Craigslist vs. craigslist blogger, round three

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? (this post has since been removed, I presume as a result of legal counsel).

My earlier post on it and update follow:

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.

In China, citizen journalism gets you killed

It’s romantic in a way, the image of “citizen journalists” with their trusty cellphones, capturing news events around the world and allowing everyone to see instant photos or videos. But it can also be very dangerous, as a story out of China shows. As reported by CNN and at TechCrunch, a man who took pictures of a confrontation between townspeople and a company dumping waste was beaten to death by private security guards.

Although many stories describe Wei Wenhua, 41, as “a blogger,” he appears to have been a construction company official who merely started to record the fracas on his cellphone. A group of more than 15 “chengguan,” or private security contractors — sometimes referred to as “city inspectors” — reportedly attacked him and he was dead before he reached the hospital. In a press release, Reporters Without Borders calls Wei the first citizen journalist to die in China.

Good news for freedom of the press

According to several reports, Josh Wolf is either about to be released from prison or has already been released. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the young video blogger who was jailed for contempt of court — for refusing to turn over a video he made of a G8 Summit demonstration that turned violent — and wound up serving more than seven months, the longest a journalist has ever been jailed for contempt.

snipshot_d41b6x1601pc.jpgThe Center for Media and Democracy has a statement written by Josh, and as part of the deal with prosecutors the video blogger has posted a copy of the video he took of the demonstration on his blog. He writes: “During the course of this saga I have repeatedly offered to allow a judge to be the arbiter over whether or not my video material has any evidentiary value. Today, you the public have the opportunity to be the judge and I am confident you will see, as I do, that there is nothing of value in this unpublished footage.” He adds:

“I had wanted to reveal to you, the public, how ridiculous and without merit this matter is, but could not publish this tape until I had received assurances from the US Attorney that it would not be considered partial compliance and strengthen their claims that I might eventually be coerced.”

Watching the tape, it’s striking how incredibly innocuous it is — it starts with some young anarchists, the earnest type that anyone who has been to university has likely encountered, expounding their somewhat naieve views to a handful of onlookers, and then there is a quiet and sparsely attended march. The police show up, but there is little actual violence. Newspaper boxes are dragged into the street, but that’s about it.

At the end, it’s night-time and a police officer appears to be sitting on a man lying on the sidewalk. Officers arrive and tell the crowd to disperse (according to the federal grand jury that ordered Wolf to turn over the tape and testify, an officer was hit on the head and a police car was damaged by fire, neither of which are shown in the video). Worth seven months in prison? It’s hard to see how.

Bill censors a Chinese blogger

Blogging is more than just something that geeks with a lot of time on their hands do for fun. In countries like China, blogs are one of the few ways dissidents can try to exercise a little freedom of speech — something we in the West take for granted. In that sense, they are a little like the “samizdat” newsletters that were photocopied and handed around in the USSR under Stalin.

That’s why it’s so depressing to see a company like Microsoft’s MSN censoring a dissident blogger in China, as described by Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center who specializes in international media, and in particular Internet usage in China. She describes how the blog of a noted dissident named Zhao Jing — also known as Michael Anti — was taken down by MSN.

Robert Scoble of Microsoft says he too is upset by his company acting as a “state-run thug” in cases such as this, and that he has raised it with a senior MSN executive. Others have also said they will be raising the issue. No offence to the Scobleizer, who seems like a nice guy, but I can’t say I’m optimistic about such efforts having any real effect.

Microsoft isn’t the only one to engage in this kind of thing — Yahoo has already helped identify a dissident to the Chinese government and Google has been accused of filtering its search results in China to avoid dissident material. Everybody wants to do business in China, and no doubt they justify their government-friendly attitudes as being better than having no Internet at all, but that doesn’t make MSN’s behaviour right.