6 Comments

Summary:

Craigslist this week told users that it can use the classifieds they post as the basis for lawsuits against other sites. The claim appears weak from a legal standpoint and even worse from a public relations one.

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Craigslist says it can use the classified ads written by its users as the basis for copyright lawsuits. The claim is a legal longshot at best and the latest act of aggression from a site once known for its idealism.

In case anyone missed it, Craigslist last month sued PadMapper, a popular site that helps people find apartments by showing listings (including ones from Craigslist) on a map. This week, Craigslist clamped down further on potential rivals by changing its terms of service.

As reported by the blog Baligu, Craigslist has made the unusual decision of telling users it has an exclusive license to the copyright in their listings. In practical terms, this means that if you decide to sell your bike on Craigslist and another website picks up that listing, Craigslist can sue the other site.

The problem here is that Craiglist doesn’t have much of a legal leg to stand on. According to law professor Richard Gold, an intellectual property scholar at McGill University, it’s difficult to assert copyright over the simple facts in a classified ad:

“There are only a few ways to advertise a given object and copyright cannot be used to prevent the listing of the same object on another service. Since the wording of the ad will inevitably be very similar, the copyright protection would be thin.”

Gold adds, “There are obviously anti-trust concerns here as well.”

So why is Craigslist going on a limb with such a shaky legal claim? The best guess is that it’s a bluff intended to scare off other small companies that tap into its listing.

In the short term, the legal shtick might frighten people into letting Craigslist keep tight control of its listings. But in the longer term, it seems certain to exacerbate the ill will building up toward the site and its founder, Craig Newark (who today published a meditation about remaining serene in the face of online insults).

(Image by CREATISTA via Shutterstock)

  1. So if someone posts it elsewhere first how will Craigslist get this supposed copyright?

    If someone puts the ad in a local paper for free prior to Craigslist who has the “copyright”?

    This will blow up in their face as users start to move to competing services that offer these benefits without the legal hurdles.

  2. “So if someone posts it elsewhere first how will Craigslist get this supposed copyright?

    If someone puts the ad in a local paper for free prior to Craigslist who has the “copyright”?

    This will blow up in their face as users start to move to competing services that offer these benefits without the legal hurdles.” couldn’t have put it better

  3. Here is what I find very frustrating and just plain pisses me off … I am a real estate agent and my listings CONSTANTLY show up posted on Craigslist without every having obtained permission from me – they violate my copywrite to marketing descriptions, photos and the loser agents who post them many times post these listings at lower prices that cost our clients money.

    Maybe the REALTORS should start a class action against Craig Newmark and Craigslist for allowing this in the first place .. that suit would be FAR larger than anything going on with Padmapper ..

    Craigslist SUCKS .. they seem to avoid any responsibility for the content there in the first place and now they want to sue little guys who make their crappy searches at lease manageable ..

  4. Yanko Karamanov Sunday, August 5, 2012

    This sound crazy. But I still using Craigslist and dont care about.

  5. san diego fiber installer Sunday, August 5, 2012

    The funny thing here is…where is the competitor to craigslist? Why cant anyone take CL down? This is just craziness. For all the issues people have, no matter what, they keep using craigslist. I wonder if they will ever go out of business…

  6. cheapsolarpanelstore Friday, August 10, 2012

    You can push people around like that without it coming back and biting you

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