SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A California attorney filed a federal class action against Avvo, which scrapes lawyers' names, likenesses and personal information from public records, posts it online, and then charges other lawyers for advertising on the page.
San Francisco attorney Aaron Darsky sued the Seattle-based company on Tuesday, saying it misappropriates attorneys' names and likenesses to compete unfairly, and violates California business law.
"The revenues generated by Avvo come almost exclusively from its unauthorized use of the names and/or likenesses of attorneys like plaintiff Darsky and the class members in order to sell advertisement or marketing programs to other attorneys who pay Avvo a fee," the complaint states.
Avvo's general counsel Josh King called the complaint "completely meritless."
"If the plaintiffs had their way, all forms of advertising-supported media would be at risk for publicity rights claims," King told Courthouse News in an email.
Avvo creates profile pages for attorneys, listing their location, areas of practice, years of experience, client reviews, and giving them an "Avvo rating."
Avvo claims on its website that it has rated 97 percent of attorneys in the United States.
Founded in 2006 by former Expedia.com general counsel Mark Briton, Avvo was valued at $650 million in July this year, according to a Bloomberg News report cited in the complaint.
The company hosts a free message board for attorneys to answer questions from the public, and works with lawyers to offer personal legal advice for $39 for 15 minutes, according to its website.
It's not the first time Avvo's online rolodex of attorney profiles brought a lawsuit.
In 2007, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik dismissed a class action in the Western District of Washington that accused Avvo of falsely presenting its ratings as objective and factual.
A Florida attorney sued Avvo in 2010 , claiming it defamed him by posting erroneous information on his profile page.
In his complaint, Darsky says the fact that Avvo sells other attorneys the right to place ads on his profile page, which he never consented to, is an illegal misappropriation of his identity for financial gain.
"While compiling a list of publicly admitted attorneys may be a permissible First Amendment exercise of reporting matters of public concern, Avvo's business practices go far beyond that mere exercise," the complaint states.
Darsky said Avvo placed ads for three other lawyers on his profile page, and the only way he can remove them is by paying Avvo an advertising or marketing fee.
Thousands of aggrieved attorneys in California are entitled to recover at least $750 per class member, Darsky says in his complaint.
He seeks class certification, declaratory judgment, an injunction and compensatory, statutory and punitive damages.
He is represented by Roy Katriel of La Jolla.
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