California, Copyright, Craigslist, Google / Search Engines, Intellectual Property, Technology

Why Does Craigslist Keep Suing People Who Want to Improve the Site?

Anyone who has used Craigslist knows the site has not really changed in the 17 years it’s been around. In a time when you can even geolocate cell phone photos, the site design is a bit anachronistic (read: annoying). There’s no mapping, and no ability to add more than one post at once, or take advantage of a lot of options more recent sites offer.

So, as technology folk tend to do these days, a variety of entrepreneurs have attempted find ways to improve the site’s formula.

But Craigslist keeps saying no dice. Not only will it not update, it goes after these imitators — so far, quite successfully — in court. Why?

The San Francisco Chronicle has the scoop on Craigslist’s battle against 3taps and PadMapper, the online classified’s newest twin challengers:

[Greg] Kidd’s 3taps and a website that uses the data it collects, PadMapper, are the latest in a long line of Web developers to face legal action from Craigslist, the San Francisco company that has dominated the online classified advertising market for 17 years. Since 2008, at least three dozen similar services such as MapsKreig, Craiglook and CraigsFish have received cease-and-desist letters from Craigslist, most for building websites that presented Craigslist listings in ways they considered to be more dynamic, visually appealing and helpful.

Most have shut down in response. Services still standing fear similar fates are near. Craigslist also has fought websites that made it easy to post multiple listings at once, winning several default judgments of more than $1 million.

But Kidd, who is a Square adviser and an early investor in Twitter, said he was willing to “burn some shares” and spend money to become one of the first companies to challenge Craigslist long enough to reach a substantive court decision.

Awww, how selfless! No, but seriously, Craigslist is annoying as hell. If you want to find anything specific, you must spend hours combing through layers and layers of crap on the site. And, sometimes that takes years and costs millions of lives.

Oh, but wait, that’s what makes Craigslist so special! Simplicity

Craigslist and its lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. In the lawsuit, Craigslist says that “the originality, simplicity, and clarity” of its website “are fundamental to Craigslist’s reputation and garner substantial and valuable goodwill with users.”

I don’t think goodwill means what you think it means. (Have you ever looked for an apartment on Craigslist? After 20 minutes, you start to wonder whether it might be worth it to just camp out on the Golden Gate Bridge). At some level, I think many people use Craigslist simply because there’s not really a better option out there right now.

Either way, Kidd is using a different strategy with his startup that he hopes will allow him to better survive a court challenge. Instead of directly scraping information from Craigslist, his business grabs information from Google, where Craigslist allows its listings to appear.

Kidd noted that Craigslist chooses to allow price, location and description information from listings to appear on Google. As a result, he said, it shouldn’t be allowed to stop other websites from displaying the same information in unique maps and tables. And the online classifieds leader certainly can’t claim that data points as crucial to commerce as prices, locations and basic descriptions can be copyrighted.

Legal experts say presenting the entirety of listings in the same format as Craigslist would be troublesome, but that’s not what PadMapper is doing. And a 1991 case dealing with phone books suggests that the bare-bones data in listings is not subject to copyright law, these experts say.

Professor Eric Goldman, who runs the Technology & Marketing Law Blog said the site’s justification might be bunk anyway. “If the ads are on Google, it’s already releasing the advertisements to the wild in a way that releases them to all these downfalls,” Goldman told the Chronicle.

For my own personal sake, I hope Kidd is successful. I would really like to buy some new guitar equipment, but I’m way too lazy to waste all that time on Craigslist.

3taps, PadMapper face Craigslist challenge [SFGate]

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments