Attorney Yitzhak Aviram is seeking $64M for his clients in a class action suit – Will he get it?
In the spirit of the ‘Hey, no fair!’ brigade, boasting such prestigious members as the Winklevoss twins and President Barak Obama who came before him, Roy Gorodish has a message for Israel’s billion dollar baby, Waze:
‘You didn’t build that!’ – At least not on your own, you didn’t.
Stuck in traffic and for what?
This past Tuesday Gorodish filed suit against Waze and its founders demanding payment for damages in the amount of $64M. His attorney, Yitzhak Aviram, has made a request of the court to have this case treated as a class action suit against the defendants. No one else has yet signed on to the suit but Aviram says in cases like these it’s typical to make the request first and fill in the gaps later. Sounds about right.
Gorodish is an early contributor to a free, open source GPS street mapping community called Freemap Israel. He’s claiming that it was from his early efforts and others like him, driving around and documenting streets in all their commuter detail, that Waze was eventually able to navigate its way to a Google exit. Now, Gorodish believes he and the rest of the early Freemap community are entitled to their fair share of Waze’s Google bucks.
The math of the claim is a bit fuzzy. In an interview with Geektime, Aviram explained that Waze founders Ehud Shabtai, Amir Shinar, Gili Shinar and Uri Levine received a total of $128M out of the $1B+ purchase price, specifically for intellectual property. Property that Aviram says was not entirely theirs to sell. By Aviram’s figuring, the Freemap community is entitled to half of the value of that property (Why half? Why not?), making one possible calculation come out to be a clean $64M.
However, according to Aviram, there are approximately 1,500 contributors to the early Freemap community, all of whom are potential co-plaintiffs to the suit. By Israeli law, a plaintiff may be entitled to upwards of $100K for denying open source property to its co-contributors. Multiply that by 1.5K people and it’s possible Waze could be looking at $150M lawsuit. Aviram stresses though that his main target is the $64M.
Opened to open sources of revenue
When asked why it took so long for his client to come forward, Aviram explains that Gorodish sent a letter to Waze way back in May of 2013 and only received a response two months after Waze’s June exit. The gist of the response was that Gorodish is not entitled to anything belonging to Waze.
Oh contrare mon billionaire, says Aviram. In a 2006 forums post in LinMagazine.co.il by Shabtai himself, Aviram claims Shabtai made it clear that the Freemap open source code belonged to the community, not to him. A careful inspection of the post however, reveals anything but clarity. While the Hebrew post does have Shabtai stating his view that the maps belong to the community, he is equally clear that he does not yet know how he plans to treat the maps in the future with regards to licensing. He goes on to admit that leaving things in a state of uncertainty may potentially lead to a snafu or two, if and when he ever decides to tackle the sore point of licensing in the future. No kidding.
Shabtai further professes on several occasions throughout the post his belief in open source in general, and in the work of mapping the roads of the country for the community at large in particular. He finishes off his post by inviting the Freemap community to basically ‘Keep up the good work.’
Ambulance chasing success
Looking for any excuse to siphon off a little gravy from a runaway success train after the fact is nothing new. In 2008 the Winklevoss brothers managed to winkle $65M out of Facebook, a curiously similar amount to Aviram’s target of $64M. That $65M came by way of settlement and it’s highly likely that Aviram is looking to employ a similar tactic for his own clients’ case. The timeline certainly lends itself to such a play. According to Aviram we’re looking at a 90 day window within which Waze has to respond to Gorodish’s claim, and then a good year or two until the court will likely rule just on the class action aspect of the suit.
Class action or not, ultimately the question will boil down to whether a judge will see Gorodish’s volunteer driving around and inputting data as being enough to entitle him to a monetary claim on Waze’s intellectual property. It seems like a stretch to me. In Facebook vs. Winklevoss you had Zuckerberg agreeing to work as an employee of sorts before deciding to go off on his own with the Winklevoss idea, using any number of stalling tactics to keep the twins at bay while he got his social network off the ground. Here you have the opposite case, with Shabtai having always been at the head of the project; laying down most of the technical work and all of the idea work, and only capitalizing on his army of volunteer road warriors for simple data input. Those volunteers contributed to the mapping, not the coding, and a free mapping service is what they expected to receive in return. Waze is free. Bargain upheld, service delivered.
I mean, could you imagine early Facebook users demanding a cut of FB’s $100B valuation just for making it cool and supplying its first threads of social content? Yes? Hmmm…anyone know a good lawyer?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Gavel on top of money