Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Craigslist sues PadMapper for 'mass harvesting' listings

When a cease-and-desist letter didn't stop PadMapper and 3taps from using its online classifieds listings, Craigslist decided to file a lawsuit.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
PadMapper collects all listings around a specific city or ZIP code from Craigslist and other services and displays them on a Google map. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Craigslist made good on its promise to go after PadMapper if it continued using Craigslist content on its site. The online classifieds company filed a lawsuit in San Francisco's federal court on Friday against both PadMapper and the data harvester it uses -- 3taps.

"For their own commercial benefit, defendants 3Taps and PadMapper are unlawfully and unabashedly mass-harvesting and redistributing postings entrusted by Craigslist users to their local Craigslist sites," reads the complaint filed by Craigslist. "This exploitation of Craigslist content undermines the integrity of local Craigslist communities, ultimately harming both Craigslist and its users."

The battle began in June when Craigslist sent PadMapper a cease-and-desist letter that claimed the app violated its terms of use. PadMapper collects all listings around a specific city or ZIP code from Craigslist and other services and displays them on a Google map, allowing users to search by area, apartment size, and rental price. When users click on the listing, PadMapper redirects them back to the original Craigslist posting.

Craigslist, which is a popular portal for apartment ads, prohibits "copying, aggregation, display, distribution, performance, or derivative use of Craigslist or any content posted on Craigslist."

For a short while PadMapper took Craigslist data off its site, but then earlier this month, it said it would resume using the data after it discovered a workaround.

"I've found a way to include them that I'm told is legally kosher since it doesn't touch their servers at all, but it still seems somewhat dickish to go against their wishes in this," PadMapper creator Eric DeMenthon wrote in a blog post.

The solution was provided by 3taps, which has created an API that draws data from Craigslist postings by "indirect means," meaning they supposedly aren't subject to the Internet bulletin board's terms of use.

In the complaint filed last week, Craigslist accuses the two companies of several infractions, including copyright and trademark violations, breach of contract, unfair competition, and cyberpiracy. Craigslist is also asking the court to issue a preliminary injunction to immediately halt the companies from using its classified listings.

"Since the defendants are unwilling to cease their infringing and harmful activities--indeed, each is brazenly intent on unlawfully growing its business on the back of Craigslist and its users -- Craigslist had no choice but to commence this action," the complaint reads.

In the face of this lawsuit, both 3taps and PadMapper maintain that they've done no harm. According to GigaOm, 3taps CEO Greg Kidd said that his company simply uses data available on the Internet the same way other search engines do. While DeMenthon told CNET that he wishes he had been able to negotiate with Craigslist and reach a solution but that Craigslist wasn't open to talking about it.

"I'd obviously rather talk with them than defend against a lawsuit - it's very questionable whether I could afford a defense with a good lawyer - but they've not been willing to have a meeting or even a call to talk about it," DeMenthon said. "I think that their claims are something worth defending against, though, if I can."

CNET contacted Craigslist for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.

Updated at 7:20 p.m. PT with comment from PadMapper creator Eric DeMenthon.

Here's a copy of the complaint:

Craigslist v PadMapper