Padmapper and 3Taps ended their three-year legal fight with craigslist on Monday, agreeing to stop using classified ad data from craigslist on their own sites. 3Taps has also agreed to pay craigslist $1 million on the condition that craigslist donate the money to EFF. While we’re pleased to receive a donation that will help us continue our mission of defending civil liberties online, we’re disappointed that the court won’t be affirming Padmapper and 3Taps’ right to use data from craigslist postings—data that can’t be copyrighted—to create innovative new tools.
3taps collected real-estate data from craigslist and made it available to other companies to use. One of those companies, Padmapper, republished craigslist apartment listings over a map to enable users to view the listings geographically, a feature then unavailable on the craigslist site. Craigslist sued 3Taps, Padmapper, and others in 2012, invoking a variety of laws including copyright and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to stop these companies from using the real estate listings.
EFF saw a lot of problems with craigslist’s legal claims: claiming copyright in users’ posts, attempts to transfer users' copyrights to themselves, and the claim that “scraping” or copying data from the site could be a CFAA violation. We told the court that when a website makes data available to the public, copying it isn’t “unauthorized access” under the CFAA.
Judge Charles Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California made some intermediate rulings in the case, which were mixed. The court rejected some of craigslist’s copyright arguments but allowed its CFAA claim to go forward.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s settlement means the legal issues in the case won’t get a final hearing. According to the settlement agreement published on 3Taps’ website, both 3Taps and Padmapper have agreed to stop using craigslist data. 3Taps will pay $1 million to craigslist, which will be donated to EFF in installments over ten years. Padmapper posted on its website yesterday that it will keep on running, using over 100 data sources to populate the rental listings on its mapping site, which number over 700,000 even without craigslist data.
This settlement doesn’t change any rules. Facts—like the address and details of an apartment for rent—can’t be copyrighted. And violating a website’s terms of service isn’t a CFAA violation. We’re pleased that craigslist, 3Taps, and Padmapper chose to make a generous donation to EFF as part of their lawsuit settlement, and that EFF’s principled commitment to users’ rights was an overarching value that aligned these disagreeing parties. But we’re also sorry to see craigslist succeed at blocking new and innovative uses of their data. Innovation doesn’t happen under one roof alone, and the right to innovate using lawful site scraping and non-copyrightable facts shouldn’t depend on the outcome of a legal war of attrition.