Over at Reason I take a look at the recent controversy around Craigslist suing some smaller competitors who have been using its listings data without permission. While I agree with most commentators that neither copyright nor CFAA claims make sense in this case, I depart from what seems to be the conventional thinking in arguing that it’s not so clear that Craigslist should have no remedy:
>[I]t’s pretty easy to see why Craigslist should care that others are building on top of and extending its service. What makes the company so valuable is its strong network effect. People go to Craigslist because that’s where the people are. If it loses that, it loses its business.
>PadMapper aggregates and presents listings not just from Craigslist, but from other apartment listing sites as well, including Apartments.com and Rent.com. This is great for users because they only need go to one site to browse all the listings across multiple databases. It’s bad for Craigslist, however, because it makes it less of a focal site. Such aggregators make it less important that an apartment be listed at Craigslist specifically as long as it is in the aggregated list.
>PadMapper also offers listings of its own listings through its PadLister service. This means that PadMapper relies on the network effects that Craigslist has developed in order to draw in an audience, and then promotes and sells its own listing service to that audience. While that business model is certainly innovative, and may not violate copyright, it doesn’t sit well, either.
>Craigslist disrupted the newspaper industry by decimating traditional classifieds. It did this by offering a better alternative to its competitors that attracted consumers away from newspapers. Craigslist didn’t copy newspaper ads to jumpstart its operation, just as Facebook didn’t jumpstart its network by copying over MySpace accounts. That’s true innovation: taking command of the network effect by offering a superior product. So shouldn’t we expect the same from new entrants in the classifieds space?
Check out the whole thing here.