Monday, July 30, 2012

Craigslist litigates against sites that provide more efficient access to its service; how is this copyright infringement?

Craigslist has, of course, attracted controversy over the past course of its “adult” business segment.  It’s also criticized for staying in the 1990s simple-HTML world.  If you go to the “” site directly, geolocation will usually prefix the name of the nearest large metro area to your connection.

Some programmers have tried creating mashups or layovers on top of Craigslist to make it easier to use.  For example, Eric DeMenthon developed an app that overlaid Craigslist apartment rental ads onto a map, and offered it “free”  (as a “public good”) on a site called “padmapper”.
Craigslist sued the programmer, claiming both trademark and copyright infringement, and piracy. 
All of this is covered in a New York Times bits blog entry by Nick Bolton, "Innovations snuffed out by Craigslist". 
Where is the legal violation?  First, sites like Padmapper (Bolton covers some others, too), don’t affect Craigslist’s servers.  And “information” on a site itself can’t be copyrighted; only the manner of presentation can be protected by copyright.  (A map is a different presentation than just a link list.) It’s hard to see how trademark enters into the picture at all, because this seems to have nothing to do with branding in the usual sense. (A site with a name similar to Craigslist could run into trademark issues.) Is there perhaps a “trade secrets” issue?  Some sort of customer confidentiality issue?  For example, an employee of a business normally can’t take business data (“facts”) with herself for personal use, and presumably neither may a customer.
The constructive solution would have been for Craigslist to enter into business arrangements with other programmers or companies interested in streamling the site’s look and performance.  Too bad that this didn’t happen.
A friend with a music background tweeted the story yesterday. The link is here
On Saturday, July 28, I posted a story about an important trademark dispute between the “Lost Dog Café” and “Lost Dog Coffee” on my Trademark Dilution blog (which see, navigate through Blogger Profile). 

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