A decision from a Maryland based federal court provides a valuable lesson. That is, if a court tells you to do something, it’s probably a good idea it to make sure it gets done.
The case involved a copyright dispute. A company called MRIS operates an automated database that compiles property listings in the Mid-Atlantic region. Real estate brokers and agents can subscribe to the service and upload information about their listings. When those users upload photos of the listings, they assign the copyright in the photos to MRIS.
A company called AHRN owns a service called NeighborCity.com, a national real estate search engine that provides real estate agent ratings and rankings. Users of the NeighborCity.com Web site can find nationwide real estate listings using search parameters such as geographic region and price range. If users find a real estate agent or a property that interests them, NeighborCity.com connects the user with the local agent of choice or a recommended agent for the requested property. Although AHRN never got a license to use any MRIS photos, a number of MRIS photos found their way to the NeighborCity Web site.
MRIS filed a complaint for copyright infringement and got a preliminary injunction ordering AHRN to stop posting MRIS photos. But apparently for a period of seven weeks after the court issued the injunction, MRIS photos continued to be posted.
Courts really, really hate it when parties disobey their orders. I suspect if judges compiled a list of pet peeves, 90% of them would rank disobedience number one. So AHRN had some explaining to do. Unfortunately for AHRN, it didn’t offer up much of one.
AHRN’s lead software architect told the court that after he learned about the injunction, he “programmed the website logic to filter out MRIS photographs by targeting certain identifiers that were included in each property listing." When he learned that “MRIS photographs had reappeared on the NeighborCity Web site, he “immediately investigated the situation and quickly learned” that a third party website had “unbeknownst to [the lead architect] . . . changed the identifier for MRIS. That allowed “MRIS photographs to bypass AHRN’s Web site logic . . . and display unintentionally on NeighborCity.com.”
The court was unsympathetic. It noted that it was not enough to set up a system. AHRN had the duty to make sure it actually worked. The injunction required AHRN to “make diligent and good faith efforts” to comply, and the court found that the "ignorance is bliss" approach didn’t cut it. It fined AHRN $7,000, or $1,000 for each week it failed to comply.
The lesson is pretty simple. If you are subject to a court order to do something, better make sure it gets done. That probably includes periodically checking up.