Law Firm Sues Competitors Over Content on Websites

Law Firm Sues Competitors Over Content on Websites William Pinilis

Two New Jersey law firms have been named in a suit in federal court in Newark, N.J., accusing them of lifting content from the website of another firm and posting it on their own sites.

Thomas Blauvelt, a solo practitioner in Old Bridge, claims in the suit that content from his website turned up on the sites of Prince & Portnoi and Tobin, Kessler, Greenstein, Caruso, Wiener & Konray, both of Clark. The items copied included computer code, editorial content and the name, biographical information and photo of Blauvelt himself, the suit alleges.

The copied material was taken down when the act was brought to the defendants’ attention, according to the suit, but the plaintiff claims the damage done by the defendants’ actions will take longer to repair.

Blauvelt is a municipal court practitioner who relies on his website to bring in clients, but he has seen a decline in the number of contacts from new clients, and he attributes that to the defendants’ actions, said his attorney in the case, William Pinilis of PinilisHalpern in Morristown.

Thanks to the inner workings of Google and other search engines, Blauvelt’s firm comes up lower in search results as a result of the defendants’ actions, said Pinilis.

A would-be client seeking a lawyer online is less likely to see Blauvelt’s firm because Google’s algorithms rank newer versions of the same content higher than older versions, according to Pinilis.

“What they did was they took from the advantage he had gained from lots of hard work and lots of time and lots of money creating this online resource,” said Pinilis.

Blauvelt brought claims of conversion, misappropriation of likeness, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and identity theft against the two firms and the principals of Prince & Portnoi, Andrew Prince and Mitchell Portnoi. Prince & Portnoi is now defunct, with Prince joining Tobin Kessler and Portnoi establishing his own firm in Clark.

Blauvelt filed the suit in Middlesex County Superior Court on March 21 and filed an amended complaint June 5, adding a count for copyright infringement. The lawyer for Prince, Portnoi and their former firm, Gregg Paradise of Lerner, David, Littenberg, Krumholz & Mentlik of Westfield, removed it to federal court on June 24.

Pinilis said when Prince joined Tobin Kessler, some of the same information from Blauvelt’s website that turned up on the Prince & Portnoi site also appeared on Tobin Kessler’s site. Pinilis said he’s not sure if the defendants acted intentionally or negligently but he hoped to get to the bottom of what happened.

Paradise, the lawyer for Prince, Portnoi and their former firm, said an employee of a website consultant took the items from Blauvelt’s site and put them on the Prince & Portnoi site. Paradise said his clients knew nothing of any improper use of content from Blauvelt’s site until it was brought to their attention, and the content in question was taken down as soon as they learned what happened.

Defense lawyer Paradise identified the website consultant as PC Visions of Old Bridge.

Paradise said the content that was taken from Blauvelt’s site and posted on the Prince & Portnoi site was a list of New Jersey courts with their addresses and telephone numbers. He said the name and likeness of Blauvelt appeared only “in metadata” on the Prince & Portnoi site and disputes Blauvelt’s claim that he was damaged by the use of his name and likeness on the Prince & Portnoi site.

“My understanding is [visitors to that site] would never have seen anything with Mr. Blauvelt’s name. Even if they did, at best it would have been confusing,” Paradise said. Pinilis conceded that Blauvelt was “buried” on the defendants’ sites.

Paradise also discounted Blauvelt’s claim that his relative prominence in Google search results were reduced by his clients’ actions, and said that the suit’s counts for identity theft, conversion and misappropriation of likeness, “while creative, are not based in law.”

Paradise also disputed the plaintiff’s claim that the content from his website appeared on the Tobin Kessler website. Paradise said he expected Tobin Kessler would have its own counsel in the case, but he did not know who that might be. Tobin Kessler’s managing attorney, Scott Kessler, did not return a call about the case. Nor did Joe Korman, the principal of PC Visions.

Contact the reporter at ctoutant@alm.com.

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