NU Online News Service, June 8, 2:36 p.m. EDT

Credit rating agency A.M. Best Co. has filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against competitor SNL Financial, NU has learned.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey alleges SNL “is displaying on its website a significant number of A.M. Best’s copyrighted ratings and written information slavishly copied from A.M. Best’s copyrighted press releases.”

The improper use of A.M. Best’s copyrighted material by SNL continues today, according to the complaint filed in early April.

A.M. Best says it seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, as well as money damages. The company alleges “significant and irreparable harm” as a result of SNL’s actions.

According to court records, Judge Susan D. Wigenton denied A.M. Best’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

In a response to the motion SNL says A.M. Best’s “extremely lengthy delay in asserting its alleged rights belies its claimed need for extraordinary emergent relief, and its application for a preliminary injunction must be denied for this reason alone, regardless of the merits of the underlying claims.”

A.M. Best says SNL came to them in 2004 and in 2007 and asked to reproduce A.M. Best’s ratings and press releases on the SNL website. A.M. Best says it refused the request.

The Oldwick, N.J.-based rating agency says it learned SNL has access to press releases and ratings on A.M. Best’s website and accessed this information about 10,000 times in 2010.

“During those visits, SNL has copied verbatim or substantial parts of A.M. Best’s ratings and press releases,” alleges A.M. Best, which rates the financial strength of insurance companies.

Sometime last year A.M. Best says it began an investigation based on reports that SNL was allegedly reproducing A.M. Best’s information illegally and distributing it to SNL subscribers.

The investigation found, for example, that SNL reproduced and republished 94 out of 100 ratings events A.M. Best issued in October 2010, according to court documents. The rating agency did not issue a press release for 60 companies that month. Nevertheless, SNL copied the rating action for 41 out of those 60 companies and similarly republished those ratings, A.M. Best alleges.

From October to Dec. 31, 2010 someone with an SNL e-mail address accessed A.M. Best’s website nearly 3,400 times, according to the lawsuit. One particular user logged onto the site 2,543 times and accessed 733 press releases and 1,665 ratings during the time period.

On its website SNL says it is a provider of news, data and analysis of business sectors, including insurance.

A conference to schedule all motions will be held late this month. Attorneys are instructed to submit a discovery plan at that time. Discovery is a pre-trial exchange of evidence.

SNL could not immediately be reached for comment.