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Internet Cases on Websites involved with “Scraping”

“Scraping” occurs when a business pulls commercial content from the websites of other businesses using web crawlers or other technologies, and then uses that commercial content for its own commercial purposes.
On April 13, 2017, a decision was rendered in the United States in the case of Craigslist, Inc v. RadPad Inc.  Craigslist alleged that RadPad had “scraped” thousands of Craigslist user postings.  It also alleged that RadPad had harvested user contact information to send spam in an effort to entice Craigslist users to switch to RadPad’s competing service. The Court awarded $60.5 million in damages, including:  $40 million based upon violations related to harvesting from 400,000 emails, $20.4 million for copyright infringement based upon “scraping” commercial content from the Craigslist website, and $160,000 for breach of contract as the scraping activities breached the terms of use for the Craiglist website.
On April 6, 2017, a decision was rendered in Canada in the case of Trader Corporation v. CarGurus.  Trader and CarGurus are competitors in the digital marketplace for new and used vehicles in Canada.  CarGurus “scraped” car dealership websites for photos of cars for sale.  Of the 197,740 photos that were obtained and used by CarGurus, Trader was able to prove that 152,532 of the photos had been taken by photographers paid by Trader.  CarGurus argued that, as the images were located on the car dealership servers and not on CarGurus server, CarGurus had not reproduced the photos but had merely “framed” them.  The Court found that CarGurus had made the photos available to the public for commercial purposes and rejected the suggestion that the photos had not been “reproduced” and rejected any “fair dealing” defence.
CarGurus then  argued that it was entitled to the benefit of section 41.27 of the Canadian Copyright Act, which is intended to protect search engines such as GOOGLE and which reads:
Injunctive relief only — providers of information location tools
41.27 (1) In any proceedings for infringement of copyright, the owner of the copyright in a work or other subject-matter is not entitled to any remedy other than an injunction against a provider of an information location tool that is found to have infringed copyright by making a reproduction of the work or other subject-matter or by communicating that reproduction to the public by telecommunication.
Conditions for application
(2) Subsection (1) applies only if the provider, in respect of the work or other subject-matter,
(a) makes and caches, or does any act similar to caching, the reproduction in an automated manner for the purpose of providing the information location tool;
(b) communicates that reproduction to the public by telecommunication for the purpose of providing the information that has been located by the information location tool;
(c) does not modify the reproduction, other than for technical reasons;
(d) complies with any conditions relating to the making or caching, or doing of any act similar to caching, of reproductions of the work or other subject-matter, or to the communication of the reproductions to the public by telecommunication, that were specified in a manner consistent with industry practice by whoever made the work or other subject-matter available through the Internet or another digital network and that lend themselves to automated reading and execution; and
(e) does not interfere with the use of technology that is lawful and consistent with industry practice in order to obtain data on the use of the work or other subject-matter.

Meaning of information location tool
(5) In this section, information location tool means any tool that makes it possible to locate information that is available through the Internet or another digital network.

The Court rejected this defense.  The Court found that the section did not afford protection to providers, like CarGurus, that gathered information on the internet and made it available to the public on the provider’s own website.  CarGurus was not acting as merely a search engine.

Having won the case, Traders sought “statutory damages”, the provisions of which read:
Statutory damages
38.1 (1) Subject to this section, a copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of damages and profits referred to in subsection 35(1), an award of statutory damages for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally,
(a) in a sum of not less than $500 and not more than $20,000 that the court considers just, with respect to all infringements involved in the proceedings for each work or other subject-matter, if the infringements are for commercial purposes.

If just the statutory minimum damages were granted, these damages would have amounted to $500.00 per photo x 152,532 photos owned by Trader for a total of $76,266,000.00.

However, the Judge felt that an award of $76,266,000 would be grossly out of proportion to the severity of the infringement and modified the award as a special case to $2 per photo x 152,532 photos owned by Trader for a total of $305,064.  In making this determination, the Judge applied section 38.1(3) of the Copyright Act, which reads:

Special case
(3) In awarding statutory damages under paragraph (1)(a) or subsection (2), the court may award, with respect to each work or other subject-matter, a lower amount than $500 or $200, as the case may be, that the court considers just, if
(a) either
(i) there is more than one work or other subject-matter in a single medium, or
(ii) the award relates only to one or more infringements under subsection 27(2.3); and
(b) the awarding of even the minimum amount referred to in that paragraph or that subsection would result in a total award that, in the court’s opinion, is grossly out of proportion to the infringement.

The factors that the Court considered in  deciding to treat this matter as a “special case” were the fact the CarGurus had not acted in bad faith and had, in fact, obtained a legal opinion that the conduct was permissible before engaging in the activity.  Unfortunately for CarGurus, the legal opinion was wrong because the lawyer involved incorrectly assumed that the photos belonged to the dealerships. Further, the Court felt that there was some bad faith on the part of Trader.  Although the parties had corresponded in an attempt to settle the dispute prior to litigation, Trader intentionally did not disclose the critical fact that Trader owned the photos until after litigation was commenced.

These cases will provide some guidance to those whose business model involves “scraping” content from the websites of others.

Copyright, Design and Trademark – A Cautionary Tale

There is a relationship between copyright, design and trademark as they apply to physical products.  Copyright protects “works of artistic craftsmanship”.   Design protection can be obtained for features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament of useful articles.  Trademark rights may extend to the shaping of wares (products) with such unique shapes being referred to as “distinguishing guises”.  (The old-style glass bottle used by Coca Cola is a good example of a distinguishing guise trademark; the consumer knows what the product is merely from the container.)   It is possible for a product to be subject to all three, copyright, design and trademark at some time during the product’s life cycle.  However, copyright, design and trademark each have their limitations.

When an entrepreneur launches a new product, he or she does not know how successful the product may become.  Sometimes public apathy toward a new product is deflating.  At other times, the response exceeds even the entrepreneur’s expectations.  For that reason, it is not unusual for an entrepreneur to introduce a product into the marketplace and to wait and see how the product sells before seeking protection.

The Court decision rendered on December 14, 2016 in the case of Corocord Raumnetz v. Dynamo Industries is a cautionary tale that helps explain aspects of the relationship between copyright, design and trademark.  Corocord is a manufacturer of playground equipment. Some years ago, Corocord introduced into the market a new playground structure.  Under Canadian law, the playground structure was protected by copyright as a work of artistic craftsmanship at the time of introduction into the marketplace.  Copyright protection does not require any active steps to file paperwork with a government office, although there are advantages in doing so.

Fast forward ahead several years.  By that time, Corocord’s playground structure had become quite successful.  The law suit against Dynamo Industries was triggered when Dynamo introduced a similar product into the marketplace and they ended up bidding against each other on a contract for a playground installation. Corocord sued Dynamo.

Corocord tried to enforce their copyright against Dynamo.  Unfortunately for Corocord, copyright is only intended to protect “works of artistic craftsmanship” that are sold in limited quantities.  The right to sue Dynamo under copyright law was lost, due to the fact that the playground structure had been reproduced in quantities exceeding fifty (50).  Corocord had been too successful to continue to rely upon copyright.  Corocord could have sued Dynamo under design law.  Unfortunately for Corocord, an application must be filed with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for design protection within 12 months of the playground structure being introduced into the marketplace.  The time had passed, Corocord had waited too long. Corocord tried to sue Dynamo under trademark law, which does not have a time deadline. In order to succeed Corocord had to establish that their playground structures had become so well known that the relevant market would automatically associate the distinctive shape of the playground structure with Corocord.  Unfortunately for Corocord, they had not, as yet, become successful to the extent that the distinctive shape of the playground structure was associated with them.

What could have or should have Corocord done?  It was okay for Corocord to rely upon copyright in the beginning.  Within 12 months Corocord knew that their playground structure was achieving success in the marketplace.  It was a fatal error of Corocord to not apply for design protection before the 12 months deadline for doing so expired.  With design protection, Corocord could have stopped similar products from entering the market.  Subsequently, when design protection was about to expire, they could have applied for trademark protection  in the hope of extending their protection indefinitely on the basis that the distinctive shape of the playground structure had become well know and is associated solely with Corocord.  However, now their ability to obtain trademark protection in future is doubtful.  The distinctive shape of the playground structure will no longer be associated solely with Corocord.  Dynamo is in the market providing playground structures with the same distinctive shape and other competitors may soon follow.

Attention Entrepreneurs!

I want to make entrepreneurs aware that they do not have to struggle alone, they can obtain assistance from VIATEC’s accelerator programs in order to fulfill the mission of increasing the number of successful technology companies that start and grow in the Greater Victoria area.

RevUP Program
Their RevUP Program focuses on the business challenges that technology companies with rapid-growth issues in British Columbia often encounter. By participating in RevUP, companies will be able to get personalized help with some of the common issues that hinder business growth: building scalable revenue and customer acquisition models, ensuring efficient operational processes and accessing capital opportunities. Individualized action plans, personal leadership coaching and targeted skill development are what make RevUP effective when it comes to addressing these needs. The benefits of the RevUP program include: Individualized action plans, Personal leadership coaching from Executives in Residence (EiRs), Targeted skill development, Professional support services from experts in marketing, sales, & IT, and Networking opportunities.

Venture Acceleration Program
Their venture acceleration program is designed to guide, coach and grow ambitious early-stage technology entrepreneurs. It is delivered by a team of Executives in Residence (EIRs) and supported by a province-wide network of mentors. The benefits of the Venture Acceleration Program include: Biweekly 1-on-1 coaching by Executives in Residence, Holding companies accountable to meeting goals, Personal experience running successful businesses, connections to networks (If I can’t help I know someone who can), broad reach to EiR network in BC, Reviews of proposals, pitch decks, etc, Exposure to mentors with diverse knowledge base, Networking with other startups to promote sharing of knowledge, talent, & resources, potential collaboration, Accelerator-only workshops targeting specific skills, Member only discounts on events, services (legal counsel, accounting, SEO), & partner programs, Connections to Accelerators across BC, Quarterly Reviews & ad-hoc meeting with full EiR panel & select mentors, Access to VIATEC’s job board & company listings, Promotional opportunities to be Tectorian of The Week, online News Releases, etc.

Entrepreneurship@Program
Similar to the venture acceleration program, their Entrepreneurship program is offered at no charge for a period of 6 months! This is perfect for the entrepreneur who expects to ramp their venture to a position of revenue and/or investment within the 6-month period.  The benefits of the Entrepreneurship Program include: Ensuring that the business basics have been established, Assisting with market definition, product fit and early adopter identification, Providing support and direction on business strategy, sales, marketing, Determining actions for market entry, including channels to market, partnership opportunities, key influencers, decision-makers and demand drivers, Leveraging existing relationships and knowledge to accelerate business development and help gain early traction.

For more information visit the VIATEC website at www.viatec.ca or email Rob Bennett rbennett@viatec.ca