Businesses and non-profit organizations are highly protective of their mailing lists. For NPOs, these lists include valued donors who often expect their names, addresses and phone numbers not to be shared with other groups or with businesses -- particularly those unrelated to the cause to which they are donating.
A Southern California animal sanctuary is accusing a direct mail company, Adwest Mailers, of sharing a list of its contributors with the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving in violation of California's Civil Code. The rescue group, Dedication and Everlasting Love to Animals, is suing the company and its owner as well as MADD for misappropriation of trade secrets, fraud and breach of contract. D.E.L.T.A has asked a Los Angeles court to prohibit the defendants from using the information on the list.
Suit: MADD Has Been Soliciting Sanctuary Donors for a Year
According to the lawsuit, MADD began soliciting the sanctuary's donors via mail last August. At that time, it says, it demanded the solicitation be stopped. Adwest was the only entity that had the list of names of the sanctuary's contributors, according to the plaintiffs. D.E.L.T.A. had been using Adwest for direct mailings for over 30 years.
According to the suit, the sanctuary has paid the company millions of dollars over that time. However, the group claims, many of its donors have reported that they weren't receiving acknowledgements of their donations or the sanctuary's newsletter.
Donor List Has "Extreme and Unique Value," According to Plaintiffs
The sanctuary is seeking unspecified punitive damages from both Adwest and MADD. In the suit, it asserts that the names on the list "continue to have extreme and unique value to plaintiff and do have pecuniary value to other charities seeking contributions from the public." Neither MADD nor Adwest's owner have commented publicly on the suit.
Private donor lists may be considered a type of intellectual property. If they're shared with others, they may lose some of their value to an organization. Although it's not clear how a group that advocates against drunk driving would benefit from a list of animal sanctuary donors, that doesn't change the fact that accepting this information if it's obtained without the other group's knowledge or consent could have serious legal ramifications. Businesses or organizations that are uncertain about the laws regarding this type of activity or are facing accusations of it should seek legal guidance.
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