Is the parent company of Coupons.com trying to make a public example out of one “coupon fairy” – while quietly profiting off the actions of the others?

A Texas couple accused of circumventing coupon print limits is fighting back against a federal lawsuit filed by Coupons.com owner Quotient Technology. They claim they can print however many coupons they’d like, thank you very much – and they’re questioning whether the company is really as upset over their actions as it claims to be.

The couple’s argument comes as the two sides have informed the judge in the case that they now intend to settle the dispute via arbitration. But first, the defendants managed to throw some punches at the plaintiff. “This lawsuit is without merit, and is merely to scapegoat Defendants for (Quotient’s) lack of security measures,” the couple argued in court papers filed last week. “It is merely to save face, for them to parade and say that they did something to stem the problem.”

The problem was described in pair of lawsuits that Quotient filed last fall. It sued two so-called “IP fairies” or “coupon fairies”, who had developed workarounds to Coupons.com’s two-coupon-prints-per-device limit, allowing them to rapidly generate PDF files of hundreds or thousands of coupons with unique ID’s. And then they made them available for sale online.

The first of the two lawsuits, targeting a seller who went by the Instagram username “pdf_queen”, was settled out of court last month. The second accused a seller with the username “flashqs” of “circumventing Quotient’s device-based print limits by deceiving Quotient’s servers into perceiving that Defendant had thousands of different devices.” In addition, Quotient accused flashqs of creating and selling software called “Springroll” that enabled others to do the same.

Eventually, Quotient named a Maria B. of Texas, and later her husband Robert, as the individuals behind the “flashqs” account (in both coupon fairy cases, the defendants’ names and hometowns are part of the public record, but as private citizens accused of potential criminal wrongdoing in civil lawsuits, Coupons in the News has chosen not to publish their full names at this time).

The company accused them of violating state and federal computer fraud acts, misappropriation, unfair competition and breach of contract. “Those who install (Quotient’s coupon-printing) software must agree to Quotient’s End User License Agreement,” the lawsuit stated in part. “The EULA explicitly notes the existence of print attempt limits and provides that Quotient’s software is for personal, noncommercial use only.”

In a motion to dismiss the case filed last week, the defendants pushed back against that claim. “You do not have to agree to the EULA for the software to install… it is a design flaw that exists to this day,” they claimed. “If you never see the EULA, then you cannot agree or be bound to it.”

They go on to deny they are doing anything wrong. “Making changes to one’s own personal computer, deleting registry values, or deleting files on your own computer, is not illegal,” the motion reads. “Quotient has a problem with the way they store the coupons on their server, as well as the software that is installed enabling the printing of these coupons. A problem that has existed for years.”

That’s a similar argument made by the defendant in a similar case, a decade ago. Quotient, then doing business as Coupons.com, sued John Stottlemire in 2007 for modifying its coupon printing software in order to circumvent print limits, and teaching others how to do the same. Stottlemire argued that Coupons.com had no business telling him he could not delete or modify files downloaded to his own computer.

Stottlemire claimed victory after Coupons.com agreed to a settlement and voluntarily dismissed the case, though by that time, Coupons.com had blocked his workaround.

In the “pdf_queen” case, the defendant told Coupons in the News that coupon fairies like her were “only using our computers and not altering (Quotient’s) software or hacking into their systems… I do not believe any wrong is being done by selling legitimate coupons that have unique PIN numbers.” But she didn’t put up much of a fight in court, agreeing to a settlement that banned her from ever printing coupons from Coupons.com again.

The couple in the “flashqs” case wonders why Quotient has only gone after two others, a full decade apart, for circumventing its print limits. “I am aware of dozens of people printing unlimited Coupons.com coupons. Single Moms, a thirteen year old boy. There are countless others,” the couple’s motion reads. “However, Quotient hasn’t filed suit against anyone else, just the two cases… Does that mean Quotient plays favorites? It picks and chooses who it allows to bypass said limits? The heart of Quotient’s complaint is they allege that Defendants bypassed their print limits, which hurts them. I’m confident they are aware of others but are choosing to turn a blind eye. If the print limits are bypassed, you have to sue everyone, or no one.”

In its lawsuit, Quotient said flashqs has “harmed and threatens Quotient’s business,” causing “tension with Quotient’s partners,” who “trust Quotient to make their digital printable coupons available according to the print attempt limits they set.”

But the defendants’ harshest allegations accuse Quotient of profiting off the coupon fairies, and secretly not wanting to stop them at all. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to state that Quotient Technology Inc. is complicit with those that bypass the print limits,” they argued. “The sooner a (coupon) campaign ends, the sooner Quotient can go back to the advertiser asking for more money, if they renew the contract. Quotient is complicit with the coupon printers, because they get paid (by advertisers) for every coupon printed.”

In the clearest indication that they believe in their innocence, the couple hasn’t even stopped what Quotient is suing them for doing. The flashqs Instagram account is still going strong, offering new printable coupons for sale to their 20,000+ followers – $2 for each set of ten coupons, printed three to a page as a PDF file.

But with the voluntary dismissal of the two previous cases, and this case now headed to arbitration, that means once again the legal issues raised by both sides are likely to go unsettled. Are coupon fairies acting legitimately, unethically – or illegally? Is Quotient a victim – or negligent for not having stronger security? Are the fairies’ actions harming Quotient – or enriching it?

This case may be the latest to raise these questions. But unless it answers some of them – it may not be the last.

One Comment

  1. Honest Couponer says:

    Another great article by Coupons in the News! The two IP Fairies being sued seem to have very smart lawyers. They quickly figured out that Quotient or coupons.com, or whatever they call themselves these days, are complicit to the issue. There are hundreds of people out there selling print at home coupons on social media and the overall internet. Why Quotient chose to go after just those two fairies makes absolutely no sense.

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