Ryanair’s US legal battle against Expedia cleared for takeoff

Budget airline has fought legal cases against alleged screen-scrapers in European courts for years

Ryanair accused Expedia of “mimicking” real-life customers. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ryanair accused Expedia of “mimicking” real-life customers. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

A US judge has cleared the way for Ryanair to resume its legal battle against Expedia, among the world’s biggest online travel agents with $10 billion revenues.

A court in Seattle this week rejected an application by Expedia to throw out the case, in which the Irish airline accuses the site of illegally “screen scraping” Ryanair’s website and selling on its flights at a mark-up.

Ryanair has fought various legal battles against alleged screen-scrapers for years in European courts. Its case against Nasdaq-listed Expedia, however, is its first on US soil.

Given the size of its opponent, it could potentially be one of the largest-ever commercial legal disputes in which Ryanair has become embroiled.

Ryanair has accused Expedia, which also owns sites such as Travelocity and Hotels.com, of using bots to automatically scrape fares from Ryanair’s website. These are then sold on to Expedia customers who never visit the Ryanair site.

It accused Expedia of “mimicking” real-life customers, and suggested the website sometimes sells on the scraped fares at a mark-up, pocketing the difference between what Expedia’s customer pays and Ryanair receives.

Ryanair originally filed its case against Expedia in the US last November. However,in February Expedia asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the relevant US law – the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) – doesn’t allow civil suits from outside the US.

“Ryanair is a European airline. If it suffered any cognisable [sic] injury, it suffered it in Europe. It cannot recover those losses under CFAA,” it argued.

‘Affirmative indication’

On Monday, a judge in Seattle dismissed Expedia’s application. He cited another case in which it was said that the Act “gives a clear, affirmative indication” that foreign suits are allowed.

He also dismissed Expedia’s argument that an Irish court was a more natural forum for the case.

“Even if an Irish court determines Expedia has done nothing wrong under Irish law, Ireland has no interest in an American company avoiding (or not avoiding) liability under an American statute,” the judge said.

Ryanair said it does not comment “on pending legal cases”.