Craigslist vs. craiglist blogger, round three

by Mathew on April 3, 2008 · 9 comments

Update 2

The blogger that Craigslist sent a cease-and-desist letter to earlier this week isn’t going to back down quietly, it seems. He has published a response on craigslistblog.org to Jim Buckmaster’s recent post, in which he says that the ads were just to “cover some hosting costs.” He also says that with his misleading post, the Craigslist CEO has “tarnished Craig Newmark’s reputation forever,” and that Buckmaster should “do the right thing and step down today.” Gee, Tim — hyperbole much?

Update:

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster has posted an entry to the new Craigslist blog in which he apologizes for the “ham-handed” C&D letter described below, which the site sent to a blog called Craigslistblog.org. But Buckmaster also provides some more details about why the classified service went after Tim White’s blog; among other things, he says the blog was running misleading text ads with Craigslist’s name in them (the ads were apparently removed from the site before the blog post got a lot of attention).

To me, that changes things substantially. One of the principles behind domain-squatting cases is that in order to avoid such accusations, a domain should have been registered and used in good faith — in other words, not to generate revenue based on the potential misunderstanding generated by a similar domain name. It seems pretty clear that Craigslistblog.org was designed to do that, and so I am backing Craigslist on this one. Jim Buckmaster’s post, incidentally, is a nice example of how to apologize and still make your point.

Original post:

Seems like Craigslist is in some hot water over a blog. But not because its new official blog is really ugly, poorly-designed and difficult to use, which it is — although given the somewhat… er, “distinctive” look and feel of the classified site itself, it’s probably not surprising that the blog looks like my daughter’s fifth-grade class designed it using a version of Microsoft’s FrontPage from 1998 (Craigslist doesn’t have ads? Not to be outdone, the blog doesn’t have comments or an RSS feed).

In any case, it’s not Craigslist’s official blog that’s the issue — it’s a site called Craigslistblog.org, which was started up about a month ago by a guy named Tim White as a way of getting some discussion going about Craigslist, both good and bad. Then he got a rather brusque C&D letter from none other than Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, which Tim has posted on his site. In no uncertain terms, it directs Tim to stop using the domain and the name Craigslist immediately or face legal action.

Tim,

We need you to stop using the infringing domain CRAIGSLISTBLOG.ORG immediately, and arrange for tranfer of it to us asap – using/selling/transfering infringing domains is illegal, and penalties up to $100,000 per domain can be applied.

Tim, however, responds that Jim has “gotten some bad legal counsel” and asks whether the company plans to shut down other sites with craigslist in the name, such as craigslistmap.info. Jim then copies Tim on a letter to Craigslist’s attorneys, in which he not-so-subtly mentions that the law firm does intellectual property work for “Google and a lot of other prominent companies.” As far as I can tell, Tim isn’t planning to back down.

Is Craigslist in the right here? I’m not a lawyer (although I sometimes play one on TV), but from my reading of past cases involving domain disputes, both WIPO rules and U.S. law require complainants to satisfy several conditions in order to win such a case. The first one — whether the domain name is confusingly similar — is a slam dunk for sure. But the other criteria are whether the defendant is making legitimate fair use of the name, and whether it was registered in bad faith (i.e. whether the defendant registered it with intent to profit from the confusion).

Those last two are a lot harder to answer, and I happen to think Tim has a pretty good case. Whether he can withstand a legal onslaught from Craigslist — which has about $60-million or so a year to play around with, as far as I can tell from the recent revenue numbers — is a separate question. It’s also interesting to note the anti-Craigslist comments on Tim’s post. I expect plenty of criticism of the classified site based on the contrast between its touchy-feely ethos and its actions.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    You can only groan at the idiocy of a CEO actually writing a mail like this. If you want to make a serious legal point, you let your lawyers handle it. If you’re afraid that you’ll look bad if you have a legal request, talk to someone informally before you start making demands. And if you’re angry – as Jim Buckmaster seems to be from his passive-aggressive language – then you don’t write emails to anyone.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Agreed on all points, Ian.

  • Matt Hendry

    Easy ….offer to buy the domain for a crazy amount of dollars like other well funded companies do when they want dissenting opinion quashed and there’s a domain name dispute;)

  • http://www.ryansholin.com ryansholin

    It might be bad PR, but if you don’t try to protect your trademark, you lose it, more or less, yes? You occasionally hear Kevin Rose say something like “we hate doing this, but we have to” when Digg tries to shut down any site with d-i-g-g in the domain name. IANAL, etc.

  • http://www.austincounsel.com/ Austin_Lawyer17

    The key to trademark infringement is whether there is confusion between the two marks. It seems clear from the screenshots provided in Jim Buckmaster’s blog entry (link in article above) that this blogger clearly intended to breed confusion and profit from he real Craig’s List brand. That said, this is a perfect example of why it is better to let lawyers handle trademark infringement letters. Craig’s List in no Google but it is a $20 million a year a company and can afford to hire a good trademark lawyer.

  • http://sfolaw.com/local-bay-area-lawyer Monty – Bay Area Lawyer

    It is getting tougher and tougher for companies to protect their image online. I would think that any domain name with “craigslist” in it would be a violation of their trade mark. But, if craigslist does not have their name trademarked then they will have an up hill battle. you would think that they would have trademarked their name but from looking at their site they have not.

  • http://cinema-and-movies.com download movies

    I would think that any domain name with “craigslist” in it would be a violation of their trade mark.

  • http://www.bigbabygifts.blogspot.com/ s. green

    craiglist is huge now,and will get a good lawyer on this

  • http://www.bigbabygifts.blogspot.com/ s. green

    craiglist is huge now,and will get a good lawyer on this

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