Fare fight is up in the air

FareHunter, an independent Web site offering a national airfare comparison service, has accused domestic airline Jetstar of doctoring ticket pricing information for the airfare tipster's users.

Jetstar says FareHunter is accessing the airline's fare information, deemed to be intellectual property, without obtaining written consent, and is breaching Jetstar's copyrights.

According to Greg Holloway, FareHunter's CEO, Jetstar has accused his company of using "screenscraping" programs to access the ticketing information; however, Holloway says the company is doing nothing deceptive, but is displaying information already available in the public domain. Screenscraping involves using software to access data held by another machine.

FareHunter works via a server querying the Web sites of domestic airlines Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar, comparing the lowest fare for users who are then redirected to the homepage of a domestic airline, where the flight booking can be made.

As of two weeks ago, Holloway said, Jetstar searches either came up with no information at all, or incorrect flight prices.

Holloway said they were alerted to the issue only after FareHunter users e-mailed him saying they could find no Jetstar fares on his site. Holloway says he then discovered Jetstar was not sending the same priced fares to FareHunter as were available on the Jetstar homepage.

"When someone searches FareHunter we conduct a real-time search on the Jetstar Web site, but when we go to code-in those results they are different from what we expect, and on that basis it [Jetstar] was not providing the correct price," Holloway said.

"Two weeks ago we got an e-mail from a Jetstar customer saying they could not see Jetstar results appearing in our search. After looking at every specific search of the Jetstar site we discovered our search results would be changed before they were sent back to us; we discovered the airline [Jetstar] was selectively giving us results based on our IP address and hostname.

"We were quite confused and could not work out why this was happening and we even had an IT expert come and verify what was going on and confirm we were being sent doctored search results."

In December last year, Holloway claims Jetstar e-mailed FareHunter administration asking that it take the Jetstar listing off the search engine Yahoo, which Holloway said FareHunter didn't act on.

In January, Yahoo advised FareHunter its listing was "against editorial policy", and the FareHunter site would be relisted only after it reworded the site. Yahoo spokespeople could not be reached for comment.

According to Jetstar spokesperson Simon Westaway, the airline initiated correspondence with FareHunter to resolve these issues last year and FareHunter has still not obtained written permission to publish the fares.

"Mr Holloway needs to comply in the real business world ... the whole point is we have had numerous discussions with Mr Holloway and it has been that way since mid December 2005," Westaway said.

"[Ultimately] FareHunter is not complying with the terms of use of our Web site and does not have consent to utilize our trademark and intellectual property.

"Our intellectual property is prices, but we find it puzzling why [FareHunter] says it is getting the rough end of the stick as it is misusing our intellectual property without written consent ... we are happy to set up arrangements in a commercial way but FareHunter cannot expect us to just sit back and get our tummy tickled."

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