Indiana Counties Blast Data Miner on Web Harvesters


     SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CN) – A data-analytics firm is using web-harvesting software to fraudulently access Indiana property records, 13 counties claim in a federal action.
     DeKalb County and the other dozen plaintiffs say they have their own system for providing remote access to public records.
     They say California-based LPS Real Estate Data Solutions Inc. began using that counties’ system, Laredo, in 2010 to access mortgages, deeds, plats, real estate contracts and liens.
     In early 2011, however, LPS announced that it would start using its own “web-harvester programs designed to mimic and interact with the Laredo system in order to gain access to the computer servers and databases that stored the electronic public records,” the Feb. 13 complaint alleges.
     While Laredo allows the counties to track how much time end-users spend accessing the data, and how many pages they see, it also serves as a source of revenue for the municipalities.
     LPS for example had monthly subscriptions with each of the counties, and it paid them $1 per page it copied, according to the complaint.
     The counties say the web harvesters that LPS began “employing … on Laredo in late 2011” shuts them out.
     “Through use of its web-harvesters, LPS effectively disabled the functionality of the Laredo system that tracked LPS’s access and acquisition of copies of electronic public records,” the complaint states. “As a result of LPS’s unauthorized and fraudulent access via its web-harvester programs, LPS acquired millions of copies of electronic public records for free in violation of its contracts with the county recorders, and in violation of federal and state laws.”
     The counties note that LPS, which resells the data it harvests, had contracts with 2,600 of 3,142 county recorders in the United States as of 2013.
     When the counties’ software vendor discovered that LPS was logging activity in the Laredo server through its web harvesters while “showing zero use on its monthly invoices,” many counties upgraded their records software to prevent web harvesting.
     Though LPS filed a 2013 federal complaint in Illinois against this vendor, the counties say that the court denied LPS a restraining order.
     Calculating documents, pages or images that LPS scanned from 2005 to March 15, 2013, at a copy fee of $1 per page or image, the counties say that the unauthorized or excessive access by LPS cost them “at least” $4.7 million.
     Fidelity National Financial acquired LPS in January 2014, and the counties filed their lawsuit against Fidelity’s consolidated holding company, Black Knight Real Estate Solutions LLC, as successor-in-interest to LPS.
     Michael Sawyier of Chesterton, Ind., represents the counties, which seek treble damages for breach of contract, criminal conversion, theft and racketeering.

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