POWAY, Calif.(Oct. 14, 2002) — Mitchell Repair Information Co. L.L.C. has won a court judgment against an individual who allegedly was pirating and reselling the firm's automotive aftermarket repair, estimating and shop management software.
A copyright software infringement lawsuit had been filed by the company against Don Brown, who does business as Brown Auto Equipment, in Navarre, Ohio. It charged that he copied and sold Mitchell's popular OnDemand proprietary software to automotive repair shops that purchased repossesed computers with the software installed.
Poway-based Mitchell, which operates as Mitchell 1, accused Mr. Brown of "burning" bootlegged copies of the software—which includes CDs and DVDs—and falsely presenting himself to shop personnel as an authorized Mitchell 1 representative when he was not.
In ruling in Mitchell 1's favor, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, awarded the company statutory damages and attorney fees.
Ron Garrett, Mitchell 1 director of original equipment relations and new markets, handles the firm's legal issues concerning software piracy. Though he would not say the exact amount of the award from the court, he told Tire Business it "exceeded $100,000." The firm does not anticipate an appeal, he said.
Tire Business attempted to reach Mr. Brown, but there was no phone listing in Navarre for him or Brown Auto Equipment, and Mitchell would not provide any additional information about the firm.
"What (Mr. Brown) was doing is taking our flagship product, Mitchell OnDemand, making copies of it and selling it to people, obviously at a discounted rate," Mr. Garrett explained. "He broke through the copy protection security program on the software and copied the installation program so he could install it on people's computers."
Mitchell estimates that "a number of copies" were bootlegged, he added. Without being specific, Mr. Garrett said Mitchell has other similar software pirating cases pending.
How does the firm find out about persons stealing its proprietary and intellectual property? "We have independent sales representatives throughout the U.S.," he said, "and they often hear the word on the street—they hear that a shop is using an illegal copy of the program, and they find out who the shop bought it from."
A "friend of a friend often will tip us off that a shop's got the software, so we go talk to the shop owner," he continued. "If only a couple copies are involved, it's usually pretty hard to get a lot of information. But if there are multiple copies, we start getting more information—that's what happened here" with the Brown case.
Mitchell's legal counsel, David Simon of the law firm Foley and Lardner, said the company "is poised and ready to take action against those who misuse and pirate its software. We are fully prepared to protect the intellectual property and copyrights of our products and pursue to the full extent of the law."
When its software is pirated, Mr. Garrett said one of two things comes out in the company's investigation. "The person doing it is very naive—they don't realize it's illegal to copy software. We all kind of go, ´Yeah, right!´ But some of them really don't know," he said.
“Others do it hoping they won't get caught. They may be copying it for some of their friends. When we do find out, they will usually do whatever we ask them to do to stop it."
Mitchell's goal is "not to spend a lot of money having to go to court" to stop the practice, according to Mr. Garrett. However, he made it clear that the company not only prosecutes piraters, "but we also go after those who buy the bootleg copies."
The average list price is $5,000 for Mitchell OnDemand—the business software's service and repair component. The OnDemand system typically includes a set of CDs and/or DVDs that incorporates repair, estimating and maintenance information covering cars and light trucks.
Mr. Garrett said the service/repair portion is usually what's most often bootlegged, while the estimating and management portions don't see a lot of pirating. Mitchell sells the product on a subscription basis, with quarterly updates. "We find, with the pirating, they sell it as a one-time product."
He noted that the company has become more vigilant about where its products are being sold, and that it closely tracks sales on the Internet, including Web sites such as e-Bay. "We've seen it turn up there, and we do go after those folks, too."
Though a person sometimes uses an alias, "usually the purchaser uses their real name when buying online, so we can track who they are and have our attorneys contact them," he said.
Mitchell's David Niemiec, vice president of marketing, warned: "We want to protect our customers from counterfeiters and are staying vigilant for those who choose to bootleg our proprietary line of auto repair software. Shop owners should only purchase Mitchell 1 products from authorized representatives. Mitchell 1 will take action against anyone who sells or purchases illegal software."
The company said customers can identify their Mitchell 1 sales representative by visiting the Web site www.MitchellRep.com, and it urged anyone with information about unauthorized copies of its software to contact the company.