That question is at the core of charges that Craigslist is anti-competition.

Just who owns the data on Craigslist?

Data-scraping company 3taps is countersuing Craigslist in an attempt to dislodge the ad company’s alleged monopoly control of its data.

The anti-trust suit argues that Craigslist’s classified advertising business constitutes a monopoly in multiple markets—an assertion with which many in the newspaper industry, whose business has been kidney-punched by the online service, would no doubt enthusiastically agree.

3taps maintains that Craigslist has used cease-and-desist letters, lawsuits and other legal tools to shut down competition. Should 3taps’s suit succeed, we may see a plethora of businesses crop up that use, and add value to, the information currently mostly siloed inside the Craigslist website.

You have to wonder if newspapers, long the late-adopting hangers-on in the classifieds wars, will leverage Craigslist information to plump up their anaemic ad pages.

In July, Craigslist filed suit against 3tap, which advertises itself as “API for Access to Craigslist Data,” as well as against apartment rental mapping company Padmapper, for stealing their data. Both companies “misappropriate wholesale and commercially exploit,” according to Craigslist. Padmapper had initially yielded to a June cease-and-desist letter, but then went back to including Craigslist data, which it gathered via 3taps’s API instead of directly from the site.

According to Mike Melanson on ReadWriteWeb, 3taps will answer Craigslist’s suit today—this afternoon, in fact, according to a representative of the company—as well as file an antitrust suit against the company, “alleging that Craigslist maintains a monopolistic control over numerous markets related to online classified advertising.”

A copy of the response is available via Melanson on Slideshare.

3taps’s CEO Greg Kidd asserts that, as “public facts are public property,” Craigslist doesn’t have a leg to stand on in presuming that its data is proprietary. Further, 3tap did not take the info from Craigslist’s servers, but rather from publicly-indexed information, strengthening the case that the doesn’t belong to Craigslist anyway.

That public facts are in fact public property is well-established copyright law. But, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s attorney Kurt Opsahl notes in Melanson’s article, “what may not be clear cut in this case is whether or not a Craigslist ad is pure fact or contains an element of creativity that can be copyrighted.” But even if it does, is the copyright owned by Craigslist or by the person who put the ad on Craigslist?

Photo by Cory Doctorow/Flickr

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