(CN) - A federal class action claims an online marketing company defrauds customers with phony reviews to induce them to pay for "lifetime access" to material that's already free on the Internet.
Kimberly Yordy sued Plimus and its corporate parent Great Hill Partners in San Francisco Federal Court.
She claims the defendants' marketing campaigns use "fabricated consumer reviews, testimonials, and fake blogs that are all intended to deceive consumers seeking a legitimate product and induce them to pay."
Yordy says Plimus works with dozens of affiliate sites that offer the "free" digital goodies using the false advertisements.
"In the end, the only things provided to registered members of any of the Unlimited Download Websites include access to digital goods that are already available for free elsewhere on the internet, such as eBooks found at Project Gutenberg, (a public domain online library) or else, simply provides links to torrent search engines that allow a consumer to download already publicly shared digital goods," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
What's more, Yordy says, aside from the fact that torrent search engines are available for free online, "accessing and downloading files through a torrent search engine is illegal and constitutes copyright infringement of the digital goods acquired. Accordingly, defendants and the unlimited download websites are promoting and profiting by directing consumers to illegal means of obtaining digital goods, all the while taking affirmative steps to give consumers the distinct impression that their conduct is legal."
Yordy cites a movie download site she describes as a paid affiliate of Plimus, and says it shows fabricated "consumer reviews" praising the phony service, which are written by the company or its affiliates.
"Reviews containing identical, word-for-word content appear across the Internet, with only the name of the reviewing 'consumer' and the product having been changed," the complaint states. (21)
Yordy says she visited the Plimus-affiliated website "TheNovelNetwork.com" in July 2011 and signed up for a $49.95 "one-time membership fee" to receive "unlimited access to numerous bestselling eBooks."
She came to realize that all the eBooks made available to her were already available for free, and says she would not have paid Dime One had she known that.
Yordy says she hired a lawyer to complain, and Plimus subsequently took down that site and others, claiming that their "refund rate was too high."
"However, Plimus continues to market and profit from twenty-seven other unlimited download websites still in operation at the time of filing this complaint," she says.
Yordy seek class certification and damages for fraud, false advertising, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, fraud by omission, fraud in the inducement, and consumer law violations.
She is represented by Sean Reis with Edelson McGuire of Rancho Santa Margarita.
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