Craigslist Inc. vs. [Yet another] suit: There’s a simple solution to this issue

Posted by on Jul 25, 2012 in Craigslist, Marketplace

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Add another pound to the Craigslist Inc. legal bill. That’s not “pound” as in the British currency; that’s “pound” as in “how much will the legal bill weigh when it comes in the mail?”
On top of its ongoing lawsuit against EBay (which, to the best of our knowledge, is still pending in San Francisco years after it was filed), and its more recent lawsuit against (a luxury goods site), now comes Craigslist Inc. vs. 3Taps Inc. and PadMapper Inc.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Federal Court in San Francisco by Buckmaster and Newmark attorneys Perkins Coie, accuses the 3Taps and PadMappers folks of violating Craigslist’s terms of service by capturing data from the site. 3Taps claims to have found an effective work-around to the terms of service so it grabs the data without ever actually visiting; PadMapper, a rentals site which dropped Craigslist data after receiving a cease-and-desist letter several weeks back, added it back in after claiming that using the 3Taps data made it “legally kosher.”

Whether there’s a legal workaround or not, 3Taps and PadMapper seem to be on shaky legal ground, as do so many of the other companies that Craigslist is suing. But that’s sort of beside the point, in our view.

The lawsuit is here; coverage is all over the Web including here, here and here. We don’t need to recap it; odds are good you’ve read it already.

The question that seems obvious is, Why can’t Craigslist figure out a way to make itself better so these tools can either be incorporated into Craigslist, or create a mechanism so that external sites that are better than Craigslist — which isn’t hard to be, these days — can effectively serve the data and serve Craigslist as well? It would not be difficult.

Last fall, Mike Masnick of TechDirt wrote about Craigslist and its propensity to sue anyone who tries to hang better features off it. We’ve written about it, too. And other than Craigslist vs. EBay, which was a claim-and-counterclaim situation against its minority shareholder, Craigslist generally goes after the “little guys.” For example, it’s suing Jameslist but not Angie’s List for using a similar name., of course, is publicly traded with deep pockets; Jameslist is much smaller. PadMapper and 3Taps? Both small start-ups with limited resources. And Craigslist won’t negotiate or even talk to the companies it’s trying to squash.

It makes sense for Craigslist to protect its intellectual property. And there’s no direct analogy between Craigslist suing all these folks who develop better tools for using Craigslist and the newspaper companies that set up paywalls to keep their most valued, most frequent users away from their site (or make them pay up, which they are not doing. In droves.). Still — somehow, one brings to mind the other.

In the cycle of “continuous improvement” that is just about every other successful site and business online, Craigslist sure hasn’t figured it out. Instead, it files lawsuits. Ahem. Spend $20 million of that $100 million-plus in annual revenue on site improvements, Craig and Jim, instead of on legal fees, and you’d have a much better Craigslist.

Buckmaster’s mantra has always been, “We do what the users ask for.” Well, Jim, they’re asking for it. And developing it externally. You just aren’t delivering it, nor are you allowing users to improve on the Craigslist experience without you. A recipe for disaster.


Written by Peter M. Zollman

Peter M. Zollman brings more than 35 years of media experience to his role as founding principal of the AIM Group / Classified Intelligence Report. He has worked with a wide range of media companies, dot-coms, technology providers and start-ups to develop and expand successful interactive-media services. He is based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., near Orlando.