TORONTO — Property listings website Mongohouse is striking back at the Toronto Real Estate Board, claiming that it has suffered losses in excess of $50,000 after it was forced to abruptly shut down its website earlier this month.
In a counterclaim and statement of defence filed Tuesday, lawyers representing Mongohouse.com and its creator, Maxim Mai, allege that the lawsuit brought against them by Canada’s largest real estate board was done under the “belief, knowledge or wilful blindness” that the claims were “without merit.”
As a result of the court action, it alleges that both the website and Mai, of Richmond Hill, Ont., have lost revenue, employment income and future employment income due to reputation damage, according to the 75-page document filed in Federal Court.
In September, the real estate board sued Mongohouse for $2 million, alleging that the website was illegally accessing, copying and distributing its proprietary data.
The popular website, which provided publicly-accessible property listings and sold data, has been offline since Oct. 1.
In its statement of claim, TREB alleged that Mongohouse infringed its copyrights by “employing various techniques to illegally data scrape” TREB’s proprietary information that it provides to its fee-paying members through its internal multiple-listings service (MLS). This data includes new property listings, descriptions, sold prices and photography.
It goes on to claim that Mongohouse is profiting by its daily “unauthorized access” of this information, which it then displays on its website for free.
But in its statement of defence, Mongohouse refutes the claim that it has ever “data scraped,” copied or distributed any information from TREB’s MLS system.
It says the information used on its website is taken from public resources.
“Mongohouse has never populated the website… with information from the TREB MLS system,” according to court documents. “The information on the website… has always been collected from publicly available and accessible sources rather from the TREB MLS system.
Calling them “bald claims and conclusions,” the website says TREB has not provided any proof that its information is copyrighted, that it is still within the two-year statute of limitations to sue, and that it has suffered damages as a result, “let alone $2,000,000 in damages.”
It also denied that there was evidence that the source of Mongohouse’s content came from TREB. In its lawsuit, the board had claimed that it placed “unique information” in its system and saw it appear on Mongohouse within 24 to 48 hours.
“A simple search using Google reveals that the ‘unique information’ purportedly placed in the TREB MLS system to allegedly catch Mongohouse in the act of taking information from the TREB MLS system is widely available on publicly accessible websites, without even requiring a password,” said the defence claim. “Unlike TREB, Mongohouse has in fact verified that its source for the ‘unique information’ was widely a available and publicly accessible website and not the TREB MLS system.”
Mongohouse did not name the sites it used to get its content, or detail the “unique information” it claims to have acquired.
As such, the website says TREB can’t claim that it will “suffer injury, let alone ‘irreparable harm'” if Mongohouse is allowed to go back online, the documents argue.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a Supreme Court of Canada decision in August to not to hear a case where TREB was fighting to prevent home sales data from being posted on realtors’ password-protected websites.
TREB, which represents more than 52,000 realtors across the Greater Toronto Area, had argued for seven years at three judicial bodies that allowing the data to be released would create privacy and copyright concerns.
Earlier, the Competition Bureau had ruled that keeping the sold prices private was anti-competitive and stifled innovation.
Realty brokerages are now permitted to post sales data in real-time on their password-protected websites.
Follow @LindaNguyenTO on Twitter.
Linda Nguyen, The Canadian Press
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