Craigslist vs. eBay: Who's telling the truth?

In the suit and countersuit currently being played out between eBay and Craigslist, there is really only one question: which famous tech character is to be believed?

When rich people sue rich people, it often seems that the only possible winners can be rich people.

Which perhaps doesn't engage the emotions of spectators quite as much as, say, when rich people are caught with their plus fours around their ankles.

Still, the current lawsuit between eBay and Craigslist does offer a small window into our own daily lives. You know, the one through which we decide whether we believe what someone is telling us.

This legal spatula is being flipped in Delaware Chancery Court, its essence revolving around how much of Craigslist eBay really owns. Is it 28.4 percent, on which they initially agreed in 2004? Or is it the 24 percent that appears to have emerged after what eBay believes was a "self-dealing" and underhand scheme by Craigslist to dilute the value of its stock?

eBay's executives have already protested both their innocence and niceness. On Thursday and Friday, it was the turn of Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster of Craigslist. (Oh, if you're in need of human fascination, it continues Monday and is being streamed live by the Courtroom View Network.)

So here we are having to decide who is, well, the nicest person, the one who isn't telling the odd fib or two.

Perhaps the most moving remark of the first couple of days came from former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who told the court that the moment she became concerned about the dealings between the two companies was when eBay founder Pierre Omidyar allegedly became frustrated with Craigslist.

"To be honest," she told the court, "I was starting to get concerned because really, nobody doesn't like Pierre."

And so we had eBay claiming the niceness higher ground. "We are sweet. We are lovely. We are kind to animals," seemed to be her refrain. The folks at Craigslist, though they might seem pleasantly libertarian at times, are not immune from a little folksiness of their own.

Believable? CC: Jemima G/Flickr

So when Newmark and Buckmaster took the stand, it was surely hard not to see them as the smaller, more idealistic Merry Men trying to avoid being slammed into the stocks by the big, bad Sheriff of Nottingham.

Newmark, he of the dour-colored suits and the slightly Elvis Costello-ish mien, sounded like Elvis at his lowest when he described how he felt betrayed by eBay.

He came to believe that his lady suitor's aim was not true. "eBay, specifically Meg Whitman, made commitments, and broke them," he told the court.

The Craigslist team, you see, became very concerned when eBay began to create its own classified site, with the slightly uncomfortable name Kijiji . Whitman, claimed Newmark, had promised exclusivity, but she was clearly playing around with Craig's confidential data and his feelings.

Buckmaster, Newmark's blessedly calm Friar Tuck, no doubt tugged at some heartstrings on Friday, when he described a correspondence between himself and Whitman.

On July 12, 2007, he allegedly wrote to the then-eBay CEO: "It is my sad duty to report that we are no longer comfortable having eBay as a shareholder." He went on to explain that Craigslist rather wanted to "explore options for our repurchase, or for otherwise finding a new home for these shares."

This all seemed like Whitman and her less than merry people were being dumped. Which is why you might be rendered somewhat insensate by her alleged reply: "We are so happy with our relationship with Craigslist that we could neither imagine doing anything to disturb our personal rapport with you or [Craigslist founder] Craig [Newmark], nor parting with our shareholding in Craigslist Inc. under any foreseeable circumstances."

She allegedly continued: "Quite to the contrary, we would welcome the opportunity to acquire the remainder of Craigslist Inc. we do not already own whenever you and Craig feel it would be appropriate."

Buckmaster told the court he found the cheery tone of this note to be "threatening."

So there you have it. Buckmaster continues with his possibly painful story on Monday. You, meanwhile, have all weekend to discern who might have slipped a little Rohypnol into their facts and who might be appealing to more fundamental human frailties.

You might also wonder what on earth these two sides were doing trying to have a relationship with each other. Somehow, it all seems a little like Angelina Jolie trying to get it on with Ross Perot.

 

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