Brian Raub is a Smith Mountain Lake-based Web entrepreneur who develops travel-related websites. His first venture is now part of Internet travel behemoth Expedia.
Raub has invested $200,000 and eight years into building his latest business, Lakelubbers.com, which lists and reviews 2,100 vacation-destination lakes across the United States. The content comes from freelancers hired by Raub.
Earlier this year, Raub said, he learned that information presented on Lakelubbers had been copied verbatim by another company that was reselling it in 11 different smartphone apps at 99 cents a pop. Imagine his dismay.
Apple, the biggest name in computers, takes a cut from each 99-cent app sale though The App Store.
Back in April, out of the blue, Raub received an email, purportedly from India. The sender claimed to be an app developer for a company based there. The whistle-blower disclosed that some other developers for the company had copied content from Lakelubbers for fishing-related apps it was marketing.
The developers, Raub said, didn’t merely take bits and pieces of Lakelubbers’ information and change a word or phrase here or there in the apps’ descriptions of the listed lakes.
“They duplicated all of it,” Raub told me last week. “They duplicated it exactly. ... It’s as clear-cut a copyright violation as could be.”
Thus began a three-month campaign by Raub to persuade Apple to remove the offending apps. That played out in a flurry of emails between Moneta; Cupertino, California; and India. Raub showed me examples.
At first, Apple tried to act as a referee and get the Indian company to work things out with Raub, he said. But the Indian company, in broken English, repeatedly denied it had copied Lakelubbers’ material.
“The exchanges were, at first, kind of humorous, because Apple said, ‘We’re not going to make a finding here — we want you to work it out among yourselves,’ ” Raub told me. “And I kept saying, ‘There’s nothing to work out, because this is stolen content.’ ”
The Indian company, meanwhile, would reply with emails that said things like, “We are not copied,” and “No violations done.”
Finally, Raub told Apple that he would make the matter public if they didn’t remove the 11 offending apps. Apple advised Raub that it had deleted the apps in July, he said.
So why is Raub going public now? It’s because, he said, the Indian company has created 20 more apps, representing fishing lakes in 20 additional states. All of the content in each app is copied directly from Lakelubbers.com, Raub said.
He found those apps in September. He actually had to purchase them because the content is not searchable otherwise. Again, Raub said, he notified Apple. The apps, he said, remained.
Raub voiced his concern about stolen content in a news release that landed on my desk last week.
“We want to alert others that they need to be vigilant because there’s a chance they’re being swindled without their knowledge.”
Something intellectual property lawyers call “vicarious copyright infringement” happens when someone illegally copies a creative work and uses a third party to help them distribute it.
Keith Finch, an intellectual property lawyer with The Creekmore Law Firm in Blacksburg, said the most infamous vicarious copyright infringement case involved the music file-sharing website Napster.
“Napster was found liable for vicarious copyright infringement when it allowed its users to trade copyrighted music files via the Napster Internet service,” Finch said.
A court ordered Napster to pay $26 million for infringing on the copyrights of record companies and songwriters. The company was shut down and forced into bankruptcy in 2001.
However, the plaintiffs in that case were composed of most of the big players in the American music industry. Lakelubbers.com, by contrast, earns all of its revenue through Google Adsense advertising.
Right now, that’s a paltry amount, Raub said. He has three employees, plus he works with about 20 paid freelancers.
Raub said it would take many more resources than he has to bring a case.
And the potential award might be too small to make it worthwhile.
So, Raub said, he’s spreading the word.
Via email, I contacted the Indian company and have received no reply. Apple responded, telling me it is looking into Raub’s allegations.
Will others discover content has been stolen from them?
Right now, the answer is, stay tuned.