Realtors Sue Tech Firm for Copyright Infringement

Realtors Sue Tech Firm for Copyright Infringement

Coastal California’s booming real estate market should logically make realtors and the tech industry natural allies. This is not always the case. On Wednesday, Inman.com reported that the California Realtors Association filed a $136 million dollar lawsuit against Boston-based firm PDFfiller, Inc. for distributing copyrighted transaction forms without permission.

With more than 170,000 members, CAR is the largest Realtor Association in the country, and members can receive transaction forms as a free perk after paying membership dues. These legal documents, essential for the transfer of property, are the main reason realtors and brokers join Realtor Associations.

I think that some [realtors] may believe that they can get around paying their dues.
— June Babiracki Balow, VP: California Realtors Association

The Realtors Association's main concern is that PDFfiller's service will eliminate incentives for realtors to pay membership dues in order to access proprietary paperwork. “We’re focusing more on the vendor," says June Babiracki Barlow, VP and general counsel at the CAR. If, however, we find members that try to get around their obligations to protect the documents, we’ll handle that separately...I think some of them may believe that they can get around paying their dues."

In their suit, CAR alleges that at least 64 separate documents were distributed and sold without their consent on PDFfiller’s platform. They allege PDFfiller of running “a massive counterfeiting scheme” and, in addition to the millions in damages, are seeking an injunction preventing the company “from their continuous and pervasive reproduction and sale of unauthorized copies.”

Representatives for PDFfiller contend that the lawsuit has “no merit,” and that they are merely providing a hosting service “in a space that desperately needs innovation.” Many of their customers are in real estate, but their clients primarily consist of bureaucratic institutions in government, healthcare, and legal services.

“You can really think of us as Adobe Acrobat in the Cloud,” PDFfiller Boris Shakhovich wrote in a statement. “We do nothing more or less than provide a general purpose tool to type on, fill, fax, sign, edit documents.” Shakhovich insisted that many of CAR’s allegations were outright falsehoods, including the claims that his company hacked into password-protected CAR databases and uploaded fillable forms for profit. “[T]he forms they allege we infringed…are freely accessible to anyone with access to the Internet,” he added, “and we simply point to these resources in the same way that Google or any other search engine does.”

But Barlow disputed claims that the service is innocuous. One year ago, CAR sent cease-and-desist notices to a similar hosting platform, dotloop, which they alleged was infringing on the content of their proprietary software service, zipLogix. Barlow insists that PDFfiller’s infringement is more damaging, having gone so far as to advertise fillable CAR forms on Google searches. CAR included screenshots of the ads on their lawsuit, which can be read in full here.

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