Copyright

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
copyright, data, trademark, useful

Companies:
3taps, craigslist, padmapper



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.

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  1. identicon
    Call me Al, 25 Jul 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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