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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "In Spencer County, more than $200,000 worth of public records were copied without payment."

That is the lede to this very brief Dec. 5th item by Josh Allsopp at WFIE. It continues:

County officials claim LPS Real Estate Data Solutions had permission to view the documents and copy them for $1 per page.

County officials say they made copy's but never paid for them.

The county claims the same company has done this across the country.

We're told they're going to file a lawsuit against them.

The ILB was able to quickly locate this very informative Aug. 5th story (with Indiana tie-in) at St Louis RFT (Riverfront Times), reported by Danny Wicentowski, and headed "Real Estate Company Accused of Stealing 87,000 Property Records from Franklin County (MO)". Some quotes:
Franklin County Recorder of Deeds Sharon Birkman ... claims 87,000 property records were copied from the county's servers and likely sold at profit by LPS Real Estate Data Solutions.

"This company is stealing tax payers' information," says Birkman. She tells Daily RFT that she was deposed three weeks ago by lawyers from Fidlar Technologies, the software company that runs Franklin County's online data access program. Fidlar first informed her of the alleged theft back in March 2013, but she says she didn't know the exact number of documents taken until her deposition.

"They called me, and told me they were certain that LPS was 'scraping my data without paying for it'," says Birkman, whose office oversees millions of digitized deed records going back to the 1800s.

"[LPS] signed an agreement that agreement stating that they will not sell to a third party," says Birkman. LPS apparently broke that agreement with Franklin County, as well as dozens of others across the U.S..

So what is data scraping? According to a lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court in Illinois, LPS is accused of improperly accessing recorders' office servers by way of a "web harvester," which allowed LPS to potentially copy millions of documents without paying a cent. According to the lawsuit, LPS's business model involves collecting massive amounts of public property data, combining it with third-party information and then licencing the resulting package to its customers. The collection is done "on a vast scale," as LPS has arraignments with 2,600 recorders' offices.

Much of that access goes through a digital middle man contracted by the recorders' offices. Birkman says 24 Missouri counties use Fidlar's "Laredo" program, which charges users to view, download and print various land-related records. Users can only view documents one at a time and cannot download the files without paying the county a printing fee.

As for Fidlar, they take a cut of the $400-per-month subscription fee charged to companies like LPS.

That process was apparently too slow (and expensive) for LPS. Fidlar's suit alleges that LPS dug into the Loredo's server protocols to create the web harvester, which allowed LPS to "scrape" the documents in bulk, right from the source. An audit by Fidlar found that LPS used this technique in approximately 74 counties in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

For a good legal article on the issues raised here, see "How Website Operators Use CFAA (Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) To Combat Data-Scraping," by Aaron Rubin and Tiffany Hu, Morrison & Foerster LLP, at Law360.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 10, 2014 09:17 AM
Posted to Indiana Government