MonkeyParking continues monkey business

MonkeyParking is an iPhone app which allows users to auction their parking spaces.

On Monday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a cease-and-desist letter to MonkeyParking, threatening the startup with a lawsuit unless it shuts down operations in San Francisco by July 11.

MonkeyParking has refused, claiming Herrera’s cease and desist letter is a violation of free speech. “I have the right to tell people if I am about to leave a parking spot, and they have the right to pay me for such information," says Paolo Dobrowolny, the CEO of MonkeyParking.

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  1. “I have the right to tell people if I am about to leave a parking spot, and they have the right to pay me for such information," says Paolo Dobrowolny, the CEO of MonkeyParking, and Not a Lawyer.

  2. Yes - at least I would agree with that. I would also say that

    1) this service is not a good thing

    and

    2) this service is illegal

    If this MonkeyParking asshat is looking to go to the Supreme Court with this, I think he'll find that it will be a very expensive trip, and he'll lose long before he gets there.

    As for the "holding a place in line" question, the line may be on a public sidewalk, but the "place" is not a public resource. The city of San Francisco doesn't have an interest in the line to buy an iPad. Now if someone were, say, renting plots of lawn in a public park where there was a concert, that would be illegal too. And rightfully so.

  3. If MonkeyParking was modified to report all payments to the city, and require the space holders to pay the city a 20% rake-off of all monies received, I feel safe in predicting that the lawsuit would evaporate by noon that same day.

  4. joe_b says:

    No, they are selling the space, not information about the space. Information about the space might look like "this space will become available at 2PM". This would mean that anyone showing up at that time could snag the space. But that's not how it works. The seller squats on the space and holds it until he/she gets the notification that the buyer has arrived. This is done to make sure that the buyer gets the space, not just information about the space. So sorry, but this is a bogus attempt at a legal hack, and this kind of sophistry isn't going to get you out of the $300 fine.

  5. Perhaps more importantly, he's doing that insufferable lying-by-implication thing:

    Yes, speech, even commercial speech, enjoys broad protection in the US. This is true. However...

    Notice the little "You will only pay if you get your spot" notice at the bottom? That doesn't exactly sound like someone who is selling mere information, now does it?

    If we were talking about "SpotSpottr", a hypothetical parking-spot app that provides some incentive to provide geolocated reports of leaving their own spots, or geotagged photos of empty spots, and then charges some amount of money to people interested in open parking spaces, arguments related to free speech, being an information service, etc. would be all well and good. The city would still have the zOMG dangerous driving! thing, and could still ticket individuals with their faces in their cellphones while behind the wheel; but it'd be a lot more tenuous to make the claim that 'SpotSpottr' is er... trafficking in parking spaces.

    Nothing about MonkeyParking's operation, though, sounded even remotely like that, until the pesky fact that what they were actually selling appears to be legally challenged came up.

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