AOL Cracks Down On A Startup For Downloading 'CrunchBase' Data

People+ appYouTube/People+People+ Google Glass app for geekspotting

lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to three-person startupPro Populi. They were not pleased that Pro Populi had downloaded the entire CrunchBase database.

Pro Populi makes an app for smartphones and Google Glass called “People+.” The company says it’s like a dictionary of people and companies in the tech and startup scenes. That’s essentially what CrunchBase is, but it’s accessed on the Web, not a mobile app.

“The dispute centres on whether People+ has the right to use the entire CrunchBase dataset to build a new product directly competitive with CrunchBase,” CrunchBase president Matt Kaufman says in a blog statement.

That makes perfect sense, except that CrunchBase is freely available under the Creative Commons CC-BY attribution licence. This licence allows any use of the database, commercial or non-commercial, provided the owner is credited, reports Wired’s David Kravets, who broke the story.

CrunchBase is a huge catalogue that lists lots of basic information about people and companies in the tech industry such as names of executives, investors, money raised. Much of it is crowdsourced — meaning tech companies write their own profiles. More than 53,000 people have contributed to CrunchBase in 2013, Kaufman says.

Rather than immediately bending to AOL’s will, Pro Populi asked the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help defend the company, which it did. (See letter.)

EEF, the watchdog for Internet freedom, argues that the Creative Commons licence gives Pro Populi the right to download the whole database and use it how it wishes.

AOL isn’t directly disputing that. Instead it’s arguing that the startup broke the rules in how it downloaded the database. It used software from CrunchBase called an application programming interface, or (API). AOL has conditions on the API that says it can’t be used to create a CrunchBase competitor.

Because of that, AOL says that Pro Populi must stop using the material it got from CrunchBase.

The EEF disagrees. Pro Populi has stopped using the API, it says, but it doesn’t have to stop using the CrunchBase database now that it already has it.

It’s an interesting conundrum.

Here’s a look at the People+ Google Glass app at the center of the controversy. It’s an app for “geek spotting” or identifying people and companies in the tech industry.

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