Thursday, August 31, 2006, 8/31/2006 07:50:00 AM

Law Firm Accused of Trade Secrets and Computer Fraud & Abuse Act Violations

From the New Jersey Law Journal, via Law.Com, an interesting story about a law firm accused of violating trade secrets law and the federal Computer Fraud & Abuse Act by hacking into an Internet archive website in order to retrieve pages sought to be removed by plaintiff.

The scenario is a little tricky, but here goes: Healthcare Advocates, Inc. is described as a patients' advocacy company based in Philadelphia. A Valley Forge, Pennsylvania law firm, Harding, Early, Follmer & Frailey represented another Pennsylvania company, Health Advocate Inc. According to the article, the suit in federal court in Philadelphia claims that "one or more Harding Earley employees violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by hacking into databases at San Francisco's Internet Archive 92 times, using an application known as the 'wayback machine,' in attempts to retrieve material that Healthcare Advocates had asked to be removed." (If you want to see the wayback machine for yourself, go here.)

The action charges Health Advocate with misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, tortious interference, breach of contract, fraud, trademark and service mark violations, and unjust enrichment.

By all appearances, what was "hacked" appear only to be pages that were once posted openly on the web, but then asked to be removed.

A spokesman for Harding Earley, Earley himself, said earlier that an employee simply viewed the pages on the web. "Once they're out there, they're public," Earley said last year. "If they had been trade secrets, they were made public at one point and they're no longer trade secrets and they're not protected."

That seems like a reasonable position. We'll try to follow this one to see if there's more here than meets the eye or if this is, as it appears, a lawsuit intended mostly to scare off those looking for damaging information on the Internet.

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