February 20, 2018

Arlington v. FCC: What it Means for Net Neutrality

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Arlington v. FCC. At issue was a very abstract legal question: whether the FCC has the right to interpret the scope of its own authority in cases in which congress has left the contours of their jurisdiction ambiguous. In short, can the FCC decide to regulate a specific activity if the statute could reasonably be read to give them that authority? The so-called Chevron doctrine gives deference to administrative agencies’ interpretation of of their statutory powers, and the court decided that this deference extends to interpretations of their own jurisdiction. It’s all very meta, but it turns out that it could be a very big deal indeed for one of those hot-button tech policy issues: net neutrality.

Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which is significant for reasons I will describe below. The opinion demonstrated a general skepticism of the telecom industry claims, and with classic Scalia snark, he couldn’t resist this footnote about the petitioners, “CTIA—The Wireless Association”:

This is not a typographical error. CTIA—The Wireless Association was the name of the petitioner. CTIA is presumably an (unpronounceable) acronym, but even the organization’s website does not say what it stands for. That secret, known only to wireless-service-provider insiders, we will not disclose here.

Ha. Ok, on to the merits of the case and why this matters for net neutrality.
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A Response to Jerry: Craig Should Still Dismiss

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

Jerry Brito, a sometimes contributor to this blog, has a new post on the Reason blog arguing that I and others have been too harsh on Craigslist for their recent lawsuit. As I wrote in my earlier post, Craigslist should give up the lawsuit not just because it’s unlikely to prevail, but also because it risks setting bad precedents and is downright distasteful. Jerry argues that what the startups that scrape Craigslist data are doing doesn’t “sit well,” and that there are a several reasons to temper criticism of Craigslist.

I remain unconvinced.

To begin with, the notion that something doesn’t “sit well” is not necessarily a good indicator that one can or should prevail in legal action. To be sure, tort law (and common law more generally) develops in part out of our collective notion of what does or doesn’t seem right. Jerry concedes that the copyright claims are bogus, and that the CFAA claims are ill-advised, so we’re left with doctrines like misappropriation and trespass to chattels. I’ll get to those in a moment.
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Dear Craig: Voluntarily Dismiss with Prejudice

[Cross-posted on my blog, Managing Miracles]

Last summer, Craigslist filed a federal lawsuit against the company Padmapper (and some related entities). Padmapper.com is a site that, among other things, allows users to view Craigslist postings on a geographical map. It is a business premised on providing value added services to Craigslist postings — with some of that added value going back to Craigslist in the form of more users. Craigslist did not like this, and alleged a host of claims — seventeen of them, by the time they were done with the “First Amended Complaint” (FAC). Among their claims were alleged violations of copyright, trademark, breach of contract, and — surprisingly — Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA claims were not in the original complaint (they showed up only in the September 2012 FAC). Today, the judge ruled that some of the claims would be dismissed, but that many would survive.

I am still at a loss about why Craigslist is taking such a scorched earth tactic against a site that appears to help more people find Craigslist postings. Sure, they’re looking to make money while doing it, but that’s how much of the internet business ecosystem works. I’m particularly shocked, because Craig Newmark has been at the forefront of fighting for so much good online policy. We’ve met a few times, including the period when he was embroiled in the fight over whether or not “adult services” would do away with his CDA 230 intermediary liability. He was on the right side of SOPA/PIPA and helped to fight against over-expansive copyright. I’ve always found him to be personally friendly, thoughtful, and savvy about what makes the internet work.
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