Due to the vigorous development of Internet technology, today’s society has entered an era of information explosion. There is almost no doubt that the business model of “collecting and organizing Internet data or websites, and matching it with relevant information (like restaurants, tourism, real estate, etc.) then presents it to consumers for easy and convenient access, and to earn advertising costs or profit sharing through advertising” has economic value. Therefore, if someone is collecting and mining website data collected and curated by others, and using it as content for our own websites or similar applications, does the collection and mining constitute plagiarism? unfair competition? This should be reviewed under the Fair Trade Act.
In September 2022, the Fair Trade Commission (hereafter referred to as the FTC) issued Gong-chu-zi ruling No. 111070, which addressed plagiarized information collected and curated by competitors’ websites and apps, and mixed them with content from their own websites and apps. The FTC concludes that such behavior constitutes the patently unfair behavior of exploiting the efforts of others in a manner that affects the order of the transaction in violation of Section 25 of the Fair Trade Act and imposes a fine. The case is briefly analyzed as follows:
II. Relevant regulations and facts of the case
The Fair Trade Law was enacted to maintain the order of trade and the interests of consumers. Among them, Article 25 of the Fair Trade Act stipulates that “[i]In addition to what is provided for by this law, no business should otherwise have any misleading or manifestly unfair conduct likely to affect the trading order.” The term “obviously unfair” in this article may be referred to in the guidelines of the Fair Trade Commission for dealing with cases in section 25 of the Fair Trade Act (hereinafter referred to as the “Guidelines”) refers to those who engage in a contest or business transaction in a manifestly unfair manner. Examples of the type of manifestly unjust behavior are: exploiting the fruits of another’s labor. For example, plagiarize information from the website of others who have invested considerable effort in the website or database, and mix it with content from your own website or database in order to increase your own business opportunities.“
In this case, the plaintiff, the operator of the “ifoodie.tw” website and APP (hereinafter referred to as “ifoodie”) claims that the food diary information contained therein was authorized by author of the food diary and included by staff who contacted and negotiated with the author, or submitted and included by the bloggers themselves. Once the articles are included, ifoodie will collect, organize and modify them into structured data. It requires investing a lot of time, manpower and money to maintain the data over a long period of time. Complainant submits that Respondent, the operator of the “ihungrybear.com” website and APP (hereinafter referred to as “ihungrybear”) crawls, uses and displays information from the complainant’s website without permission and reduces the restaurant’s and advertisers’ commission to promote their business through ifoodiewhich violates Article 25 of the Fair Trade Act.
III. FTC Decision
1. Both parties have a competitive relationship
The FTC finds that there is a competitive relationship between Complainant and Respondent. The two parties provide websites and applications with food reviews and restaurant information, combining restaurant information, maps and mobile device positioning functions to provide users with the restaurant search service near. There is also a function to rate and write reviews for restaurants, as well as provide hyperlinks to the food records article with the title and thumbnail of the restaurant information page. Moreover, both parties are food websites and apps, and the main business model is to monetize collected internet traffic, i.e. sell ad space to restaurants or advertisers for earn advertising costs or make a profit through advertising companies.
2. Complainant’s food records are the economically valuable result of considerable effort
For Internet users, there are many articles on the Internet that provide restaurant information and record dining experiences. Even relying on search engines, users still need to check content one by one based on search results to know the correlation between records and restaurants. The Complainant, ifoodie manually screens or selects from a submission system food registry items on the Internet. After analyzing the articles and structuring the data with a program, they are compared with the ifoodie database. After sorting, the internet links of each food registry item are matched with the restaurant information in the ifoodie database, and manual inspection is used to ensure accuracy. ifoodie provides users with convenient and comprehensive restaurant information, so users can click on the title of each food record and browse through images and text while reading the information to understand the experiences and ratings of different authors. It takes some time and labor to achieve this, and it demonstrates that the process of maintaining website information requires considerable effort and has some economic value.
3. Respondent’s act of plagiarizing information from the website, by mixing it with content from his own website, constitutes the patently unjust act of exploiting the results of other people’s efforts.
The defendant, ihungrybear, does not deny that the information on its website is collected from the ifoodie domain and the ifoodie website on the Google Cloud Platform. But ihungrybear thinks it’s collected from public information, so it’s not illegal or plagiarism because it didn’t use food records content from other websites. The FTC believes that that of the respondent behaviour in this case, “ihungrybear has plagiarized the weblinks of food archive articles from the ifoodie website, and the plagiarized item is the result of ifoodie’s extensive efforts to collect, sort, and categorize into web pages containing restaurant information.” The types of behavior that constitute the obvious unfairness revealed by the aforementioned guidelines are examples of “exploitation of the fruits of the labor of others”, “plagiarism of information from the website of others who have invested considerable effort on the website or database and to meddle with the content of its own website or database.” ihungrybear’s behavior is unwarranted and has nothing to do with whether or not ifoodie’s content is public information on the internet.
4. Respondent behavior is sufficient to affect the trading order
The FTC finds that ihungrybear plagiarized content from competitor ifoodie’s website and mixed it with content from its own website and the APP. By freeing up ifoodie’s efforts to create and maintain website data, so that users initially attracted to ifoodie’s food records turn to its website and app, ihungrybear has split network traffic and ifoodie website and app download rate. In addition, due to the economic characteristics of the multilateral food website platform, the economic value and advertising revenue of ifoodie’s advertising space is reduced, which creates unfair competition for ifoodie and other competitors who rely on their own legitimate efforts and methods to enrich their websites. and APPs. Therefore, ihungrybear’s behavior is clearly considered unfair and apparently affecting the trading order.
In the age of the information explosion, those who can systematically collect information that interests people and grab their attention have become kings. However, the technology of the collection and exploration program has been continuously improved and the systematically aggregated information produced by the industry which has invested a lot of time and resources is easy to capture. Therefore, it is necessary for the industry to take legal action in a timely manner to protect its rights and interests.