Bidder’s Edge is a site advertising a list of various auctions conducted by various sites, thereby enabling the visitors to gain knowledge of any auction without visiting the actual site. Ebay was one such site that Bidder’s Edge searched for details regarding auctions and list of items both old and new that are sold in the auctions. This action by itself is no different then the searches conducted by Ebay’s normal customers. However, the method used by Bidder’s Edge to search Ebay’s system as can be summarized from the order passed by the California Northern District Court Judge in Ebay Inc. v. Bidder’s Edge Inc.(May, 2000), was wrong and illegal.
It can be seen that Bidder’s Edge wanted to search Ebay’s system and prepare its own auction database and both companies were in the process of negotiating the same. However, negotiations failed and Ebay requested Bidders Edge not to automatically search its system. Bidder’s Edge on the other hand, despite such a request, continued to automatically search Ebay’s system and compile its auction database. When Ebay came to know of the same, it blocked Bidder’s Edge from doing so. On being blocked, Bidder’s Edge used proxy servers to continue its illegal search and compilation activity.
A normal customer registering with Ebay is requested to sign an agreement with it stating clearly that the information posted in the Ebay site will not be used for commercial purpose. Bidder’s Edge did not abide by that agreement and continued to utilize the information so obtained to increase the number of hits to its website thereby increasing its business.
Ebay was an auction site and this action on part of Bidder’s Edge primarily increases the load on Ebay servers thereby causing system malfunction for both the owner as well as other searchers. Secondly, Ebay felt that if Bidder’s Edge were to be allowed to continue with such illegal searching, then it would lead other similar websites to do the same. Thus would in turn lead to a heavy load on Ebay’s servers which would cause major malfunction.
Thirdly, when Bidder’s Edge continued posting Ebay auctions stating that it was allowed to do so, Ebay felt that it would cause damage to its reputation and goodwill. Finally such activities of the Bidder’s Edge would lead to unjust enrichment of Bidder’s Edge and loss to Ebay as visitors would rather visit Bidder’s Edge then visit Ebay directly (Clarida, R., 2000).
Trespass to personal property is defined as the intentional interference of the infringing party on another person’s lawful possession (“Trespass to chattels”. December, 2006). This interference can be either by removing it from the person’s possession or destroying it or barring the owner from accessing it or by any physical contact in a quantifiable way. In other words it is any direct interference with the possession of goods (Markesinis & Deakin, 1999, p. 406).
If a person intentionally and without authorization interferes with the owner’s possessory interest in the computer system and if that person unauthorized use of the resulted in damage to the owner then it constitutes trespass to computer services. However, according to California law, trespass exists even when a person goes beyond the limits set by the owner. In other words a substantial interference is not necessary but a mere intermeddling is enough to claim trespass. In cyberspace, it is often difficult to define the basic components that define trespass traditionally.
In other words, intent, entry, property and permission cannot be clearly demarcated in cyberspace as one can in ordinary physical spaces. Intent need not be malicious to support a claim for trespass, even if the person enters a cyberspace with the knowledge that his entry may actually be restricted, it would amount to trespass. Entry again need not be physical as in cyberspace even a visit to a particular website can cause damage to the owner and hence constitute trespass. Property in actual terms needs to be private in terms of ownership and possession.
In this case, the defendants had argued that cyberspace cannot be private property as it is accessed by public in general. According to California law, cyberspace though accessed by public, is private property as the owner can restrict access to its database. This leads to the fourth parameter of permission. Just as a person can give or deny permission for entry into a physical property, so also, a website can give or deny access to its website to certain persons.
It can further filter the information so made available to the persons given access to the website. Thus a website owner can lay down the rules regarding access and the kind of information accessible to public and if anyone were to disobey the rules, then it would amount to trespass Adida, B., Chang, E., Fletcher, L., Hong, M., Sandon, L., & Page, K., (December, 1998).
Adida, B., Chang, E., Fletcher, L., Hong, M., Sandon, L., & Page, K., (December, 1998). The Future of Trespass and Property in Cyberspace. Retrieved February 14, 2007 from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/courses/ltac98/final.html
Clarida, W., (November, 2000). EBay Case Recognizes New IP Theory. Retrieved February 14, 2007 from http://www.legallanguage.com/lawarticles/Clarida002.html
Deakin, S. & Markesinis, B. (1999). Tort Law, (p 406). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
(May, 2000). Ebay Inc. v. Bidders Edge. Retrieved February 14 2007 from legal.web.aol.com/decisions/dldecen/ebayorder.pdf
Trespass to chattels. (2006, December 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 14, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trespass_to_chattels&oldid=94648275