The Craigslist logo is a peace sign, but the company has been dropping legal bombs recently.
The San Francisco-based company, which runs online bulletin boards, filed a lawsuit last week against two website developers, 3Taps and PadMapper, which tap into Craigslist’s data without permission. Craigslist also sent at least one cease-and-desist notice to another developer this month.
While Craigslist may have a hippie persona, cultivated by the affable founder Craig Newmark, the website has shown little love for programmers who try to build tools that connect with the company’s feeds. Craigslist has historically shut out applications that siphon its listings with legal threats, as it did in May with Craigspal, and by closing holes in its systems, as it did in 2008 with CraigsFindr.
This approach contrasts with the strategy of companies such as Apple, EBay, Facebook and Google, which are jockeying for the admiration of developers in the hopes of creating the largest “app ecosystem.” There is no shortage of tech conferences catering to developers.
Craigslist has remained a leader in online classifieds, partly because of its protective strategy. Google and Facebook, while having sleeker designs, were unable to pull people away from Craigslist’s orbit with their efforts, which were shut down. AOL, too, may be gearing up to push harder into local listings, according to comments by AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong today.
Craigslist, which did not respond to a request for comment, said in its lawsuit that 3Taps and PadMapper “are unlawfully and unabashedly mass-harvesting” Craiglist postings. By taking Craigslist assets without permission, these companies are competing for profit and flouting Craigslist’s restrictions that keep each city’s board separate in order to foster community, the company said in the lawsuit.
3Taps offers developers a service that aggregates Craigslist feeds. It also runs a search engine called Craiggers, which has the tagline, “craigslist data, better than craigslist!” 3Taps did not respond to a request for comment.
PadMapper uses 3Taps services for its apartment-listings search engine, which relies on Craigslist data to show where rentals are located on a map. Eric DeMenthon, who runs the company from his apartment in Mountain View, California, said in an e-mail that his income from running PadMapper has barely turned a profit. He is unsure how he will afford to defend himself in court, he wrote.
“I would have much preferred to just talk with them and figure out something we were both happy with, but they weren’t willing to meet,” DeMenthon wrote. “A single meeting could have made this a non-issue for both of us.”
Craigslist offered to let PadMapper license its data, DeMenthon said. The license costs $5,000 per year and gives Craigslist 10 percent of an app’s revenue, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Bloomberg.
Jeff Kastner, who received a cease-and-desist letter this month but was not named in the lawsuit, wasn’t offered a similar licensing deal for his series of Craigslist-powered websites, he wrote in an e-mail. He ran about 50 websites that Craigslist targeted. Kastner is in the process of taking down his sites, which earned $24,000 from Google ads over two years, he said.
“It was never a primary source of income,” Kastner wrote. “Not worth the hassle of a lawsuit.”