SAN FRANCISCO — It turns out the world might not be all that safe for web scrapers.
Craigslist Inc. on Thursday secured a $31 million stipulated judgment against a car-selling website that was scraping auto listings on craigslist.org to reach out to posters to create listings of its own.
The deal to end Craigslist’s lawsuit against Instamotor Inc. comes less than a week after a federal judge in San Francisco barred LinkedIn Corp. from blocking access to public profile information on its site to data analytics startup hiQ Labs Inc.
Craigslist’s case against Instamotor departs in significant ways from the high-profile LinkedIn case. For one, Craigslist was able to bring claims under the federal anti-spamming law, the CAN-SPAM Act, since Instamotor was using Craigslist’s own email relay system to send commercial emails to its customers. According the stipulated judgment, Instamotor had a team of workers in the Philippines access craigslist.org, copy postings, pictures and user contact information, and send emails to Craigslist users seeking additional information such as vehicle VIN numbers, license place numbers and mileage. The messages didn’t indicate the sender was affiliated with Instamotor and the information would be used to create a vehicle listing on a separate website.
Those facts are quite different from what hiQ does with public LinkedIn profile information by crunching data to flag valuable employees for retention efforts and provide employers with maps of their workforce’s skill set.
Eric Goldman, an internet law professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said the CAN-SPAM Act brings in different legal doctrines and remedies than several other laws that companies employ against web scrapers, such as the federal anti-hacking law central to the LinkedIn dispute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But Goldman said even the high penalties available under the CAN-SPAM Act don’t completely explain the outsized settlement of the Instamotor case.
According to Crunchbase, Instamotor has received a total of $5.53 million in three rounds of funding, including a $1.77 million round of debt financing last August.
“If Instamotor is planning to go out of business, the amount of the settlement is functionally irrelevant,” Goldman said. Regardless, if it’s getting paid the full amount, the professor said, the judgment is valuable to Craigslist in its future fights with scrapers. Indeed, Craigslist and its lawyers at Latham & Watkins won a similar $60.5 million judgment in April against online real estate listing site RadPad.
Craigslist’s lawyer, Perry Viscounty of Latham & Watkins, declined to comment. Company press representatives didn’t immediately respond to messages.
Julia Mak, a spokeswoman for Instamotor, said via email that the company plans “to continue our business as a going concern.”
“The litigation has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”