Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

MedZilla Suit Paves Way for Intellectual Property, Privacy Rights on Web

By Lisette Hilton

Established in mid 1994, is an internet pioneer, the first Web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. Today, is an industry leader, named by CareerXRoads, the leading directory to job Web sites, as one of the top 50 among over 5,000 resume and career management sites.
Recently, MedZilla again established a leadership position after facing two issues that have become increasingly prevalent for job boards and other internet based businesses: privacy rights and their relationship to intellectual property.

A lawsuit filed by MedZilla, Inc. on October 15, 2003 alleged that an individual claiming to be a recruiter had taken resumes from MedZilla and other well known career sites to build a job board business of his own. The lawsuit was settled, and MedZilla awarded the Web site and domain name of

Frank Heasley, Ph.D. and founder of MedZilla says, The real story is that a long time ago the Internet was a place of innocence. People felt safe in their communications with others and there was a great deal of trust. Resumes, for example, were placed personally on publicly accessible news groups for anyone to see and use. The whole issue of identity theft never crossed anyone's mind.

It was like frontier times, when you could leave the door open and your cabin fully stocked, but now it isn't enough to just lock your doors anymore. You have to put bars on your windows and hire bodyguards. Times have certainly changed.

The events that led up to the lawsuit started when a person approached MedZilla as a recruiter, first as an employee of another company, then as a principal for his own company. He proceeded to download resumes, as recruiters do.
We have very effective technology to monitor how people use MedZilla, and we noticed that this individual was downloading a lot of resumes, says Michele Groutage, director of MedZilla's marketing and development. We salt our database with blinded resumes, and started receiving responses back to MedZilla about his site. The email response instructed us to update our resume and profile on his employment site. Shortly after that we received a heads up email from another job board that also noted the suspicious activity.

MedZilla further investigated the intruder's activities and decided he had crossed over the line so far that it warranted legal action. Within no time, it seems, Dr. Heasley says, went from being a complete unknown to housing over 10,000 resumes.
The question became, where did all the resumes come from? As far as we could tell, he had downloaded and posted 2,400 of MedZilla's and thousands from other Web sites, Dr. Heasley says.

A win-win for credible job boards, employers and job seekers
In response, MedZilla filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in Seattle, and notified both clients and candidates about what had happened.
After five months of legal action, the lawsuit was settled with MedZilla out of court at the end of January 2003. Key part of the settlement included the immediate removal of all resumes from the Web site, and the transfer of the domain name to MedZilla. It's good to see that justice prevailed. It has taught me that sometimes the good guys do win, Dr. Heasley says. I've been very appreciative of the support that we've received from our clients and candidates.

A word about privacy
When MedZilla notified candidates that their resumes may have been wrongfully taken and posted elsewhere, most were upset and several, Dr. Heasley says, offered to act as witnesses on MedZilla's behalf.

People need to have control over their information. They became frustrated that they had no say over what this man was doing, and that he might eventually benefit from having their resumes, Groutage says.

But while MedZilla wanted to move forward on the lawsuit based on this breach of users' privacy, it could not. On the internet, privacy and intellectual property issues continue to be a gray legal area, due to the lack of an established body of laws related to privacy and database protection. It was frustrating to us that we could not pursue the case from a privacy standpoint, Dr. Heasley says. Fortunately, our licensing agreement provided adequate protection, and that combined with several other legal mechanisms provided ample grounds to pursue them.
Intellectual property rights and privacy are key issues for both internet businesses and users. Groutage says that credible Web sites go to great lengths to guard their clients' information.

MedZilla is one of the few job boards that let job seekers know, in real time, when their resumes are being downloaded or viewed by recruiters or employers. In fact, MedZilla provides the titles, companies and areas of specialization to jobseekers of everyone who downloads or views their resumes, Groutage says.

Still, Dr. Heasley says, employers and job seekers need to view the Web with the same standards they would apply to any other type of business. Our experience emphasizes that employers, recruiters and candidates need to know who they're dealing with when interacting with people and companies on the Internet. The Net is no different than the world at large. You wouldn't hand your credit card to a stranger. Trust must be earned. Referrals from colleagues you trust, combined with your own common sense, and a bit of investigation are still the best measure.

Several companies who forgot this and paid the other site for its services were financially damaged as a result.
Despite the months of anguish, battling the lawsuit and the violation of his business, Dr. Heasley still thinks the effort was worth it. I was gratified, he says, when a major competitor wrote and said, 'Thank you for carrying the torch for all of us.' In another instance, the head of a leading pharmaceutical association said that she views MedZilla as the industry standard on privacy and protection.

MedZilla, Dr. Heasley says, is a niche board, so the amount of data that it has to deal with is more manageable. Being highly focused means that we can pay more attention to the details. It also helps that we built data access controls and monitoring into MedZilla from the very start. Our lawsuit and its outcome should help to raise awareness of internet related intellectual property and privacy issues. Hopefully, it will also dissuade the next person from coming into our or other internet businesses and trying to walk out the door with our assets and our users data.

Lisette Hilton is a professional writer, specializing in medical and business writing to the trade and consumer.