3taps, Craigslist Settle Scraping Legal Battle

3taps, a “one-stop data shop for developers,” has ended its long-running legal battle with Craigslist over its scraping of Craigslist listings.

The legal battle emerged when 3taps began scraping Craigslist listings and making the data available through a public API. One such use of that API was an upstart apartment listing service called PadMapper, which gained popularity by offering a way to browse Craigslist apartment listings that many felt was superior to the interface then offered by Craigslist.

As part of the settlement between 3taps and Craigslist, 3taps will wind down its business and pay $1 million to Craigslist, which will then be paid by Craigslist to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the organization that supported 3taps in its fight. Greg Kidd, the founder of 3taps, has vowed to make a substantial investment in PadMapper, the apartment listings site that was at the center of the scraping brouhaha, and is moving forward without the aggregated Craigslist data 3taps made available via its public API.

The code for that API, which was also used by other developers, will be open-sourced. 

While the battle between 3taps and Craigslist has ended with a whimper and not a bang, 3taps does believe the battle was worthwhile. Favorable rulings were made on a number of issues, including the issue of who owns the copyright to Craigslist postings (the court determined users do). In addition, the lawsuit appears to have encouraged Craigslist to make changes to its Terms of Use, removing some of the clauses that 3taps had complained were most abusive.

Unanswered questions remain

But because 3taps lacked the resources to continue its battle with Craigslist, the courts never had the opportunity to answer some of the key questions that were raised. One of the biggest: can private companies like Craigslist decide who can and can’t access their services, and then pursue civil and criminal penalties against users who continue to access those services against their wishes even when those services are generally available to the public?

Craigslist argued that 3taps was in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) because it had sent 3taps cease-and-desist letters and attempted to block IP addresses associated with 3taps’ scrapers. But courts have expressed unease with the broad and often vague language in the CFAA because of its significant implications. One court, for instance, suggested that “suits under anti-hacking laws have gone beyond the intended scope of such laws and are increasingly being used as a tactical tool to gain business or litigation advantages.”

Unfortunately, issues like these remain unsolved, and companies on both sides of similar battles will continue to have to duke it out in court. With scraping tools and unofficial APIs only becoming more accessible and growing in use and popularity, 3taps is unlikely to be the last company to find that its success or failure will be determined in a court of law.

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