Internet Law

Federal judge trims law firm's suit that claims a rival firm hijacked website traffic

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A federal judge in Chicago has trimmed some claims from an Illinois law firm’s suit that alleges that a rival hijacked its website traffic and copied some of its website content.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow refused to dismiss Motta & Motta’s claims earlier this week for copyright infringement and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but he tossed several others, Law360 reports.

Dow said the Aurora, Illinois, law firm couldn’t sue under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act because it missed the deadline.

And he dismissed state law claims for conversion, trespass to chattel, unjust enrichment, injunctive relief and an accounting, saying Motta & Motta “utterly failed” to defend them in response to a motion to dismiss.

Motta & Motta had claimed that rival Dolci & Weiland placed tags on Motta’s website with the help of a compromised employee in May 2016. The intent, Motta said, was “to hijack Motta’s web traffic” and direct search engine traffic to Dolci, a law firm in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois.

Dolci & Weiland was also accused of creating a website that mirrored the design of Motta’s website and copied verbatim some of Motta’s copyrighted articles and posts.

Making matters worse, Motta & Motta alleged, Dolci & Weiland recruited a Motta employee to redirect some Motta callers seeking a lawyer to the Dolci firm.

After experiencing a steep drop in website traffic in May 2016, Motta hired a marketing firm to provide counseling on search engine optimization.

By September 2016, the owners of Motta & Motta confronted Dolci & Weiland lawyers and said the evidence suggested they were “cyber-spying,” according to Dow’s opinion. Motta & Motta sued in August 2018.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act require lawsuits to be brought within two years of when the plaintiffs first had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.

Dow said the two-year limitations period had expired because a reasonable person would have investigated and discovered the culprit in May 2016 when the number of web referrals and phone calls dropped precipitously.

Dow also gave Motta & Motta until April 17 to show cause why the court shouldn’t dismiss other state law claims of unfair competition, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and civil conspiracy.

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