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Inside Privacy Updates on Developments in Global Privacy & Data Security from Covington & Burling LLP

Craigslist wins first step against screenscapers – lesson for drafting TOUs

Posted in Litigation, Social Media, United States

On April 29, Craigslist was successful in fighting off a motion to dismiss filed by three screenscraping sites (3Taps, Padmapper and Lovely) in its pending litigation in the Northern District of California.   In Craigslist Inc. v. 3Taps Inc., No. CV 12-03816 (N.D. Cal.), Craigslist sued these sites, alleging that their scraping of Craigslist content violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (and the Act’s California analogue); the Copyright Act, and the Lanham Act, and constituted a trespass to chattels.  Although not all of Craigslist’s claims survived the defendant’s motion to dismiss, its claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, some copyright claims, the reverse passing off claim, and the trespass claim did satisfy the required facial plausibility standard.  

The decision adds to the growing case law around screenscraping, and serves as a timely reminder of the fact that the language of a Web site’s terms of use (TOU) is an important factor in such cases.  In this case, Craigslist faces questions over whether it has standing to sue for copyright infringement because of the drafting of the content license in the Craigslist TOU.  The license grant provision in the Craigslist TOU is arguably ambiguous as to whether it provides for an “exclusive” license from users to Craigslist.  Citing Ninth Circuit case law, the order noted, “[O]nly the owner of an exclusive right under the copyright is entitled to sue for infringement.”  TOUs are often drafted with a non-exclusive license to user created content or with ambiguity as to exclusivity, and thus some Web site owners  may lack sufficient standing to bring copyright infringement claims in relation to some of the content on their sites.  Of course, it may not always be appropriate to request an exclusive license from users, but it is a question that all Web site owners should consider when preparing or maintaining their TOU.