Should Apartment Hunting Be Even Harder?: Craigslist Sues Padmapper and 3Taps for Aggregating its Listings Without Permission
Last summer, new to Washington, DC and in 100 degree heat, I trekked back and fourth throughout the city in search of the perfect apartment. Little did I know that DC residents do not rely on real estate agents showing them dozens of apartments to rent. Here, the hopeful tenants do the grunt work. For me, that included constantly scouring dozens of rental websites, walking up and down streets, stopping into buildings I liked, and calling all of the big rental management companies. Let’s just say I wish I knew about PadMapper back then.
PadMapper is an apartment-rental website that aggregates the apartment listings on sites like Oodle, Apartments.com, Rent.com, Kijiji, and Craigslist. After entering size, price, and location criteria, PadMapper’s Google Maps-esque display places red pins where apartments are available. Clicking on a pin will take you to the apartment details, including a walkscore and street view. Basically, it makes finding an apartment a much less arduous process.
Unfortunately for apartment searchers everywhere, Padmapper’s tactics may prove to be illegal. Craigslist is suing Padmapper, and 3Taps, the data gathering company that Padmapper uses. In the complaint, filed on July 20th in San Francisco, Craigslist accuses PadMapper and 3Taps of copyright violations under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 106 and 501. Additionally, Craigslist accused the defendants of trademark infringement, violating the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1114.
The complaint states, “for their own commercial benefit, defendants 3Taps and PadMapper are unlawfully and unabashedly mass-harvesting and redistributing postings entrusted by craigslist users to their local craigslist sites” and that Padmapper, “competes with craigslist unfairly by offering an apartment search service at padmapper.com that is largely based upon craigslist postings acquired from 3Taps’ illegitimate store.”
Craigslist claims that 3Taps gathers craigslist content without permission, and by improperly accessing Craigslist’s website and “scraping” data. Additionally, Craigslist states that 3Tap and PadMapper illegally employs the CRAIGSLIST mark on their respective websites, causing dilution and consumer confusion.
This case raises multiple legal questions. As Gigaom.com suggests, Craigslist’s copyright claim may run into trouble because Craigslist users own the copyrights to their listings, not Craigslist. Craigslist requires users to grant it exclusive rights to the listings, but does this mean Craigslist has a copyright claim against PadMapper? Further, will Craigslist be able to prove the consumer confusion necessary to succeed on its trademark claims?
Apartment hunters have complained about Craigslist’s weaknesses, including its outmoded search tool, poor images, undependable locations of listings, and inability to save users’ favorite listings. If Craigslist succeeds in this suit, PadMapper users can certainly expect to spend extra time apartment hunting, and consumers may be deprived of innovation that would otherwise help them locate and purchase what they seek without having to sift through a bevy of sites. On his blog, DeMenthon mentions that finding an apartment should “be over as quickly as humanly possible so that you can get back to doing other, more productive things.” I can’t argue with that, but perhaps Craigslist can.