My earlier post on it and update follow:
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.
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.
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.