's seemingly designed to invite aggregation (all queries can be made into RSS) but doesn't seem to like it when someone does it well.

      I'm not sure what the difference would be between a service like Padmapper and a geo-smart RSS reader that could parse locations in the ads and include a map view.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 11:00am

        Re: Re:

        It is against their TOS. I have no idea what the courts say about violating terms of service. Maybe it's like those meaningless blocks at the end of emails that say "if you aren't the intended recipient, print this out and shred it".

         

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        •  
          icon
          G Thompson (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 9:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Terms of Service can only be enforced for those who are specifically clients of the service and not for the general public if the services information is world viewable and/or accessible.

          Basically a TOS is a contractual promise between two or more parties and unless there is a specific contractual relationship with all the legal elements that goes along with that, for all parties, then the TOS is basically a psychological deterrent and mostly nowadays not even that.

           

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    •  
      icon
      CommonSense (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      I see it as Craigslist is cutting itself out of the market by doing things like this.

      PadMapper isn't stealing listed adds, it seems exactly like a specialized search engine that displays some factual info and a link to the original posting. It's got other cool features too, but that's beside the point. I'd bet PadMapper's goal isn't to disrupt and take customers away from Craigslist at all, in fact, I'd bet that they hope Craigslist stays around for a while so that they can still be useful. But I'd also bet that they don't want to limit their information database to Craigslist either. If you look at the real world, Craigslist isn't popular in all areas of the United States, and I don't know for sure, but I'd have to figure that in at least some of those areas, there is a different local site that does something similar.

      I think that if Craigslist were smart, they'd try and partner up with these types of sites...make it mutually beneficial for the companies that users post any and everything on Craigslist in order for it to show up in all of the most popular search sites on the web (Google, PadMapper, 3taps, etc.). It's really up to Craigslist to keep people interested in posting their stuff there, and I think limiting the people who view Craigslist data to only visitors of the real site while all these other sites with cool features pop up all over (ESPECIALLY if your site isn't EVER getting any better...) is basically putting a noose around the company's neck.

      I agree with you to a degree on 3Taps though. They are likely to be hoping to take users from Craigslist...but mostly because they are a site with better features. No one would be out there wanting to copy Craigslist data and make it more usable if Craigslist would make it more useful itself. Maybe the smarter thing would have been (or hopefully their next move will be) to make a "better"list(.com?) that does interface with sites of the future.

      Truth is...the time for holding back innovation is over. It's get on the train, or get out of the way time.

       

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    •  
      icon
      John Fenderson (profile), Jul 25th, 2012 @ 12:06pm

      Re:

      ethically speaking, what Carsabi, 3Taps and PadMapper did is utterly and completely morally bankrupt.


      I couldn't disagree more with regards to Padmapper, as padmapper is supplying traffic to Craigslist.

      Might be a touchy subject for me since I'm in the business of scanlation and every day, we see our own work being copied so big manga readers can make money off it... and it still bothers me to this day.


      There are numerous ways to handle this situation, both technical and social, that are fair and friendly and would even enhance your own visibility as the author of the data. If you're really bothered by it, you should look into your options. Observe how others do it -- this isn't really rocket science.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Roman, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 9:09am

    Having their cake

    It almost seems like Craigslist is involved in a classic case of wanting it both ways, or having their cake and eating it too - when someone posts something of questionable moral or legal status they're not responsible and it's not theirs, but when something this happens it's theirs, theirs, and only theirs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 25th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    Here is the thing that I don't get.

    Since PadMapper depends on Craiglists and they are building their "interface" on top of Craiglists which encourages people to pay for adverts on Craiglists how is this bad?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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