Interesting announcement over at vBulletin today from what appears to be an Internet Brands employee named IB Adrian. What makes it interesting is that for a pending lawsuit, it is rare to see someone be so forthcoming in details and opinions. Usually lawyers in the U.S. tell the affected parties to say nothing and refer all comments to the legal team. Maybe things work a bit different across the pond.
The timing is curious as it comes just one day before XenForo is to release their first public beta. In an announcement in their forum, XenForo simply said
As many of you are no doubt aware, the spectre of unforseen circumstances has raised its ugly head.While this has distracted us from our preparation today and may result in some delay, it is our intention to proceed with tomorrow’s release of XenForo 1.0 Beta 1.Our thanks to everyone who has voiced their support for XenForo.
It’s unsure how Internet Brands would know there is infringement since the code has not been released yet. That fact, combined with the unusually public announcement, and the timing make it appear that this might be posturing to disrupt the release of the XenForo software. If so, that may backfire on Internet Brands as XenForo is now getting far more attention and press than if no suit had been filed. Here is the entire announcement and the link to a very active thread over at XenForo.
Internet Brands today has commenced a lawsuit in the courts of England and Wales against Xenforo, and its founders, Kier, Mike and Ashley. The lawsuit is about these claims: infringement of our copyrighted intellectual property, breach of contract, and unfair business practices.
The suit is simple: we claim that Kier, Mike, and Ashley have infringed and violated contracts they signed with us to gain unfair business advantage. As such, Xenforo’s software unfairly stands on the shoulders of more than a decade of development by Jelsoft. Internet Brands owns this intellectual property.
In total, we are stunned by the actions of Kier, Mike, and Ashley and believe they must not fully understand the laws of copyrights, contract or business torts. Perhaps Kier and Mike think they have “refactored” enough of the code to skirt copyright law. Our analysis strongly indicates otherwise and we believe anyone skilled in understanding such things will concur. Perhaps they are of the misguided belief that because they created some of the vBulletin code as Jelsoft employees, they somehow have unique claims to that property. If so, that too is wrong. Kier’s and Mike’s work as Jelsoft employees was the exclusive property of their employer, and the former owners of Jelsoft not only paid Kier and Mike well during their employment, Kier was paid a handsome bonus when Internet Brands bought the business, although no such payment was required.
If the proverbial shoe were on the other foot and rather than buying vBulletin, Internet Brands had instructed our engineers to essentially copy the software, we would have been law breakers. But Internet Brands chose to play by copyright rules and bought the vBulletin intellectual property. And, in our opinion, no matter how Kier, Mike, and Ashley try to “spin” their actions, they have not. A key test for infringement is a determination as to whether a substantial portion of the underlying work amounts to an expression of the prior work. We believe we will be able to easily show that Xenforo is infringing under this test. We have numerous other claims against Xenforo that we believe are equally strong.
We trust that software purchasers understand the risks of infringement of copyright law and act accordingly. We have requested that Kier, Mike and Ashley refrain from selling the software while the issues, inclusive of our infringement claims, are heard in the courts. We intend to pursue our rights broadly and vigorously. We consider Kier and Mike to be talented developers, but ones who potentially fail to grasp the implications of their actions.
We imagine that many of you in the community will have questions or concerns and we want to be as open and straightforward with all of you throughout this process as possible; however, since this matter is now being handled by the court system, we may be limited in some regards to what we can discuss.