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French Court: Claim of First Amendment Rights in Search Results Inconsistent with "Neutral and Passive Role" as Host

On November 6, the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) ordered Google and Google France to withdraw and stop displaying in their search engine results, for a period of five years, nine pictures of British citizen Max Mosley. By doing so, the TGI refused to consider Google as a mere Internet intermediary that provides hosting and/or caching functions.

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Instagram: Uncharted Territory for Courts and Journalists

As a Los Angeles Superior Court prepares to break new ground concerning defamation on Instagram, journalists look towards the popular smart phone app as an alternative platform from which they can reach new audiences.

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McGibney v. Moore

Date: 

08/20/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Hunter Moore

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

District Court of Clark County, Nevada

Case Number: 

A-12-667156-C

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$263,170.00

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Default Judgment

Description: 

The defendant, Hunter Moore, founded a now-defunct website at the URL IsAnyoneUp.com, which hosted sexually explicit user-submitted photos and videos. The plaintiff, James McGibney, owns a website called BullyVille, which works to counsel people who have been bullied by offering advice from professionals. McGibney bought the domain name for IsAnyoneUp.com from Moore on April 19, 2012. After the purchase, Moore referenced McGibney in tweets sent from his twitter handles @huntermoore and @is_anyone_up.

On August 20, 2012, McGibney filed a complaint against Moore in the District Court of Clark County, Nevada for defamation per se and false light. McGibney's complaint denied assertions made in Moore's tweets. McGibney claimed that Moore's tweets suggested that McGibney was a pedophile, a child abuser, and that McGibney possessed illegal content obtained from IsAnyoneUp.com. (Moore's full tweets can be viewed as exhibits to the complaint.)

On the defamation claim, the complaint alleged that Moore posted the statements intentionally, with the specific malicious intent to harm McGibney's reputation, and with actual malice, as Moore knew the statements were false at the time he tweeted them or else had reckless disregard for the truth. The complaint asserted damages relating to McGibney's business, as Moore's tweets referenced McGibney's connection to BullyVille.

On the false light claim, the complaint stated that Moore portrayed McGibney as a pedophile and child abuser on Moore's twitter account. The complaint said Moore's statements were categorically false, made with actual malice, and highly offensive to any reasonable person. It alleged that, by publishing the "false and harmful statements" to a Twitter following of over 160,000 people, Moore gave publicity to such statements.

The complaint requested: (1) more than $10,000 on the defamation claim for harm to McGibney's reputation; (2) more than $10,000 on the false light claim for resulting mental harm; (3) more than $10,000 for Moore's willful, deliberate, and malicious defamation of McGibney; (4) attorney's fees and related costs; and (5) any additional relief ordered by the Court.

On February 26, 2013, the plaintiff filed affidavits for Colleen Connolly-Ahern and Steven Rohr in support of an application for a default judgment against Moore. Connolly-Ahern, an Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the Pennsylvania State University, evaluated the McGibney's defamation claim against Moore. Her affidavit stated that because of Moore's "quasi-celebrity status" he will have a "larger-than-normal percentage" of followers who believe his statements about McGibney are truthful. Rohr, a founder and president of a Public Relations organization, confirmed the statements made in Connolly-Ahern's affidavit and added that with the existence of sites like www.archive.org, an Internet Archive, Moore's allegations may follow McGibney for years to come and damage his professional reputation. Rohr also stated that Moore's tweets caused real and tangible "lifetime reputational harm" to McGibney, which justified a judgment of $250,000.

The next day, on February 27, 2013, the plaintiff filed an affidavit of J. Malcolm DeVoy, one of the plaintiff's attorneys. DeVoy's affidavit included a copy of McGibney's redacted billings totaling $8,003.00.

On March 8, 2013, the court entered a default judgment against Moore for defamation and false light. The court held that Moore falsely accused McGibney of serious crimes and offenses that were defamatory per se. The court stated that Moore had been properly served with process and Moore had acknowledged the service on his tweets. The court referenced the affidavits of both Connolly-Ahern and Rohr and specifically addressed Rohr's mention of a $250,000 judgment, stating that the affidavits and Rohr's oral testimony were sufficient to support a judgment of $250,000 against Moore. Accordingly, the court ordered that Moore pay: (1) $250,000 in damages; (2) Interest accruing at 3.25%/month until the judgment is paid in full; (3) $1,588.50 for suit costs; and (4) $11,581.00 in attorney's fees.

On March 12, 2013, a notice of entry of default judgment was filed and on April 19, 2013, a writ of execution was issued to the Constable of Clark County, Nevada for $263,169.50 against Moore, commanding that the judgment be satisfied via Moore's Bank of America checking, savings, or other financial account.

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Rodriguez v. Widener University

Date: 

03/13/2013

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Miguel Rodriguez

Type of Party: 

Individual
Government
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Case Number: 

2:13-cv-01336-JP

Legal Counsel: 

Lewis P. Hannah, Clinton L. Johnson

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Description: 

Miguel Rodriguez is a U.S. Navy veteran, who attended Widener University under the G.I. Bill as a student in the Biology Pre-Med Program, and worked as a tutor and Advisor and Operations Manager at the University. In a complaint filed March 13, 2013 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Rodriguez brought eight causes of action against Widener University, the City of Chester, David Coughlin, Denise Gifford, Patrick Sullivan, and Matthew Donohue, claiming civil rights and privacy violations arising out of events that  transpired after Defendant Sullivan, Widener's Director of Campus Safety, allegedly gained access to and printed images from Rodriguez's Facebook account without authorization on March 16, 2011.

According to the complaint, as a result of the unauthorized access Widener University and Chester Police Officer Matthew Donohue brought Rodriguez in for interrogation and temporarily suspended him. According to Sullivan, he was suspended because "he was perceived to be a threat to the community and . . . displayed weapons on Facebook." At the end of this interrogation, Rodriguez was involuntarily sent to Crozer Chester Medical Center for one week, during which Rodriguez was forced to miss a medical school admissions interview. When he was cleared by the Medical Center, the suspension was continued due to a small amount of marijuana and a knife found when the Chester police searched his book bag during the investigation process. The University then made readmission contingent upon a positive assessment by Dr. Beth Howlett in Widener's Office of Disabilities Services. During this time, David Coughlin, Rodriguez's advisor, allegedly made false statements to the campus and Chester police about Rodriguez, claiming he was restricted from campus and had been making threatening calls. On March 25, 2011, Rodriguez was expelled from Widener University and his employment with the University was terminated.

Rodriguez claimed the Defendants violated the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing that the unwarranted dismissal and termination, as well as interrogation and involuntary admission to the hospital, violated his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendment. This claim was accompanied by a § 1985 claim for conspiracy to interfere with civil rights. Rodriguez similarly claimed a violation of his equal protection rights, asserting that the Defendants discriminated against him based upon his disability, race, and/or status as a  "class of one;" and that the Defendants violated the Rehabilitation Act by dismissing Rodriguez as a student and terminating his employment rather than providing accommodations for his mental disability. The complaint also asserted several privacy-related claims, including an invasion of privacy under the Fourth Amendment when the Defendants accessed information on Rodriguez's Facebook page and obtained medical information from the hospitals he was admitted to without his consent. Rodriguez also argued that accessing his emails and Facebook page and using the photos found therein without his authorization constituted a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act. Lastly, under Pennsylvania's common law, Rodriguez argued that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to his Facebook account, which was violated by the Defendants' unauthorized access of the account.

In response, the Widener Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on April 4, 2013. First, the Widener defendants argued that they are not state actors for the purposes of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 or under the U.S. Constitution, and that therefore the Civil Rights Act, equal protection, and Fourth Amendment-based privacy claims should be dismissed. The Defendants also maintained that Rodriguez could not pursue a cause of action under the Rehabilitation Act as he had never disclosed the disability to the University or sought accommodation for the disability prior to his suspension. Lastly, as Rodriguez's Facebook posts were accessible to the public generally and/or forwarded to the Defendants by concerned students who had been permitted access to his Facebook page, the Defendants moved to dismiss the ECPA and SCA claims, as well as the Pennsylvania privacy claim, as these all rely on improper access.  

On April 25, Rodriguez opposed this motion. First he argued that despite being private parties, the Widener Defendants are state actors, as they "willfully participated in a joint conspiracy with state officials to deprive a person of a constitutional right acts ‘under color of state law'" by bringing in the Chester police. He also alleges that the Defendants were aware of his mental disability, made particularly clear during the interrogation, and perceived Rodriguez as disabled, sufficient to sustain a claim under the Rehabilitation Act. As to those claims that rely on unauthorized access to Rodriguez's Facebook account, Rodriguez reasserted that he did not post them publically, though it remains to be determined how the Defendants obtained the images.  

The District Court granted in part and denied in part the Widener Defendants' motion to dismiss in an order on June 17, 2013. The Court dismissed Rodriguez's first four claims, which relied on finding the Widener Defendants to be state actors. The Court concluded that Rodriguez failed to plausibly allege state action, such that the Civil Rights Act and Fourth Amendment claims could not be properly sustained. In addition, the Rehabilitation Act count was dismissed, as the Court held that Rodriguez failed to establish that Widener University should have been aware that he was entitled to any accommodations or that he ever requested such accomdations. Discussing the ECPA and SCA claims together, the Court concluded that to the extent that these statutory claims were based on improper access to Rodriguez's Facebook images, the claims may proceed. Judge Padova's opinion noted that there was no factual basis for the Defendants' assertion that Rodriguez's Facebook images were generally available to the public, whereas the emails in question had been sent by Rodriguez himself to some of the Defendants. With respect to the common law invasion of privacy claim, the Court narrowed the claim down to the two theories of privacy that could possibly be plausible:  publication of private facts and false light. Because Rodriguez failed to allege the elements a privacy claim under either theory, this claim was also dismissed. 

Following the Court's order dismissing most of Rodriguez's claim, on July 2, 2013, the Widener Defendants answered the complaint regarding the surviving SCA and ECPA claims. Their defenses emphasized the public nature of Rodriguez's Facebook postings, arguing that they were generally available to the public, or in alternate, permissbly accessible to third parties who in turn shared the information with the Widener Defendants. 

The City of Chester and Officer Donohue also filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on July 15, 2013. The parties stipulated that of the many claims made by Rodriguez, the only claim against the Chester Defendants was for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Chester Defendants argued that they did not directly cause a constitutional deprivation and that Rodriguez's complaint made no allegation that his constitutional rights were violated by policies or customs of the municipality of Chester or Officer Donohue as its agent. 

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Metadata Surveillance, Secrecy, and Political Liberty (Part One)

(Following on from Rebekah Bradway's post last week regarding government-created metadata as public records, we are pleased to present a two-part post from Bryce Newell on the role of metadata in government surveillance. -- Ed.)

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Ourway Realty, LLC d/b/a Plainridge Racecourse v. Keen

Date: 

06/04/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Thomas Keen

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Norfolk County Superior Court Dept.

Case Number: 

2012-00963

Legal Counsel: 

Prince Lobel Tye LLP: Jeffrey J. Pyle; American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts: Matthew R. Segal, Sarah Wunsch

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

The plaintiff owns the Plainridge Racecourse, a harness horse-racing track in Plainville, Massachusetts. Thomas Keen maintains the website "NoPlainvilleRacino" which opposes the development of a gaming facility in Plainville, Massachusetts.

On April 20, 2012, Ourway Realty d/b/a Plainridge Racecourse sent a cease and desist letter to Keen which cited a photograph Keen had posted on his NoPlainvilleRacino website. The picture showed an individual who was suspected of breaking and entering into a building on the Plainville Racecourse. Underneath the picture, another user left a comment that said, "I wonder if they checked the racetrack, lol." The cease and desist letter alleged that Keen's posting was "objectionable, unprofessional and actionable" and stated that Keen posted the photo to "associate the alleged crime" with Plainville Racecourse. The letter demanded that Keen remove the posting, refrain from posting "similar damaging material" in the future. The letter also demanded that Keen issue an apology on his website, Facebook, and the Sun Chronicle newspaper.

On June 4, 2012, Ourway filed a complaint against Thomas Keen in the Superior Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for defamation. The complaint stated that the posting "intimates that criminals are clearly associated with the Plaintiff's present operations," and alleged that because of Keen's posting, Ourway suffered severe economic harm. The plaintiff requested damages, injunctive relief to remove "offensive material" from Keen's website, and an order prohibiting future publication of "information similar in nature."

On July 20, 2012, Keen served a Special Motion to Dismiss on Ourway pursuant to Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP statute, G.L. c. 231, § 59H. Keen's memorandum of law in support of the motion asserted that the comment at issue was removed prior to the commencement of litigation and called the plaintiff's action a "class example" of a SLAPP suit. The memorandum cited Keen's right to petition under Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP statute, saying that Keen's website satisfies at least four of the five forms of right to petition protected under the law:

  1. The site contains a "written or oral statement made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other governmental proceeding" over whether a "slot parlor would be good for Plainville[,]" an issue that the Plainville Board of Selectmen will negotiate with Ourway under the MA gaming statute.
  2. The site is "reasonably likely to enlist public participation" because it encourages "residents to contact selectpersons and ‘tell them a racino is not in Plainville's best interest.'"
  3. The site is "reasonably likely to encourage consideration or review of an issue by a legislative, executive, or judicial body or any other governmental proceeding" because the website elicits readers to contact town officials regarding their stance on the racino.
  4. The site's stance on racino falls under the final definition of § 59H, "any other statement falling within constitutional protection of the right to petition government" as the website was "intended to organize" a community "around an issue of concern."

The memorandum further argued that Ourway could not show by a preponderance of the evidence that the petition caused the plaintiff actual injury or that Keen's right to petition lacked any "reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law." It cited the "lol" from the user's comment, saying that "statements written ‘not for serious effect' are simply not libelous."

Keen also served an affidavit which discussed his opposition to the casino development and his establishment of the NoPlainvilleRacino website. His affidavit detailed the origin of the photograph, which was taken by a webcam of a burglar who broke into Keen's home; that photo was posted by the Plainville Police Department on its Facebook page. An administrator of the No Plainville Racino Facebook page shared the photo on that page, under which a Facebook user posted the comment in question.

On August 17, 2012, Ourway served Keen with an Opposition to Keen's Special Motion to Dismiss. The memo in opposition said that the anti-SLAPP statute was not meant to protect Keen's conduct, as § 59H is not meant to be an "absolute privilege." The memo in opposition uses the example of an "individual [going] onto any website regarding pending legislation and mak[ing] comments or insinuations unassociated with . . . the site, such as baseless accusations of accusing their opponents of a crime or harboring criminals and then hid[ing] behind the statute" as an example of what the statute was not intended to cover.

On September 12, 2012, Keen served a Reply in Support of Special Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to G.L. c. 231 § 59H, saying that Ourway's memo in opposition differed from the complaint's allegations and that Ourway failed to meet its burden of proof.

Keen's anti-SLAPP motion papers, Ourway's opposition, and Keen's reply were filed with the court on September 17, 2012, pursuant to Superior Court Rule 9A, and was docketed by the court on September 19, 2012

On December 13, 2012, the court allowed Keen's Special Motion to Dismiss, finding that the plaintiff's complaint is based on Keen's "petitioning activities" on his website and that Ourway failed to establish that the "petitioning activities were devoid of factual or legal merit." Keen applied for an award of attorneys' fees, and on April 8, 2013, was awarded $24,776.00 in fees and $136.37 in costs.

Ourway initially appealed the court's ruling, but stipulated to dismissal of its appeal on April 30, 2013.

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Monsarrat v. Filcman

Date: 

04/30/2013

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Deb Filcman, Ron Newman, Does 1-100

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Middlesex Superior Court Department of the Trial Court of Massachusetts

Case Number: 

MICV2013-00399-C

Legal Counsel: 

Dan Booth (Booth Sweet LLP), Zachary C. Kleinsasser, Michael J. Grygiel (Greenberg Traurig, LLP)

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

On February 4, 2013, Jonathan Graves Monsarrat filed a complaint in the Superior Court Department of Middlesex County, Massachusetts against defendants Deb Filcman, Ron Newman, and John and Jane Does 1-100. The complaint alleges that the defendants posted defamatory comments about the plaintiff on the website www.LiveJournal.com beginning on February 4, 2010, which related a linked-to blog post by defendant Filcman on the Somerville Journal's "Wicked Local" webpage. Defendant Newman administers the "davis square" forum on the site on which Monsarrat alleges many of the defamatory responses were posted. As LiveJournal is an online forum, many users are known only by aliases; Monsarrat asserted claims against these commentators by naming them as "John and Jane Does 1 through 100" until their identities could be ascertained through the discovery process.

The defendants' posts concerned Monsarrat's arrest on January 29, 2010, in connection with charged of keeping a noisy and disorderly home and serving alcohol to persons under 21. While these charges were ultimately dismissed against Monsarrat, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants' comments ruined his "reputation, regard, esteem and goodwill." The complaint cites to many of the comments posters made to the "davis square" forum, alleging that these posts are particularly defamatory as they affect him and his businesses locally.

Monsarrat's complaint included claims for: defamation; a violation of Massachusetts' Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Mass. Gen. L. ch. 93A; business disparagement; common law copyright infringement (based on photographs taken from Monsarrat's website); intentional infliction of emotional distress; and civil conspiracy.

The complaint alleges that the defendants "intentionally planned and orchestrated this cybersmear attach" [sic] and that defendants "conspired together" to commit the acts which injured Monsarrat. Monsarrat's complaint claims damages amounting to over $500,000 from medical expenses, lost wages (documented and anticipated), and reputational damages.

On April 30, 2013, Monsarrat filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint included all of the initial allegations, and added that under Monsarrat's fourth claim for relief - common law copyright infringement - the defendants' misappropriation was not "for fair use or satire purposes" but instead "in furtherance of their collective willful, wanton and tortious conduct." The amended complaint also included additional damage demands in the form of "costs and disbursements plus interest from the date of commencement" of the action.

On May 14, 2013, defendant Newman's attorney sent a letter in response to Monsarrat's complaint. The answer described Newman's discussion on the LiveJournal forum as "promoting respectful, lively conversation without imposing ham-fisted restraint on the free speech of the community." The letter addressed each of the complaint's assertions in turn, including asserting that:

  • no statements attributed to Newman could sustain a defamation claim;
  • the complaint did not state a Chapter 93A claim against any defendant, and Monsarrat had failed to send a pre-suit demand letter to Newman as required under Chapter 93A;
  • on the business disparagement claim, Monsarrat's complaint did not point to any "actionably false statements" by the defendants, and did not identify any of the plaintiff's products that were disparaged;
  •  "there is no such thing" as common-law copyright infringement;
  • Monsarrat's infliction of emotional distress claim would fail as the complaint does not show that the defendant acted without privilege;
  • on the conspiracy claim, the complaint does not "identify any statement or action by which Mr. Newman could be inferred to have agreed to injure the plaintiff"; and
  • punitive damages for defamation have not been permitted in Massachusetts since 1974.

The May 14th letter claims that Monsarrat's claims are wholly without merit and were brought in bad faith, and demands that Monsarrat's attorney file a notice voluntarily dismissing the complaint with prejudice or else face sanctions.

On May 28, 2013, defendant Filcman's attorney sent a letter in response to Monsarrat's complaint. The letter contends that Filcman's article on Monsarrat's January 2010 arrest is protected under the First Amendment and adds that the plaintiff's allegation of a "wide-spread cyber-smear campaign" is without basis "in fact or law" and "frivolous, abusive, and harassing." In addressing the defamation claims, the letter points to Massachusetts' fair report privilege that provides a safe harbor on fair and accurate reports. The letter also asserts that there is "no such thing" as a common law copyright claim, and under the federal Copyright Act, the plaintiff's photograph was not federally registered and his claim would therefore fail.

On June 7, 2013, Monsarrat's attorney filed a voluntary dismissal with prejudice (a copy of the official text is posted on LiveJournal). No settlement was reported on the docket of the court and no payments were made.

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A Response to Sandy Hook: Privacy Trumps Transparency in New Connecticut Bill

At a time when citizens increasingly call for government transparency, the Connecticut legislature recently passed a bill to withhold graphic information depicting homicides from the public in response to records from last December's devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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The DMLP Joins EFF in an Amicus Brief Addressing DMCA Misrepresentations and Critical Speech

Earlier today the Digital Media Law Project, through our counsel at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, joined a brief filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts case Tuteur v. Crosley-Corcoran.

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Tuteur v. Crosley-Corcoran

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

01/25/2013

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Amy Tuteur, M.D.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts

Case Number: 

13-cv-10159

Legal Counsel: 

Russell Beck and Stephen D. Riden (Beck Reed Riden LLP)

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

On January 25, 2013, Dr. Amy Tuteur, an obstetrician-gynecologist residing in Massachusetts, filed suit in federal court against Gina Crosley-Corcoran, a resident of Illinois, based upon a dispute arising out of blogs written by each individual: The Skeptical OB, by Tuteur, and The Feminist Breeder, by Crosley-Corcoran. The case is centered on DMCA takedown notices issued by Crosley-Corcoran to the hosts of Tuteur's blog.

According to the Complaint, Tuteur and Crosley-Corcoran engaged in a heated debate through the medium of their respective blogs on the dangers and merits of home births. This debate escalated to a point at which Crosley-Corcoran allegedly published a post entitled "This One's For You, 'Dr.' Amy," which included a photograph of Crosley-Corcoran extending her middle finger, with the accompanying comment, "I don't want to leave you without something you can take back to your blog and obsess over, so here's a picture of me, sitting at my dining room table[.]" Tuteur responded by publishing the photo of Crosley-Corcoran on her own website in a post entitled "Pounding the table," in which Tuteur argued that the photo was an "outstanding example of table pounding" and accusing Crosley-Corcoran of being afraid to answer questions posed by Tuteur.

Crosley-Corcoran then allegedly responded with a series of efforts to compel the removal of the photograph from Tuteur's website, including a cease-and-desist letter and two Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices directed to Tuteur's website hosts. Tuteur claimed that these takedown notices resulted in service interruptions and her website hosts terminating her contract with them. Tuteur also alleged that Crosley-Corcoran acted in bad faith in sending the takedown notices with the motive of interfering with the publication of critical statements on Tuteur's blog, claiming that Crosley-Corcoran was subjectively aware or should have been aware that Tuteur's use of the photograph was either (1) authorized by the text with which Crosley-Corcoran originally presented the photo, or (2) a "self-evident non-infringing fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107."

Based on these allegations, Tuteur's complaint asserts two claims: (1) a claim under 17 U.S.C. § 512(f) for knowing and material misrepresentations in Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices; and (2) a claim for tortious interference with Tuteur's contractual relationships with her website hosts. Tuteur sought damages, attorneys' fees, and an injunction barring Crosley-Corcoran and/or her agents from pursuing any copyright claim related to the "finger" photograph.

On March 5, 2013, Crosley-Corcoran moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, alleging that she did not have sufficient contacts with Massachusetts to justify filing suit against her there, and arguing that neither the sending of a cease-and-desist letter into Massachusetts nor allegations of harm suffered in Massachusetts were sufficient.

In an opposition filed on April 5, 2013, Tuteur asserted that Crosley-Corcoran knew that Tuteur lived in Massachusetts and had intentionally targeted her allegedly wrongful conduct at Tuteur's activities there. Tuteur argued that Crosley-Corcoran's failure to file an actual  copyright lawsuit over the photo was evidence that the takedown notices were intended to interfere with Tuteur rather than defend Crosley-Corcoran's copyrights. Accordingly, Tuteur argued that Crosley-Corcoran's purpose to cause harmful effects in Massachusetts, together with harm actually caused there, was sufficient for the federal court in Massachusetts to exercise personal jurisdiction over her. Alternatively, Tuteur requested the right to take limited discovery on the jurisdictional issue.

On April 10, 2013, the district court issued an order on the motion to dismiss. While the court acknowledged that Tuteur's claims were premised on Crosley-Corcoran's takedown notices, it characterized the core issue in the jurisdictional dispute as to whether "ownership of an active, interactive, or passive website maintained by a service provider based outside of Massachusetts but which Massachusetts residents can access over the Internet satisfies the purposeful availment test." The court also questioned whether Tuteur could succeed in demonstrating "conduct uniquely or expressly aimed at the forum state," i.e., Massachusetts.

Ultimately, however, the court opined that the case might be more properly resolved on its merits than the "thorny issue of internet-based personal jurisdiction," because the "court seriously question[ed] whether Tuteur ha[d] stated a viable cause of action against Crosley-Corcoran":

The takedown notice at issue appears to conform to the letter of the requirements of section 512(c)(3) [of] the DMCA. In it, Crosley-Corcoran states accurately that her likeness has been copied without her express authorization and published by Tuteur without permission on her SkepticalOB website. ... It is true that if the tables were reversed, and this was a lawsuit brought by Crosley-Corcoran against Tuteur for copyright infringement, Tuteur would have a plausible, and even dispositive fair use affirmative defense ..., or as she suggests at one point, a defense of implied license ... . But there is no requirement in the DMCA that a notice-giver inform the service provider of an infringer's possible affirmative defenses, only that she affirm her good faith belief (as appears to be the case here) that the copyrighted material is being used without her (or her agent's) permission. Seen in this light, there is no material misrepresentation by Crosley-Corcoran of infringement, as a viable cause of action under section 512(f)(1) would require.

Tuteur’s tortious interference claim would also seem vulnerable on similar grounds. Here, there would seem nothing improper about the purpose of Crosley-Corcoran’s takedown notice, which was to stop what she believed was an infringement of her copyrighted likeness, while the means that she chose, sending a the notice to the service provider, was one explicitly authorized by the statute.

Accordingly, the court ordered Tuteur to show cause with 21 days why the complaint should not be dismissed on its merits and/or jurisdictional grounds.

Update:

May 1, 2013: Tuteur filed a memorandum of law with the court in response to the court's order to show cause. In the memorandum, Tuteur asserted that a Section 512(f) claim is available when a party filing a DMCA takedown notice misrepresents that the targeted content is infringing, and that misrepresentations of infringement are independent of whether there are misrepresentations as to ownership or authorization. Accordingly, Tuteur argued, Crosley-Corcoran's takedown notices gave rise to a Section 512(f) claim because she allegedly knew that she had no viable claim of infringement at the time the notices were sent. Tuteur specifically argued that her use of the "finger photo" was protected as a fair use. On the jurisdictional issue, Tuteur argued that (1) Crosley-Corcoran's sending of takedown notices directed at a blog that Crosley-Corcoran knew was operated in Massachusetts sufficed to subject her to specific jurisdiction in Massachusetts, and (2) Crosley-Corcoran's operation of her own website, which had a widespread presence and specific contacts with Massachusetts users, was sufficient for the court to exercise general jurisdiction over her in Massachusetts.

On the same day, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Digital Media Law Project (disclosure: the DMLP hosts this database) filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the court to recognize (1) that a Section 512(f) claim can be based on misrepresentations as to infringment alone, and (2) that a party sending a takedown notice must consider questions of fair use before they may form a good faith belief that content is infringing.

May 9, 2013: Crosley-Corcoran filed a response to Tuteur's May 1 memorandum, arguing that the district court's analysis in its order to show cause was correct, and more specifically that: (1) Tuteur had failed to plead that the takedown notices caused the removal of her blog, thus failing to plead damages as required for a Section 512(f) claim; (2) Section 512(f) requires proof of a lack of subjective good faith, such that evidence that the defendant honestly but unreasonably relied upon a meritless interpretation of the law is not sufficient; and (3) Tuteur's tortious interference claim was preempted by Section 512(f).

May 10, 2013: The Motion Picture Association of America filed an amicus brief, in which it argued that "[l]iability under § 512(f) arises only where the copyright owner has actual, subjective knowledge that it is making a material misrepresentation that the use of the copyrighted work is infringing." Thus, the MPAA argued, liability under Section 512(f) could not be premised on a failure to consider fair use of the work allegedly infringed or reliance upon an unreasonable interpretation of the law. In particular, the MPAA asserted that because fair use is characterized as an affirmative defense in the First Circuit, it should not be the copyright holder's burden to evaluate whether the fair use doctrine would make a particular use "authorized by law." The MPAA further argued that imposing the burden upon copyright holders to conduct a complex fair use analysis before asserting their rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would be unjust and frustrate the purposes of the statute.

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Florida Bill Targets “Mugshot Websites,” Hits Crime Reporting

A new bill proposed by Florida legislator Carl Zimmermann seeks to end “mugshot websites,” a relatively new industry that exploits the marriage of the internet and open records laws in order to make a profit.

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The First Circuit Tackles Copyright in News Photography and Docudramas

On Monday the First Circuit released an important opinion addressing copyright and news photography, in Harney v. Sony Pictures Television, Inc., No. 11-1760 (1st Cir. Jan. 7, 2003).  The case is related to the famous "Clark Rockefeller" incident.

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Ballot Disclosure Laws: A First Amendment Anomaly

Today, the Digital Media Law Project is launching a new guide to photography and filming at this year’s presidential election, Documenting the Vote 2012. This resource provides a wide range of information for all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, regarding laws that restrict the use of cameras in and around polling places (as well as other journalistic activities).

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No More Art Cops in Los Angeles?

You might recall the Los Angeles Police Department's infamous Special Order No. 11, which directed officers to document in a so-called Suspicious Activity Report ("SAR"):

[A]ny reported or observed activity, or any criminal act or attempted criminal act, which an officer believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic terrorism

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When Your Engagement Photo Becomes a Political Ad: Parody and Right of Publicity

The issue of same-sex unions is hotly debated, and the discussion is heating up this election year with the case on California’s Proposition 8 making its way to the Supreme Court, and with President Obama recently declaring that he is in favor of same-sex marriage.

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Hoang v. Amazon.com, Inc.

Date: 

10/13/2011

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Amazon.com, Inc., IMDb.com, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Large Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

Western District of Washington at Seattle

Case Number: 

2:11-CV-01709-MJP

Legal Counsel: 

Ashley A. Locke, Breena Michelle Roos, Charles Christian Sipos, Elizabeth L. McDougall-Tural

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Description: 

Junie Hoang, the stage name of Asian actress Huong Huang, filed an anonymous "Jane Doe" complaint in the Western District of Washington against the Internet Movie Database website, IMDb.com, and its parent company, Amazon.com, on October 13, 2011.

Hoang, who lives in Texas, has been a user of IMDb.com since 2003 and a subscriber to IMDbPro since 2008. She was using the services to help her connect with casting directors and to obtain acting roles. She did not put her age in her profile, but alleges that IMDb.com included it at a later point in time. She alleges that IMDb.com "took the personal information she provided during the subscription process [from her credit card] and added it to her online profile without her authorization." She also alleges that IMDb.com "scour[ed] public records" to discover her date of birth. She asked for her birthdate to be taken down, but IMDb.com has refused.

Hoang alleges that revealing her true name and age on IMDb.com has harmed her career because "in the entertainment industry, youth is king." Hoang was 40 years old at the time of filing. In addition, she alleges a "double-whammy effect" because she cannot get "forty-year-old roles" because she looks younger than she is and cannot portray the role of a forty-year-old woman.

In her complaint, Hoang alleges four causes of action:

  1. Breach of contract (of IMDbPro's Subscriber Agreement and incorporated Privacy Policy);  
  2. Fraud;
  3. Violation of Washington Privacy Act, RCW 9.73.030; and
  4. Violation of Washington Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86.

She included Amazon.com in her complaint because she alleges that the company "aided and abetted IMDb's wrongful conduct," and was aware of IMDb's procedures of cross-referencing credit card information with public records to gather as much information as possible about each subscriber. She sought an injunction to remove her personal information from IMDb, as well as $75,000 in comensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages, and an award of costs and fees.

On November 9, 2011, defendants responded with two Motions to Dismiss: one pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), failure to state a claim; and another pursuant to Rule 10(a), arguing that "Jane Doe" should not be able to proceed anyonymously. On the Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Amazon and IMDb argued that the display of the birthdate was "an accurate fact," and that Doe's claims about IMDb's practices were "pure speculation." The defendants also noted that even if Doe's claims were true, "plaintiff consented to such use of information when she subscribed to the IMDbPro service." 

On November 28, 2011, plaintiff filed oppositions to defendant's Rule 12 (b)(6) motion and Rule 10(a) motion, and simultaneously filed a cross-motion to proceed anonymously due to the "unique circumstances" in the case. Plaintiff argued that she should be allowed to proceed anonymously because disclosure of her identity would subject her to "severe retaliation, harassment and ridicule," including retaliation by defendants, who she claims "have a reputation of striking back at consumers who complain about their unauthorized publication of personal information." 

Defendants filed replies in support of their motions on December 2, 2011. They argued in regards to the 12(b)(6) motion that the plaintiff had failed to meet her burden of specific factual allegations sufficent to state a claim, and that each of her causes of action fail independently. In their reply pursuant to the 10(a) motion, defendants argued that plaintiff's arguments did not justify anonymity in this case, while also denying that they had ever "retaliated against [p]laintiff (or anyone else) for complaining regarding its practices." Amazon also claimed that "embarrassment does not meet the strict standards for anonymity." 

On December 23, 2011, the Washington district court judge in Seattle granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on Rule 10(a) grounds.  The court said "the injury [plaintiff] fears is not severe enough to justify permitting her to proceed anonymously. " The judge granted leave to "Jane Doe" to amend her complaint by adding her real name within 14 days of the order. 

On January 6, 2012, "Jane Doe" filed an amended complaint using her real name, Huong Huang.

On March 30, 2012, a federal district court judge ruled on the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. Taking plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion.

  1. Breach of Contract. The court held that Huang's breach of contract claim was sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss stage. Plaintiff alleged an existence of a contractual duty and a breach of that duty. The court said the "plain language of the contract does not permit defendants unfettered use of the personal information that Plaintiff provided for the purposes of processing payment."
  2. Fraud. In regards to the fraud claim, the court held that Huang's claim failed because it did not meet the high standard of specificity requirements of Rule 9(b). This claim was dismissed with leave to amend with "the requisite standard of particularity."
  3. Washington's Privacy Act. Plaintiff's privacy claim also failed because it misapplied the Washington statute. The information was not "private" and was not "intercepted" or "recorded" by defendants, as required by the statute.  This claim was dismissed with prejudice.
  4. Washington's Consumer Protection Act. The Consumer Protection Act claim was also allowed to survive at the motion to dismiss stage. The court found that "defendants' alleged practices" could affect millions of people if plaintiff's allegations of IMDb.com's unfair and deceptive practices are true. 

On April 25, 2012, Huang filed a Second Amended Complaint (SAC), addressing the specificity in her fraud claim. In her SAC, Huang argues that defendants were engaged in data-mining, and that they "materially misrepresent...the safety, security and purposes for which they gather and use the personal and credit card information of consumers who subscribe to IMDbPro." She claims she would not have shared her credit card information if she knew the defendants would use "such information for other purposes." (The plaintiff and defendants disagree as to which documents represent the operative agreements in this matter.) Huang also adds a new claim about Amazon.com. She alleges that she purchased products from Amazon.com prior to subscribing to IMDbPro and  that "Amazon.com misrepresented in the Privacy agreement available on its website the terms on which Amazon.com would share her user information with IMDb.com."

After Huang filed her second amended complaint, defendants filed another Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 9(b) on May 9, 2012. In it, defendants argue that plaintiff's new claim about Amazon.com's Privacy Notice is a "thinly veiled attempt to keep Amazon.com in this lawsuit." Defendants also argue that plaintiff's SAC "comingles" defendants and fails to distinguish between Amazon.com and IMDb.com, as required for a state claim for fraud. They claim that plaintiff still does not specify "which statements are false, which statements IMDB.com knew were false and intended plaintiff to rely on, and which statements she had a right to rely on."  

Huang filed an opposition to the Motion on May 21, 2012, and defendants replied to the opposition on May 25, 2012.

On June 1, 2012, Huang filed a Motion for Relief from Trial Deadlines and to Continue Trial Dealines alleging defendants did not file substantial answers to her complaint and/or raise substantial defenses. The plaintiff also claims both parties have been "embroiled" in discovery disputes because Amazon claims to be exempt from full discovery. Defendants filed an Opposition to that motion on June 13, 2012, alleging that plaintiff was delaying her own responses to discovery and had failed to respond to efforts to negotiate a "mutally acceptable protective order." On June 15, 2012, Huang filed a Reply in support of her Motion for Relief from Trial Deadlines and to Continue Trial Date.  

The plaintiff and defendants asked the Court to enter a Stipulated Protective Order regarding discovery on June 28, 2012. 

 

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From Accident Photos to the White House: Contesting Photo Use in Newspaper Merchandise Sales

Take a moment to explore your daily newspaper's webpage. You'll likely find recent articles and archives, video materials, job postings, classifieds, sidebars with advertisements, various forms of social media integration, and, most surprisingly (or perhaps not, considering the financial challenges journalism faces), a store.

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DOJ's Public Statements Provide a Road Map for Citizens to Sue in Cop Recording Cases

Qualified immunity for police might be a thing of the past

In May 2010, Christopher Sharp used his cell phone to record video of his friend being arrested by the Baltimore Police at the Preakness Stakes. The police demanded that Sharp surrender his phone, stating that the contents might be evidence; when the phone was returned, Sharp discovered that the video he had made, plus a number of other unrelated videos, had been deleted.

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The 'Mugshot Racket' II: A Commercial Purpose Exemption?

When Tim Donnelly, a 26-year-old job seeker, Googled his name recently he found that the first link provided was that to a mugshot of him taken seven years ago. He got into a fight as a teenager and was arrested for criminal trespass and assault. According to Donnelly, the trespass charge was dismissed and the assault charge was downgraded to disorderly conduct.

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The Wasted Effort of Connecticut's Feeble Cop-Recording Bill

Connecticut, like most states these days it seems, has been having a problem with cops interfering with people photographing or filming them. Members of the Connecticut legislature are concerned about citizens being harassed for filming cops, and are working on passing a bill, No.

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