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Judge Dismisses SCA Claim in Web Content Hijacking Case

— April 8, 2020

Judge rules Motta & Motta missed deadline for SCA claim.

U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow in Chicago refused to dismiss Motta & Motta’s allegations that rival company Dolci & Weiland used some of its web content, committing copyright infringement and violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  However, he contended, the law firm couldn’t sue under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act because it missed a mandatory deadline.

Motta & Motta had claimed Dolci & Weiland placed tags on its website in order to “to hijack Motta’s web traffic” and direct search engine traffic to Dolci.  Dolci & Weiland was also accused of creating a website similar to Motta’s and “copying verbatim some of its copyrighted articles and site posts.”  In order to accomplish this, the law firm alleged Dolci used a Motta employee, who also was instructed to redirect some Motta callers to the rival firm.

The allegations surfaced after Motta & Motta had noticed a sharp decline in website traffic in 2016 and hired a marketing company to help direct potential customers to its site with enhanced search engine optimization (SEO).  This is when the firm discovered Dolci was “cyber-spying” and took the company to court in August 2018.

Judge Dismisses SCA Claim in Web Content Hijacking Case
Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

As far as damages sought, the lawsuit specifically asked for, “Awarding Plaintiff, the amount of money damages to compensate for Defendants’ wrongful acts and, in addition, an amount equal to Defendants profits attributable to his infringement, unless Plaintiff elects statutory damages, and/or attributable to Defendant’s unfair competition or other willful or tortious conduct under Illinois law; Awarding plaintiff treble and/or punitive damages as permitted by applicable law; Awarding Plaintiff attorneys fees together with the cost of bringing this claim; Awarding Plaintiffs additional damages, pursuant to Illinois law, including money damages, disgorgement, costs, restitution, treble and/or punitive damages as permitted by applicable Illinois law.”  It also asked for all rights to Dolci & Weiland’s URL and the website page as well as its internet ranking to be reassigned to Motta.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was signed into law in 1986 to address federal wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping provisions.  It was enacted to “promote the privacy expectations of citizens and the legitimate needs of law enforcement.”  Congress also sought to assure consumers that their personal information would remain safe.  The Stored Communications Act (SCA) is a law that refers to “voluntary and compelled disclosure of stored wire and electronic communications and transactional records held by third-party internet service providers (ISPs).”  It is a provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Both the ECPA and SCA require lawsuits to be filed “within two years of when the plaintiffs first had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.”  Thus, the court found that this was not relevant to the Motta & Motta case because the original investigation into why the traffic had declined began in 2016 and Judge Dow’s opinion stated that “a reasonable person would have investigated and discovered the culprit in May 2016 when the number of web referrals and phone calls dropped precipitously.”  Dow asked Motta & Motta to “show cause why the court shouldn’t dismiss other state law claims of unfair competition, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and civil conspiracy” by mid-April.


Judge trims law firm’s suit that claims a rival firm hijacked website traffic

Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)


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