By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Last week I compiled information from some half-dozen different articles and outlets about the ongoing copyright and anti-competition lawsuits between CoStar Group and Xceligent. It was an interesting story regarding two of the biggest players in the U.S. commercial real estate sphere. (AZBEX, Oct. 27)
The quick summary: CoStar sued Xceligent alleging Xceligent stole and used CoStar-copyrighted material. Xceligent countersued alleging attempted anti-competitive acts. CoStar also sued a contractor of Xceligent’s – RE BackOffice – alleging REBO took copyrighted material from CoStar on Xceligent’s behalf. REBO quickly settled and stipulated CoStar’s allegations in its federal court filings.
I’ve covered a lot of legal cases, but rarely one of this scale. The reporting principles, however, are the same: Give both sides a fair shake, avoid conclusions and attribute everything you say. We ran the story and I thought nothing more about it.
This week, however, things got weird. On Monday, I got a somewhat cryptic email asking me to contact the sender about a story I’d written last week.
Tuesday, I called the person. It turns out the sender was a staffer for Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher, the PR firm CoStar uses for matters relating to the Xceligent cases.
When we talked, she asked if she could send me some information on background regarding the statement Xceligent published, and that I had quoted in last week’s piece, not matching the statement published by REBO and asked if I’d consider updating the story. I told her to send what she had and that I’d take a look.
A few minutes later, this showed up in my email: (Editor’s Note: Since the sender asked for the information to be used on background and not for attribution, I won’t/can’t give any additional identifying information about her. For reasons that will be soon become apparent, I have no such obligation regarding the firm.)
Release issued by Xceligent includes the following and can be found here: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/xceligent-response-to-costar-allegations-300543753.html
Regarding the Costar litigation, (Case#- 2:17-cv-01354 at The Pittsburgh Federal Court) Harbinder Khera [RE BackOffice CEO] says, “RE BackOffice is not responsible, nor have we aided anyone in any mass copyright infringement. We have reached an amicable resolution in order to avoid the unnecessary distraction, which will keep us from taking care of our clients. In the last 11 years that RE BackOffice has been in the business, it has never engaged in copyright infringement or violated any other laws. “
The underlined red parts in Xceligent’s release do not appear in REBO’s release. The release issued by REBO has the section as follows and can be found here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/10/prweb14843720.htm:
Regarding the CoStar litigation, (Case#- 2:17-cv-01354 at The Pittsburgh Federal Court) Harbinder Khera says, “RE BackOffice is not responsible. We have reached an amicable resolution in order to avoid the unnecessary distraction, which will keep us from taking care of our clients.”
Additionally, CoStar has offered the following statement:
“The facts admitted by Xceligent’s agent, the injunction issued by a Federal judge against that agent, and the overwhelming evidence in this case demonstrate that Xceligent’s industrial scale theft of CoStar’s content was willful, deliberate and at the direction of Xceligent management. Despite Xceligent’s attempt to spread false information, no amount of spin can change the facts or the final judgement of a Federal court. We will continue to pursue our claims against Xceligent directly.”
Please let us know if you have any questions or if you’re able to update the story.
Here I will admit to a moment of doubt. I cited Xceligent’s announcement and their quote of RE BackOffice in my piece last week. Now, a professional who should be in a position to know was strongly intimating the quote had been altered.
For verification, I first went to prweb. Sure enough, their announcement didn’t have the disputed segments. Then I went to RE BackOffice’s site. Their version didn’t either. Also, neither site has any notice about having been updated after the original publication.
Now, I had verified the RE BackOffice announcement existed on its own when I wrote the story, but I honestly didn’t remember if the two disputed items were there or not. I didn’t do a line by line comparison.
So, while I tried to get someone from Xceligent or RE BackOffice on the phone, I asked our market analyst to find me a cached version from RE BackOffice last week to see what the original said once and for all. After all, once something has appeared online, it never completely goes away.
The prwire announcement had contact info for Harbinder Khera. He answered on the second ring. I asked him if RE BackOffice altered the statement or if Xceligent had inserted the items in question. He said he couldn’t answer that question at the moment, “Maybe in a couple of days.” I asked him to get back to me if and when he could talk about it.
Then I left a voicemail for Xceligent’s media contact and went back to our market analyst.
In less time than it took me to make two phone calls, she tracked down the answer. As of last week, the RE BackOffice announcement contained the two disputed segments, which we’re publishing here without any alteration or editing. (See image)
Around this time, Sam Lewis, Xceligent’s media contact, and I were able to connect. Speaking only for himself and not giving an official statement on the company’s behalf, Lewis expressed a range of emotions about the two versions. Surprise was not one them, however.
“We quoted the original press release,” he said. “We don’t know for certain who changed it or what their reason was behind it,” was all the commentary he would offer for the record.
Tuesday afternoon, after we were certain of the facts regarding the disputed quote and after I’d spoken with Lewis, I put together an email to Gay Beach, CoStar’s Senior Director of Marketing Communications.
I included the body of the email I quoted above, then asked if anyone affiliated with CoStar compelled REBO to modify its statement and contact news outlets to request updates of prior coverage based on the changed version and if they knew the original statement had appeared as Xceligent quoted it. I also gave her my deadline and requested a reply.
As of press time Thursday afternoon, I have received no response.
I also emailed the staffer at the PR firm. Since, if they had sent out the updated quote knowing it wasn’t the original and had intimated Xceligent altered the original to make their client look better, I wanted to give her an opportunity to set the record straight. In the message I asked her if anyone at CoStar or her firm had tried to persuade REBO to change its statement and if she knew when she contacted me the statement had originally appeared as Xceligent had quoted it.
I also told her that I wouldn’t name her, individually, but that since the information I was provided was false, any ethical obligation to ensure the firm’s confidentiality was no longer in place.
Here as well, there was no reply by Thursday afternoon.
I had emailed Lewis to see if Xceligent would care to provide a response on the record. He got back to me with this: “Xceligent executives did not instruct RE BackOffice to conduct any improper activities. Consistent with REBO’s initial press release, REBO admits that it has never ‘aided anyone in any mass copyright infringement.’ Likewise, REBO ‘has never engaged in copyright infringement or violated any other laws.’ These are the facts, no matter how CoStar may try to spin them. Xceligent stands by the original REBO press release and has no information whatsoever why CoStar relies on a modified press release. Xceligent was not involved in writing or changing any REBO press release. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not true.”
I can’t and won’t accuse CoStar, the PR agent or her firm of lying to us to get us to revise our coverage. I will say, as a professional with more than 20 years’ experience in both journalism and corporate communications, using a revised piece to imply your opponent made misrepresentations, when the original can be tracked down in a matter of moments and which you should have verified was changed after initial publication, doesn’t cast anyone involved in a positive light.