IT is possible a verbal fracas over a company in liquidation, Mobile Computer Doctor (1996), is nothing but a case of sour gapes, despite allegations of theft, passing off and breach of copyright by one of the parties.
The North Shore, Auckland company’s owner Barry Rolton told Reseller News in March that competitor Aaron Stewart, of Computer Specs, had allegedly obtained an unlawful copy of MCD (1996)’s customer database and was using it to approach Rolton’s customers. Rolton also alleged Stewart was passing himself off as MCD (1996) by using the name Mobile Computer Doctor (2004), which Stewart registered in February, on fliers he posted to some of Rolton’s customers. Rolton further alleged Stewart had breached copyright by using his artwork — figures running around with computers — on the same fliers.
But MCD 1996’s liquidators say they have no proof that Stewart allegedly obtained an unlawful copy of the company’s customer database or client list nor that the artwork is worth anything.
This is despite that on February 18 liquidator John Buchanan wrote to Stewart, stating that he could not consent for Stewart to use the customer list because he had heard Stewart had obtained a copy of it unlawfully. Buchanan refused to accept Stewart’s cheque of $50.
“I don’t know if it was [obtained unlawfully] or not,” Buchanan told Reseller News last week.
Buchanan says Stewart was entitled to purchase a customer list but he could not sell him one because the auctioneer had erased all data from the company’s hard drives. Rolton’s business partner in the new MCD (no date), Jeff Ghaemaghamy, bought all assets that were sold at auction.
Fellow liquidator Callum Macdonald says he does not believe the artwork is worth fighting over either.
“For copyright to exist, you’ve got to be able to attach a value. Most logos get dreamed up in five seconds.”
But Macdonald says Stewart is wrong in stating that he has bought the client base and name of MCD (1996), as he has done on the fliers.
“Neither of them (Stewart nor Rolton) own the name — we own the name. If that’s what he’s stating to the public, it is incorrect.”
Stewart admits he jumped the gun.
“You may have a point but it was not intended. I thought I had [purchased the name and client base]. I was given verbal permission to approach the client base.”
But he maintains he has acted legally on all other matters; getting the artwork in jpeg files from the MCD (1996) website and approaching customers through his knowledge of Rolton’s contacts.
“[Rolton’s] company is in trouble. I spotted an opportunity. I used the right legal channels and means to exploit that opportunity. He’s started another company (on December 24, the day of liquidation). If he’s not trading illegally, he’s trading unethically. It’s a case of sour grapes.”
Last week, Rolton refuted claims of sour grapes. He says he does not wish to comment further except to say he stands by his allegations.
“We are in the process of seeking continued legal advice. We are not clutching at straws. If we were, we wouldn’t bother.”
Business partner Ghaemaghamy confirms this.
“We are in the process of making a formal complaint to the police,” he says. “The essential thing is the logo [Stewart’s] using. The only place it was captured was on the database. I can’t prove the database was taken, but it’s pretty likely. There are passive clients [in the database] that have been approached [by Stewart’s company].” The database also contained bogus clients — or trojans — that Stewart has approached, Ghaemaghamy claims.
The liquidators say they will be lucky to raise 20 cents in every dollar that MCD (1996) owes to creditors and should wrap up the liquidation by June.