Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is consistently inconsistent. Even as he personally lobbies to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), Craiglist has been using that same law to sue competitors. Peace, love and litigation over at Craigslist?
Craigslist Hates (And Loves?) CFAA
In an effort to stop competitors like Padmapper from building complementary or rival services using Craigslist ads, Craigslist has sued under copyright law and CFAA to block them. This wouldn't be so surprising - competitors try to bludgeon each other with IP law all the time - but for Newmark's own animus toward the law his company is invoking:
Reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to reflect the realities of computing and networks in 2013. petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/refor…— craignewmark (@craignewmark) January 16, 2013
A court recently threw out Craigslist's copyright claims, but the same court allowed Craigslist to proceed with its CFAA claims. Craigslist should end its CFAA claims. CFAA is an overly broad law that is creating all sorts of unintended consequences, one reason that Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman argues that CFAA is a "failed experiment."
It's a bad law, and that's what makes Newmark's implicit support of it so galling.
Hypocrisy By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sour
Newmark is a socially engaged liberal, regularly tweeting on voting, marriage, veteran affairs and other issues. He has also fought against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and other questionable technology laws. By many accounts, he's a good person who means well.
But suing competitors under the same law you're trying to kill? That's called hypocrisy, and it doesn't fit Newmark's character.
Sure, such hypocrisy is par for the course in technology. After all, Microsoft, IBM and Apple complain about the patent regime even as they sue others for patent infringement. Why should Newmark and Craigslist be any different?
The obvious answer is because Newmark has always held Craigslist to a different standard. This is why Techdirt's Mike Masnick hits home when he says:
"If Craig Newmark and Craigslist move forward with this lawsuit, which has the possibility of creating very dangerous precedents concerning both copyright law and the CFAA, it will do tremendous harm to Craigslist's reputation and standing in the wider internet community... Destroying [Newmark's] reputation and acting out just because a couple of sites tried to make Craigslist more useful? It just doesn't make any sense at all."
Craigslist has little to gain and much to lose from proceeding under its CFAA claims. For a company that uses a .org domain to "symbolize the relatively non-commercial nature, public service mission, and non-corporate culture of craigslist," perhaps an even better way to underscore Craigslist's mission is to kill its CFAA lawsuit. That would be in keeping with who Craig Newmark is and what he stands for.
Image courtesy of Sierra Communications.