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Web Pioneer Craigslist Now an Internet Bully?

Craig Newmark once heralded the free information flow of the Internet. Now his company vigorously guards its intellectual property.
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In the early 1990s, Craig Newmark moved to San Francisco and joined the Well, a Web community founded by Stewart Brand, whose mantra was "information wants to be free." Newmark was also a part of the Linux-inspired open-source movement, in which programmers openly and freely shared their software creations so users could build upon and improve each other's work, before founding his eponymous online classified ad service, Craigslist.
 
But times change--and today, Craigslist has become notorious in Internet start-up circles as an intellectual property bully, the New York Times reports. The company has reportedly become litigious, vehemently going after early-stage companies attempting to build innovative applications on top of Craigslist data.
 
The Times cited several instances of aggressive Craigslist enforcement efforts:

  • Craiglist brought a copyright and trademark infringement suit last week against Padmapper, an application that takes Craigslist apartment listings and placed them as visual pinpoints on a map, and its founder, Eric DeMenthon.
  • Craigs Little Buddy, a site that once allowed users to search multiple Craiglist cities simultaneously, received a cease-and-desist letter from Perkins Coie, the corporate law firm that represents Craiglist.
  • Craigsly, which let users set up email notifications once a specific item was posted to Craiglist, and Ziink Craigslist Helper, a plug-in that simplified browsing the site, were also shut down by legal action.

In a Quora thread labeled "Why hasn't anyone built any product on top of Craigslist data?" Kenneth Walton, COO and co-founder of social gaming company KlickNation, wrote that Craigslist's legal actions "have created a chilling effect, stifling the growth of what should be a much more robust CL developer scene."
 
Newmark defended the company by replying, "Actually, we take issue with only services which consume a lot of bandwidth, it's that simple."
 
That does not appear to be the case, however. Padmapper did not affect Craigslist's bandwidth, according to the Times. Instead, it used a third-party developer that collects Craigslist posting data from search engines.
 
Craigslist did not return a request for comment Monday.

Last updated: Jul 30, 2012

JOHN MCDERMOTT | Staff Writer

John McDermott is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Playboy and on AOL.com. He recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, New York, to work for Inc.com.




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