Mike Isaac

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PeopleBrowsr Could Lose Firehose Access As Twitter Requests Court Changes

In the latest development in the ongoing legal struggles between Twitter and data analytics company PeopleBrowsr, Twitter filed a motion to move the fight from state court to federal court, which could result in harsh repercussions for PeopleBrowsr and the company’s access to Twitter data.

As it stands, Twitter has had a long-standing agreement to provide PeopleBrowsr with access to the Twitter “firehose,” a direct line to the hundreds of millions of tweets flowing through Twitter’s pipes in real time. PeopleBrowsr paid for that access, then analyzed the data and sold insights to other companies as part of PeopleBrowsr’s overall business plan.

But the relationship between Twitter and PeopleBrowsr has soured. Last week, PeopleBrowsr revealed that it was in litigation with Twitter, as the company sought to end the agreement to provide PeopleBrowsr with firehose access.

That access was to formally end on Nov. 30, according to legal documents filed by PeopleBrowsr. But the company revealed last Wednesday that it had won a temporary restraining order against Twitter in a California state court, which mandated Twitter to continue providing PeopleBrowsr access to the firehose while the two companies’ battle played out in court.

That victory, however, was short-lived. Twitter filed a notice of removal on Monday evening, requesting to move the fight over to federal court. If granted, that could weaken the effects of PeopleBrowsr’s temporary restraining order against Twitter, which was filed in a state court.

Update 12/06/12 with additional legal details and clarification

In other words, if this moves to federal court, Twitter could cut off PeopleBrowsr entirely.

It means more legal hoops to jump through for both companies. First, it must be decided whether or not the venue change will go through. If so, the decision must be made all over again whether or not the case is valid enough to go through to depositions. But for now, according to U.S. Code Section 1450, all agreements (including PeopleBrowsr’s TRO) will remain intact.

Twitter’s stance on the case itself hasn’t changed. “We believe this case is without merit and will vigorously defend against it,” a Twitter spokesman told me.

Plainly, losing Twitter data access would be devastating to PeopleBrowsr, whose business revolves almost entirely around the firehose. The company currently has outstanding contracts to provide the Department of Defense and other businesses with analytics info derived from Twitter data. As PeopleBrowsr CEO Jodee Rich has stated, if Twitter were to deep-six the relationship, it would tank any chance of PeopleBrowsr making good on those contracts.

PeopleBrowsr’s stance was to call Twitter a bunch of flip-floppers.

“Twitter’s inconsistent representations to the State and Federal Courts reinforce our case. Last week, they said this was a contracts issue. This week, it’s an antitrust issue,” Rich wrote on the company blog.

Problem is, PeopleBrowsr’s original court filing continuously brings up the issue of antitrust and monopolistic practices, accusing Twitter of anticompetitive behaviors. So it’s not like Twitter’s request to change courts is out of the blue.

For now, both companies — and yours truly — get to play the waiting game to see where all this litigation ends up, while the fate of PeopleBrowsr hangs in the balance.

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