Seattle psychic startup hit with copyright lawsuit it never saw coming

From The Seattle Times:

There’s some irony in the fact that the founders of a Seattle fortunetelling startup were entirely unaware of their own looming legal misfortunes.

Until they were sued for copyright infringement in June, the biggest issue for Tom Cote and Courtland Kellum was whether their 2 1/2-year-old company, Soulmate Medium, could handle all those seeking solace from Soulmate’s 100-plus tarot readers and spiritual guides.

But as Cote, 31, and Kellum, 34, have learned since, they weren’t the only ones trying to break into a psychic advice industry that has boomed since the pandemic. 

On June 30, Soulmate was sued in a Seattle federal court by Enlightened Today, an even younger psychic startup out of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Enlightened accuses Soulmate of illegally copying marketing materials “nearly verbatim” and, according to Cote, seeks damages of “hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.”

Adding injury to insult, Enlightened also got Soulmate’s website temporarily shut down, which “essentially wiped out our revenue for the month of July,” Cote said Wednesday.

Soulmate got its site back up July 28, but by then the company had cut half its staff and is now struggling to restore lost business, Cote says.

Soulmate denies the allegations, which Cote dismisses as an “illegal shakedown” by a competitor intended to render Soulmate unable “to invest in the things we need to do to compete.” Last week, Soulmate’s attorney asked the court to dismiss the case.

A different view comes from Enlightened, which was started September 2021 and provides “tarot card readings, relationship coaching, and astrology consultancy” via a website called Spiritual Society.

Enlightened “has invested substantial resources to develop its intellectual property and to provide a valuable consumer experience,” Enlightened attorney Damon Wright said Thursday. “Our client brought the lawsuit to protect its intellectual property and to help consumers.”

The dispute comes amid surging demand for spiritual advice, which industry insiders attribute partly to pandemic stress.

“Every time there is something big happening across the world … people want to go back to intuition and connect to something bigger than them,” Rana George, a celebrity Lenormand card reader, told Forbes in 2021, adding that “all the metaphysical stores are booming.”

. . . .

Google searches for the astrological term “birth chart” hit a record high in June 2021, according to Google Trends.

Technology has also been key. New software has let astrologers generate and personalize predictions more quickly, while hundreds of app-based services make that information more accessible to clients, according to Allied Market Research. A search for “astrology” turns up more than 140 apps on the Apple App Store.

That’s translating into big money. The global astrology market generated $12.8 billion in revenues in 2021, up from $2.2 billion just three years before, according to studies cited by The Washington Post. It’s expected to reach nearly $23 billion by 2031.

. . . .

That was the market Cote, an ex-Microsoftie-turned-internet consultant, and Kellum, a marketing veteran, hoped to tap when they launched Soulmate in February 2021. 

Cote says they saw an opportunity in a crowded market for an “ethical” astrology platform with an appealing user experience and a positive outlook. 

Many astrology providers are “fear forward,” with users hearing that “‘if you don’t do this, you’re not going to find somebody or you’re not going to be successful,’” says Cote, who works from his home in Kirkland.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to C. for the tip.

6 thoughts on “Seattle psychic startup hit with copyright lawsuit it never saw coming”

  1. The immediate, hypertechnical copyright litigation question:

    Since they’re psychics, does that automatically mean that they have access to works purportedly being infringed?

  2. Sometimes, the urge to acquire useless bits of knowledge can lead to disturbing results.

    Having never hear of a “Lenormand card reader,” I looked it up. Which led me to the Wikipedia page for its founder, a French mystic. Which page noted that, besides being a cartomancer (reader of the Tarot), she was also a noted necromancer.

    Oookay… Time to crawl right back out of this particular rabbit hole. With hope that none of her modern devotees have taken up all of her “professions.”

    • C.W. Sugrue, the protagonist of James Crumley’s wonderful hard-boiled detective novel, The Last Good Kiss, has been searching in vain for a woman who went missing as a teen-ager ten years before. Frustrated at his lack of progress, he muses aloud that maybe she ran off to be a star in Hollywood, but the man he is speaking to expresses skepticism that anybody these days would do something so old-fashioned. To which Sugrue says, “People still do all the things they used to do.”

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