Craigslist wins early legal victory against PadMapper, 3Taps

Nearly all of Craigslist's allegations of unlawful activities, including trespass and copyright violations, survive a motion to dismiss before a federal judge in San Francisco.

Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, left, and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, shown in front of the company's offices in this file photo. Craigslist filed a high-profile lawsuit against scraping sites last year.
Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, left, and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, shown in front of the company's offices in this file photo. Craigslist filed a high-profile lawsuit against scraping sites last year. Getty Images

Craigslist has won the first round in its federal lawsuit against PadMapper and two other companies, which extracted and used real estate listings from the world's most popular classifieds site.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco on Tuesday rejected attempts by the defendants to dismiss Craigslist's lawsuit , which alleged a slew of unlawful acts -- including terms of use violations, copyright violations, trespass, and civil violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

"Defendants' continued use of Craigslist after the clear statements regarding authorization in the cease and desist letters and the technological measures to block them constitutes unauthorized access under the statute," Breyer wrote in an opinion (PDF), referring to the CFAA. As of today, PadMapper is still showing Craigslist listings.

Craigslist sued PadMapper and 3Taps last July after sending a cease and desist letter. Before the lawsuit was filed, PadMapper had ceased importing listings from Craigslist but then claimed it found a "legally kosher" workaround by using data provided by 3Taps, which scrapes Craigslist-related data. Lovely, which also uses 3Taps data, is also a defendant.

This listing of a 1 bedroom apartment around the corner from CNET's San Francisco headquarters was posted yesterday on Craigslist and now appears on PadMapper.
This listing of a one bedroom apartment around the corner from CNET's San Francisco headquarters was posted yesterday on Craigslist and now appears on PadMapper.

Breyer was responding to defendants' motion to dismiss, which is only a preliminary decision. A final ruling may not happen until next year, and then any possible appeals could take additional years.

The defendants did manage to persuade the judge to toss out a subset of Craigslist's legal claims against them. Breyer said he was not persuaded of Craigslist's allegations of civil conspiracy among the defendants, and that terms of use violation were not a CFAA violation. And he allowed the copyright claims to proceed only for user-created posts submitted between July 16, 2012, and August 8, 2012.

For those few weeks last summer, Craigslist had required that users provide the site with "exclusive" rights to their submissions. Craigslist dropped that language after criticism from groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Ironically, though, it was only that exclusive-rights license that allowed Craigslist to continue to pursue its copyright claims against PadMapper and the other companies. Breyer ruled:

Craigslist's license to user-created posts submitted outside of that time period was not exclusive, and Craigslist therefore cannot sue for infringement of such posts. Outside of the time frame where Craigslist utilized the 'exclusive license' confirmation statement, Craigslist's license to user-created posts was governed only by the TOU. On their face, the TOU do not give any indication that the license 'grant[ed] and assign[ed]" by users is exclusive.

Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote today that "Craigslist should drop its claim to own user posts, even for that three-week period."

Craigslist did not immediately respond to a request from CNET. 3Taps posted a statement on its Web site that says, in part: "The fact that 3taps syndicates user generated content to 3rd parties such as Padmapper was also dismissed as a baseless accusation of criminal conspiracy. Startups creating new search options for users for data from multiple sites can more confidently continue to focus on innovation rather than litigation." 3Taps said in its counterclaim (PDF) that it scraped "publicly available data accessed through general search engines, including Google."

PadMapper and 3Taps have filed antitrust counterclaims , which the judge severed from the main lawsuit and halted discovery on them, meaning they'll proceed at a far slower pace. Breyer said he'll return to the antitrust counterclaims once the main lawsuit is further along.

 

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