Ever used a friend’s account to sign on to a Web site instead of paying its subscription fee? Of course you have. After all, who actually ponied up for New York Times Select? Heck, maybe you’re doing it right now.
In the meantime, one real estate agency is facing down a hefty suit in Maryland for allegedly doing something similar, albeit on a much bigger scale.
The suit, filed by Bethesda-based CoStar Realty Information, alleges that managers at New York’s Dumann Realty illegally accessed CoStar's Web site, a subscription to which costs hundreds of dollars a month and provides clients with real estate information such as photos and vacancy databases, by borrowing another customer's user information. According to the complaint, filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, the attempted swindle cost CoStar more than $5,000 in fees.
But here’s the wrinkle: CoStar is accusing Dumann, as well as the alleged co-conspirators who lent it the account, of copyright infringement. By accessing its Web site on the sly, CoStar claims, Dumann’s employees did the equivalent of illegally distributing its content. Costar is asking that Dumann pay $150,000 a pop for every photo or database it accessed.
This is the seventh copyright suit CoStar has filed in Maryland since March. The company, represented in this latest suit by Shari Lahlou and William Sauers of Crowell & Moring, decided in late 2007 that it needed to do more to clamp down on illicit use of its site. It realized that copyright claims could ad extra punch to its efforts. Until then, CoStar had settled for filing run-of-the-mill breach-of-contract or computer fraud suits.
"We're using copyright because it gives us access to enhanced damages compared to a straight breach of contract suit," says Chris Winters, CoStar's associate general counsel and director of intellectual property. Winters adds that the company's enforcement effort has gone way beyond just the cases that have shown up on the docket.
"We have copyrights and we'll use them," he says.