With the bitter housing market making business tough for real estate agents, Century 21 Canada has filed a lawsuit against a new home sales search engine owned by Canadian cable and telecom giant Rogers Communications, the Financial Post reports. The site in question, Zoocasa, was launched by Rogers about a month ago, and is accused of “scraping” photos of homes and other information from Century 21 Canada’s site. By posting material belonging to Century 21 Canada, Zoocasa’s actions constitute “an unfair competitive advantage,” the lawsuit claims.
Zoocase lets prospective home buyers search for homes by neighborhood and price across dozens of cities in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and other provinces. As home prices have sank, Century 21 Canada says Zoocasa’s alleged scraping is essentially the same as if a rival real estate agent copied and used its listings without permission. So far, Zoocasa has not removed the information claimed by Century 21 Canada from its site. Zoocasa marketing head Saul Colt tells The Post that the site scours the web for listings in much the same way a general search engine like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) gathers its query results. “Just like Google, once you get the information we actually kick you out of our site and deliver you to the source of the information. You do the filtering and searching on our site,” he said.
Century 21 Canada clearly doesn’t feel that it’s gotten the benefit of Zoocasa’s linking. The company fears that Zoocasa represents a direct challenge to its sales, not simply a way to find which agents have houses on the market. Zoocasa’s Colt insisted that the site was not interested in directly challenging established real estate agencies. It wants the agents as clients, not as competitors he said. Initially, Zoocasa will concentrate on getting ad support on the site. After that it hopes to attract the agents by creating a set of additional search tools that Zoocasa plans to offer on a subscription basis.
Even more than the real estate agents, Zoocasa’s main victims are most likely to be Canadian newspapers. That country’s newspaper industry has been shielded somewhat from the kind of pain experienced south of its border. But that could change as more sites like Zoocasa come into existence.