No Craig Newmark Did Not Donate To EFF; He Helped Make CFAA Worse Instead

from the eff-opposed-the-lawsuit dept

There's been a bunch of fuss online over the "news" that Craigslist is supposedly donating $1 million to EFF when the money is not actually from Craig. It's from a startup that Craigslist has sued out of business, under a dangerous interpretation of the CFAA that harms the open internet. Obviously, EFF getting an additional $1 million in resources is really great. But it's troubling to see so many people congratulate Craigslist and Craig Newmark for "supporting EFF." Craig himself has contributed to this misleading perception with this tweet implying he's giving his own money to EFF:
Plenty of smart people are cheering on Craig for supposedly being so generous. But that's wrong. This isn't Craigslist being generous. This is Craigslist abusing the CFAA to kill a company who was making the internet better, and then handing over some of the proceeds to the EFF, which actively opposed Craigslist's lawsuit.

Now, I should note upfront that I like Craigslist and very much like Craig Newmark personally. I think that the company has been really innovative in taking a more long term view of its business (even if it's been losing ground more recently). However, this lawsuit was always really sketchy. It sued a few companies for making Craigslist more valuable. Those companies were scraping Craigslist data, but only to overlay additional information and always pointing people back to Craigslist. In other words, the companies Padmapper and 3taps were adding value to Craigslist in the same manner that much of the internet was built -- by providing more value on top of the work of others.

And yet Craigslist sued these companies under a tortured definition of the CFAA, arguing that the mere scraping of its data to provide value on top of it (none of which took away any value from Craigslist) was "unauthorized access." The EFF filed an amicus brief against Craigslist, slamming the company (which it has frequently supported in other circumstances) for abusing the law:
The CFAA does not and should not impose liability on anyone who accesses information publicly available on the Internet. Because the CFAA and Penal Code § 502 imposes both civil and criminal liability, it must be interpreted narrowly. That means information on a publicly accessible website can be accessed by anyone on the Internet without running afoul of criminal computer hacking laws. In the absence of access, as opposed to use, restrictions, Craigslist cannot use these anti-hacking laws to complain when the information it voluntarily broadcasts to the world is accessed, even if it is upset about a competing or complementary business.

[....]

Craigslist’s enormous success is a result of its openness: anyone anywhere can access any of its websites and obtain information about apartments for rent, new jobs or cars for sale. Its openness means that Craigslist is the go to place on the web for classified ads; it users post on Craigslist because they know their ads will reach the largest audience.

But what Craigslist is trying to do here is to use the CFAA’s provisions to enforce the unilateral determinations it has made concerning access to its website, an Internet site that it has already chosen to open up to the general public, attempting to turn a law against computer hacking into a new tool. But prohibiting access to an otherwise publicly available website is not the type of harm that Congress intended to be proscribed in the CFAA, and nowhere in the legislative history is there any suggestion that the CFAA was drafted to grant website owners such unbridled discretion.
That's the EFF directly arguing against Craigslist in this case. Unfortunately, the initial district court ruling agreed with Craigslist, leading EFF to note just how dangerous the ruling was:
There's a serious potential for mischief that is encouraged by this decision, as companies could arbitrarily decide whose authorization to "revoke" and need only write a letter and block an IP address to invoke the power of a felony criminal statute in what is, at best, a civil business dispute.
Orin Kerr, who is an expert on abuses of the CFAA was similarly alarmed:
Judge Breyer’s opinion appears to mix up two different aspects of the CFAA. The first aspect is the prohibition on unauthorized access, and the second is its associated mental state element of intent. The CFAA only prohibits intentional unauthorized access; merely knowingly or recklessly accessing without authorization is not prohibited. So whatever unauthorized access means, the person must be guilty of doing that thing (the act of unauthorized access) intentionally to trigger the statute. Breyer seems to mix up those elements by focusing heavily on the fact that 3taps knew that Craigslist didn’t want 3taps to access its site. According to Judge Breyer, the clear notice meant that the case before him didn’t raise all the notice and vagueness issues that prompted the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Nosal.
So now the case has been settled, and, as a result, at least one of the companies involved, 3taps, is shutting down altogether. 3taps points out that it's 3taps, not Craigslist whose money is going to EFF:

As part of the settlement, 3taps and its founder, Greg Kidd, have agreed to pay craigslist $1 million, all of which must then be paid by craigslist to the EFF, which supported 3taps' position on the CFAA in this litigation, and continues to do great work for Internet freedom generally.  Mr. Kidd's investment firm, Hard Yaka, has also committed to make a substantial investment in PadMapper to provide it with the resources to continue to innovate and serve the post-craigslist marketplace.

Although 3taps lacks the resources to continue the fight, this settlement provides much needed resources to the EFF, as there is still much to be done on the issues raised in this case.

For example, the question remains whether private companies that maintain public websites can selectively exclude visitors, exposing the banned visitor to civil and criminal liability under the CFAA.

Furthermore, this is unlikely to be the last litigation involving craigslist's copyrights, particularly given craigslist's current practice of selectively obtaining copyright assignments and registrations (the prerequisite to a copyright infringement lawsuit) in certain user-generated posts, but failing to inform its visitors which posts it owns.  This effectively creates a copyright litigation trap for unwary visitors.

Finally, it remains unresolved whether craigslist's well-recognized practice of "ghosting" (the hiding or interception of user postings and emails) without the users' knowledge or consent is legal or ethical.

Given all that, it's fairly disappointing to see lots of prominent people backslapping Craig and Craigslist for "donating" this money to EFF. It's not Craig's money. And, according to the settlements, it appears that the $1 million isn't all that Craigslist is getting. That's just the money 3taps is paying. Another company in the dispute, Lovely, is paying an additional $2.1 million. It's unclear if Craigslist is giving that money to EFF or anyone else -- or keeping it.

Again, on most issues, I think Craig and Craigslist are on the right side of things. He fought strongly against SOPA and for net neutrality. I think the company does the right thing in many cases, but in this case it clearly did not, and the fact that people are now cheering him on when it's not even his money, and is only happening as a result of his bad lawsuit that forced another company to shut down, is really disturbing.





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  1. identicon
    Rich, 1 Jul 2015 @ 2:37pm

    If the EFF has any integrity, they will give it back.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 2:47pm

    "which must then be paid by craigslist to the EFF"

    Doesn't sound much like a "donation" to me. I hope they don't get to write it off their taxes as one.

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

  3. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Jul 2015 @ 2:58pm

    Re:

    They don't need to go that far, they just need to make it clear that they know who's really donating the money to them, and thank 3taps, rather than Craigslist for the money.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 3:00pm

    Great article, Mike.

    The CFAA is disturbing, it allows eula's to set the terms of law at the companies whim. How can anyone think this is a good idea? It seams quite unconstituation to me.

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

  5. identicon
    That One Other Not So Random Guy, 1 Jul 2015 @ 3:49pm

    Re:

    I agree, they should give the money back.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 3:58pm

    have agreed to pay craigslist $1 million

    lacks the resources to continue the fight


    That these can be said at the same time demonstrates what is wrong with the judicial system.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 4:41pm

    Re: Re:

    I agree, they should give the money to me.

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

  8. icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 1 Jul 2015 @ 5:39pm

    Even smart people...

    Even smart people do stupid things. This is one of them that has to sit on the shoulders of Newmark. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. Sorry Craig, but the gifts come out the other end!

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 6:07pm

    Nice win across the board for craigslist. Kudos on the good fight, Craig.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 6:58pm

    Re: Re:

    They should use the money to sue Craig for the money he just gave them to see if they can get it back from him for the original company. It's only fair.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jul 2015 @ 9:16pm

    Very informative. A nice change from other articles that did not apear to have been vetted for accuracy.

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

  12. icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 1 Jul 2015 @ 11:01pm

    Thanks, Mike. Just found Craig Newmark on Ello and pulled him up on this with a link to this article. :)

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

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2015 @ 1:09am

    I'm super concerned with this. It definitely means something to my life and everyone else in the world.

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2015 @ 2:10am

    He is a vile piece of human. This is below the lowest bar.

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2015 @ 5:04am

    Re:

    To be clear, other articles refers to other articles on this subject appearing elsewhere, with an article by nbcbayarea being a prime example.

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

  16. icon
    Michael Allen (profile), 2 Jul 2015 @ 8:20am

    what happened to padmapper in the end?

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

  17. identicon
    Robb Shecter, 2 Jul 2015 @ 2:26pm

    Can't find support for claim that CL just pay the EFF

    I've read through several of these documents and everything I see only describes the penalty to be paid to CL. This does make CL's payment to EFF look like a donation.

    Can someone point out where CL "must" pay EFF $1 million?

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2015 @ 3:51pm

    Re: Can't find support for claim that CL just pay the EFF

    It is alleged above that this requirement is contained in a settlement agreement, a document of the type that is rarely made public.

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2015 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re:

    It is a good piece by Mike. I don't think Craig is a douche, though. The settlement says nothing about donating the money. That must have been a side deal.

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

  20. icon
    tqk (profile), 3 Jul 2015 @ 11:18am

    Re: Re:

    They don't need to go that far, they just need to make it clear that they know who's really donating the money to them, and thank 3taps, rather than Craigslist for the money.

    Split the difference; half to EFF with a receipt they can use against tax to 3taps, the other half cash to 3taps.

    In other news, the shoe industry is suing the shoelace makers for clawing out a niche for themselves which the shoe industry has so far ignored. They're going up against zipper and button sellers next, possibly even buckle mfgrs too.

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

  21. icon
    tqk (profile), 3 Jul 2015 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    They should use the money to sue Craig for the money he just gave them to see if they can get it back from him for the original company.

    You need to re-read the chapter on recursion.

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

  22. icon
    tqk (profile), 3 Jul 2015 @ 11:26am

    Re:

    Nice win across the board for craigslist. Kudos on the good fight, Craig.

    You've piqued my interest. Do tell, what wonderful things are there in the CFAA which we're obviously missing?

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2015 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I know all about recursion. If you do it long enough the lawyers are all kept busy.

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2015 @ 11:16am

    Re:

    Agree EFF should not keep the money. If EFF just argued that the company did nothing wrong, then it should return the money now that it has the ability to do so. Otherwise they are no better than Craigslist.

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

  25. identicon
    Nathan, 10 Jul 2015 @ 9:58pm

    Re: Re: Can't find support for claim that CL just pay the EFF

    3taps shared the settlement agreement on their site. Here's the link: https://3taps.com/papers/global%20settlement.PDF

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


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