Blogs

Naffe v. Frey

Date: 

10/02/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

John Patrick Frey; Christi Frey; Steve Cooley; County of Los Angeles

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Government

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Case Number: 

CV 12-8443-GW (District Court); No. 13-55666 (Court of Appeals)

Legal Counsel: 

Kenneth P. White; Paul B. Beach

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Nadia Naffe accused a colleague of sexual assault and filed a criminal harassment complaint. John Patrick Frey, a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County, raised questions about plaintiff's allegations on his blog and Twitter account which he maintained in his personal capacity. Naffe sued Frey, his wife, the former District Attorney for Los Angeles County and Los Angeles County under the theory that the defendant was acting in his official capacity as Deputy District Attorney while writing on his private blog, and that his actions violated her First Amendment and due process rights.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Naffe asserted the following causes of action:

1. violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983
2. public disclosure invasion of privacy
3. false light invasion of privacy
4. defamation
5. intentional infliction of emotional distress
6. negligence
7. negligent supervision

Naffe subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint naming only Frey and the County as defendant. Frey moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, both for failure to state a claim (as to counts 1-6) and for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the state law claims (counts 2-7); the County filed its own motion to dismiss and also joined Frey's motions. Frey also filed a special motion to dismiss the state law claims under California's anti-SLAPP law. Naffe opposed all four motions.

In a tentative ruling (later confirmed), the district court found that it did not have independent subject matter jurisdiction over Naffe's state law claims because she had not sufficiently demonstrated a claim for relief exceeding the sum of $75,000. Accordingly, the court focused on whether Naffe had properly asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The court held that to state a claim under Section 1983, Naffe was required to allege facts sufficient to show that Frey's action related in some meaningful way either to his governmental status or to the performance of his duties, but found that Naffe had merely offered allegations that were conclusory or speculative. The court further held that merely "mentioning the fact that [Frey] [wa]s a deputy district attorney or prosecutor... does not transform everything he says on his blog or on Twitter into state action." Accordingly, the court dismissed Naffe's Section 1983 claim without leave to amend and dismissed her state law claims without prejudice. The court did not address the merits of Frey's anti-SLAPP motion.

Naffe appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In her appellate brief, Naffe focused on a comment Frey had made on his twitter account, in which he states: "@NadiaNaffe My first task is learning what criminal statutes, if any, you have admitted violating." Naffe interprets this tweet to be a threat by a state prosecutor to investigate her for alleged criminal violations and offers it as evidence that her allegations are not merely speculative. Frey, in his appellee's brief, responded that such musings could not be deemed an official act, and that the factual context proves that the comment had nothing to do with anything over which a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney such as Frey could have jurisdiction.

The Digital Media Law Project ("DMLP") filed an amicus brief in support of Frey arguing that there are over 20 million Americans working for the government and that, even when those individuals speak on matters that relate to government activity, their ability to speak in their personal capacities must be preserved in order to ensure that these individuals' valuable viewpoints are part of public discussion.

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FTC Clarifies Obligations of Product Reviewers, But Does Not Ease Concerns

On March 12, 2013, the Federal Trade Commission released a new guidance paper entitled ".com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising." The new FTC guidance updates a prior FTC release from 2000 relating to disclosures in online advertising.

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Iowa Retains Media/Non-Media Distinction, Leaving Bloggers Vulnerable

I've already written several posts about the overblown predictions that a ruling involving an Oregon blogger (now on appeal) would have dire consequences for bloggers in that state.

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Saltsman v. Goddard

Date: 

10/25/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Alexandria Goddard aka "Prinnie" and anonymous Doe defendants

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

The Court of Common Pleas, Jefferson County, Ohio

Case Number: 

12-CV-00544

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$0.00

Legal Counsel: 

Thomas G. Haren, Jeffrey M. Nye, Marc J. Randazza (Goddard), Scott T. Greenwood (Anonymous commenters), Francesca T. Carinci (Marian Waguespack)

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In August 2012, two football players from Steubenville High School were arrested and charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Classmates circulated Twitter posts, videos, and photographs indicating that the players may have carried the girl, unconscious, from party to party and sexually assaulted her while others watched. A police investigation uncovered pictures of the girl, naked and apparently unconscious, from partygoers' phones.

Cody Saltsman, a football player who was not indicted, tweeted a picture of the girl looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. He also tweeted comments about the girl, including the phrases "whore status," "sloppy," and "I have no sympathy for whores."

Alexandria Goddard, a blogger who writes under the pseudonym "Prinnie" at prinniefied.com, wrote a series of blog posts on the case. She posted screen shots of related Twitter posts and photos. She also suggested that a number of unindicted individuals had participated in the rape, including Cody Saltsman. In response to a comment on her blog reading "students by day ... gang rape participants by night," Goddard wrote, "Cody Saltsman [is] playing tonight. Reno, SHAME ON YOU." She also wrote that his fellow football players should "roll on their pal Cody Manson" and "[p]erhaps when scumbag is finally arrested I will post a picture of him for his mother that says ‘How do you like your scumbag son now?' ... Tell Cody not to feel too bad, he is not the lone asshole in all this."

A number of commenters on the blog also posted about Saltsman, including statements that he was there when the rape was occurring, that he was the "mastermind" behind the crime, that he had previously stated he would "ruin that bitch," and that he had sent the victim's father the picture of her being carried by her wrists and ankles with text reading "look at your whore daughter now." Other commenters made comments including: "[g]et CS and his posy [sic] off the field and problem solved"; "Cody needs to suffr some consequences too!"; and, in response to the question "[w]hat is [the Saltsman's] business because I never want to spend money there," the statement "CS father owns Fort Steuben Plumbing/Maintenance."

On October 25, 2012, Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed a complaint against Goddard, fifteen anonymous commenters identified by screen names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (including those who made the above statements), and ten additional John Doe defendants. Saltsman sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought injunctive relief, compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, and punitive damages. The complaint was amended on November 19, 2012 to add claims for false light and spoliation of evidence.

Saltsman's attorneys obtained the IP addresses for each anonymous commenter from HostGator, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the "prinnified" blog, which apparently turned over the IP addresses without providing notice to the commenters or to Goddard. On November 16, the plaintiffs moved for authorization to conduct discovery from each anonymous commenter's ISP in order to obtain the commenters' identities.

Goddard's counsel objected to Plaintiffs' motion for authorization to conduct discovery to obtain the identities of the anonymous defendants, asserting that the First Amendment right to speak anonymously barred such discovery.

In a supplemental memo supporting the motion for authority to conduct discovery, Saltsman disputed that the First Amendment protected the identities of the authors, urged the court to act quickly in order to prevent the ISPs from deleting relevant information, and argued that Goddard had no standing to object on behalf of the Does.

Acknowledging that there were no published Ohio decisions on point, Saltsman directed the court to the often-followed test laid out in Dendrite Int'l Inc. v. Doe No. 3. 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2001). Under Dendrite, courts allow plaintiffs to conduct discovery on anonymous online posters' identities when plaintiffs (1) attempt to notify defendants that their identities are being sought and explain how to present a defense; (2) quote verbatim the allegedly actionable online speech; (3) allege all elements of the cause of action; (4) present evidence supporting the claim of violation; and (5) show that, on balance and in context, the plaintiff's right to identify the speaker in order to redress alleged wrongs outweighs the First Amendment right to anonymous speech. Saltsman asserted that he met all of these elements, particularly focusing on the fifth element, the balancing of rights. Because the First Amendment does not protect false assertions of fact, he argued, the defendants had no right to anonymous speech in this context.

Goddard filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the motion on November 21, and a supplemental Memorandum in Opposition on November 26. Plaintiffs' responded with a second supplemental memorandum in support of their motion on November 28.

The Court filed an order on November 29, granting the plaintiffs' motion. The court authorized the relevant ISPs to release personally identifiable information associated with the IP addresses identified in the complaint. The court required that notice of the discovery be given to the anonymous commenters and that the commenters be given fourteen days after the notice to file motions to quash.

On December 14, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio stated in a press release that they had offered to represent a number of the "John Doe" defendants. ACLU Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood stated, "[w]e believe the real goal of this lawsuit is to discover the identity of anonymous online commenters so that they, and future commenters will be intimidated and discouraged from voicing their opinions. This is just an updated form of a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which is typically used to silence speech that is protected under the First Amendment."

Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Goddard and the anonymous commenters and voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice on December 27, 2012. With one exception (defendant Waguespack), the identities of the commenters were not disclosed. No money was exchanged, and Goddard did not retract any statements or agree to stop covering the case. Goddard did write on her blog that she "never had any evidence of [Cody Saltsman's] direct involvement" in the events of the night and agreed to give him space on her blog to present his side of the story.

The "prinnified" blog also ran the following statement from Cody Saltsman: "I deeply regret my actions on the night of August 11, 2012. While I wasn't at the home where the alleged assault took place, there is no doubt that I was wrong to post that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments. ... At no time did my family mean to stop anyone from expressing themselves online - we only wanted to correct what we believed were misstatements that appeared on Ms. Goddard's blog. "

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Amici Line Up In Appeal of "Blogger Not a Journalist" Ruling

A federal judge's ruling that a blogger was not covered by Oregon's reporters' shield law is being appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and is getting some amicus support from media organizations. But the appeal -- and the amici -- are not addressing the main issue that led to an online uproar over the trial judge's initial decision.

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Justice Delayed But Not Denied – Appellate Court Overturns $60K Verdict Against Blogger for Posting “Not False” Information

"The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is." – Winston Churchill

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Jurisdiction: 

Nilan v. Valenti

Date: 

06/22/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Dan Valenti

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Central Berkshire (Pittsfield) District Court

Case Number: 

Docket No. 1227R0235

Legal Counsel: 

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Bill Newman

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Injunction Denied

Description: 

According to a police report, on December 8, 2011, Meredith Nilan, the 24-year-old daughter of the Chief of Probation at Berkshire Superior Court, was involved in a car accident. While driving home from a social gathering, Nilan allegedly hit a running pedestrian, Peter Moore. According to the police report, she claimed she stopped and looked around, but then left the scene of the accident. According to The Berkshire Eagle and the police report, Moore suffered serious injuries.

After further investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department, Nilan was charged with leaving the scene of a personal injury accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle to endanger. Later, in a closed show cause hearing on January 12, 2012, Assistant Clerk-Magistrate Nathan A. Byrnes found insufficient evidence for the case to go to trial. 

Around this time, Valenti started blogging about the developments of the case on his blog PlanetValenti.com. Valenti's blog suggested that Nilan might be receiving favorable treatment because of her father's position. He also questioned Nilan's version of events as reflected in the police report about the scene of the accident. 

On February 13, 2012, Springfield District Court Judge William P. Hadley overturned the Clerk-Magistrate's determination, and held there was probable cause to charge Nilan with leaving the scene of an accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.  She was later arraigned and charged; on June 6, 2012, prosecutors dismissed the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and continued the misdemeanor negligent operation charge for six months Throughout these proceedings, Valenti continued to blog about the case. 

On June 22, 2012, Meredith Nilan filed a complaint for a civil harassment prevention order and supporting affidavit against Valenti in the Central Berkshire (Pittsfield) District Court. Nilan claimed that Valenti's blog posts were "lies and innuendo" and a "regular and malicious attack" on her reputation. She asserted that because of Valenti's "sensational interpretations" and reader's "anonymous rants," she feared "vigilante justice," and that "Mr. Valenti's continued vitriol and his repeated inclination to print lies and sensationalize every aspect of my case has made me fear for my personal safety."

A few days later on June 27, 2012, after an ex parte hearing, District Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega issued a harassment prevention order directing Valenti "to remove any and all information referring to the Plaintiff [Ms. Nilan] from any and all websites, blogs, etc." Also included was an order to stay 100 yards from the plaintiff and to stay away from the plaintiff's work and residence. 

On his blog, Valenti wrote that he complied with the order on June 28, 2012, after recivint the order the night before.

Valenti filed a responsive affidavit on July 5, 2012, in which he detailed how he became involved in the Nilan story and responded to Nilan's claims. In his affidavit, he asserted that he had "never met her, talked with her, been near her, contacted or attempted to contact her, or spoken to Meredith Nilan, let alone 'harass'[ed] her." Valenti claimed that he reported facts "honestly, fairly, diligently, and justly," and that while he invited readers to share their views, he did not enourage outrage.

On July 9, 2012, the court held a hearing on the prevention order. According to a news report on the hearing, Valenti read his affidavit aloud, and Nilan read a statement.

Valenti's lawyer, Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, also filed a brief in his defense. In the brief, Valenti argued that he did not "harass" Nilan, as defined in the statute, because he had never met her or had any contact with her.  Valenti also argued that the civil harassment statute, Mass. Gen. Laws c. 258E, does not authorize a court to proscribe or censure speech on the Internet, and that the statute would be unconstitutionally overbroad if applied to the blog. Citing O'Brien v. Borowski, 461 Mass. 415 (2012), in which the Supreme Judicial Court interpreted c. 258E to avoid overbreadth by limiting its reach to "fighting words" and "true threats," the brief further asserted that there was no "face-to-face" confrontation likely to provoke violence (as required by the "fighting words" doctrine) or "intent to commit an unlawful act" against Nilan (as required to prove a "true threat"). Rather, Valenti claimed that his blog posts were true speech on a matter of public concern, and that the the judge's previous order was an unconstitutional prior restraint under the First Amendment and Massachusetts Consitution. 

Nilan did not file a response, according to the Central Berkshire District Court clerk's office. 

Bill Newman, director of Western Massachusetts ACLU, submitted an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the order was an impermissible prior restraint and "sweeping censorship." The amicus argued that the order to remove previously published information is even worse than a typical prior restraint because "it does not merely 'freeze' the speaker; it requires him to bowdlerize prior speech." The amicus also argued that Nilan's affidavit did not allege "three acts of either 'fighting words' or 'true threat' by Valenti or his web site," as required by the statute. 

At the July 9, 2012 hearing, Judge Mark D. Mason overruled and vacated the harassment prevention order.

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Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Charles Carreon v. Matthew Inman, et al.

Date: 

06/15/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Matthew Inman, Indiegogo, Inc., National Wildlife Federation, American Cancer Society, and Does 1-100

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization
Large Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court, Northern District of California

Case Number: 

3:2012-cv-03112

Legal Counsel: 

Attorney Venkat Balasubramani (for Defendant Inman); Attorney Sarah T. Grilli (for Defendant American Cancer Society); Attorney Richard L. Grossman (for Defendant American Cancer Society); Attorney Mark Allan Lemley (for Defendant Indiegogo, Inc.); C

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Charles Carreon is an attorney, who was retained by FunnyJunk, LLC, on matters related to the website FunnyJunk.com. On June 2, 2012, Carreon sent a letter on behalf of FunnyJunk to Matthew Inman, creator of TheOatmeal.com, which threatened legal action and demanded $20,000 on the basis of a blog post. For more information about this correspondence, see FunnyJunk, LLC vs. TheOatmeal.com.

On June 12, 2012, Inman posted an informal response to the June 2 letter on TheOatmeal.com. The post, inter alia, announced that Inman planned to raise $20,000 in donations, and that he would donate the money to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. A link at the bottom of the post directed readers to a page on Indiegogo.com, a fundraising website. By its conclusion, the fundraising effort generated $220,024. 

On June 15, 2012, Carreon filed a lawsuit against Inman, Indiegogo, Inc., the National Wildlife Federation, the American Cancer Society, and 100 anonymous Internet users based on the fundraising effort and other events allegedly caused by Inman. 

According to Carreon's initial complaint, he suffered a number of online attacks as a result of Inman's actions, including an attempt to reset the password to his website, and the creation of a Twitter account with the handle @Charles_Carreon. 

Carreon alleged several causes of action including trademark infringement, unfair competition, impersonation, and incitement to commit cybervandalism. Carreon also alleged that Inman and Indiegogo, Inc. had failed to file forms required by Cal. Gov. Code §§ 12580, et seq. and Cal. B&P Code §§ 17510, et seq., and were thereby conducting the fundraising effort unlawfully. Carreon further sought to impose a trust on the proceeds of the fundraising effort. 

Carreon alleged that the tweets published by an unknown user from the @Charles_Carreon account were a violation of the trademark he holds on his name, and that the attempt to reset the password to his website constituted a trespass to chattels. He claimed that Inman had incited cybervandalism through the fundraising campaign and other postings. 

On June 18, 2012, an anonymous individual registered the username "Modelista" on Ars Technica and commented on an Ars Technica post that he or she ran the @Charles_Carreon Twitter account. 

On June 25, 2012, Carreon filed an amended complaint. In the amended complaint, Carreon named California State Attorney General Kamala Harris as a party to the case to facilitate judgment on his claim for imposition of a trust. Carreon also named "Modelista" as the Doe defendant responsible for the @Charles_Carreon Twitter account.

On June 30, 2012, Carreon filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in an effort to prevent the disbursement of the funds generated by the fundraiser to Inman or any other entity, as well as a memorandum in support of the motion.  

On July 1, 2012, Indiegogo, Inc. filed an opposition to the motion stating that funds had been disbursed to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Fund by check on June 29, 2012 and that this rendered Carreon's motion for a temporary restraining order moot.  

On July 2, 2012, the court entered an order requiring that Inman file proof of the delivery of the checks to the two charities. 

On July 3, 2012, Carreon filed a notice of voluntary dismissal.  

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Jurisdiction: 

FunnyJunk, LLC vs. TheOatmeal.com

Date: 

06/02/2012

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

TheOatmeal.com, Matthew Inman

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Legal Counsel: 

Venkat Balasubramani

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

On June 2, 2012, attorney Charles Carreon sent a letter on behalf of FunnyJunk, LLC ("FunnyJunk") to Matthew Inman, creator of TheOatmeal.com, which threatened legal action on the basis of a May 2011 blog post by Inman titled "What should I do about FunnyJunk.com?".

In the post, Inman stated that he had discovered a number of his comics displayed without permission or attribution on FunnyJunk, and that he contacted FunnyJunk by email in an attempt to have them removed from the site. He claimed that FunnyJunk took down the images that were identified in the email, but that FunnyJunk had since "practically stolen [his] entire website and mirrored it on FunnyJunk." The post included screen shots of Inman's comics on FunnyJunk.com, and links to FunnyJunk image boards containing his work (as well as that of other artists that Inman alleged had been republished without permission).  

A few days later, Inman posted an update that indicated FunnyJunk had removed some, but not all, of the content at issue.

The June 2 letter from FunnyJunk included a copy of Inman's original post, and alleged that statements made therein constituted a false accusation of willful copyright infringement. Thus, it stated, Inman "exposed [himself] to a lawsuit for defamation per se, in which damages are presumed." The letter also alleged that Inman had engaged in false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act. It concluded by demanding the immediate removal of all mentions of FunnyJunk from TheOatmeal.com and the payment of $20,000.

On June 11, 2012, Inman formally responded to the June 2 letter through his attorney, Venkat Balasubramani. The response letter denied FunnyJunk's claims that the original post was defamatory and constituted a violation of the Lanham Act. The response letter pointed out that FunnyJunk did not appear to have filed a notice of designation naming an agent as required of service providers who seek to rely on the Digital Milennium Copyright Act, placing FunnyJunk in a position where it might be held responsible for third-party infringements. 

On June 12, 2012, Inman issued an informal response to the letter in a post entitled "FunnyJunk is threatening to file a federal lawsuit against me unless I pay $20,000 in damages," published on TheOatmeal.com. Inman included an annotated copy of the June 2 letter, and proposed that he would raise $20,000 in donations and donate the money to two charitable organizations: the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society. A link was provided to the fundraising website Indiegogo.com. 

On June 15, 2012, Carreon filed a lawsuit in his own name against Inman, Indiegogo, Inc., the American Cancer Society, the National Wildlife Federation and 100 anonymous Internet users for their role in the fundraising effort. As of July 20, 2012, no further action appears to have been taken by FunnyJunk. 

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    Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith

    Date: 

    02/22/2012

    Threat Type: 

    Lawsuit

    Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

    Julie Anne Smith; Hannah Smith; Kathy Stevens; Jason Stephens; Meaghan Varela

    Type of Party: 

    Individual
    Organization

    Type of Party: 

    Individual

    Court Type: 

    State

    Court Name: 

    Circuit Court of the State of Oregon: Washington County

    Case Number: 

    C121174CV

    Legal Counsel: 

    Linda K. Williams; Herbert G. Grey

    Publication Medium: 

    Blog

    Relevant Documents: 

    Status: 

    Concluded

    Disposition: 

    Dismissed (total)

    Description: 

    On February 22, 2012, O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Washington County against Julie Anne Smith, her daughter, and two other blog commentators (the Stephens), alleging defamation and requesting $500,000 in damages arising out of critical comments on the Church's Google reviews page and Smith's blog.

    According to the complaint and news sources, Julie Anne Smith and her family were congregants at Beaverton Grace Bible Church for several years when one of the church's employees was dismissed in late 2008. The Smiths met with Pastor O'Neal to express their concerns about this situation and were later allegedly instructed to recant these concerns. The Smiths did not do so and stopped attending church services.

    Later, after Oregon police began investigated allegations of child molestation against the Pastor and church, Pastor O'Neal "excommunicated" the Smiths. In response, starting in early 2009, Julie Anne Smith posted her concerns on the Google review page for Beaverton Grace Bible Church, and when these were taken down, she began a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors. Her comments and blog expressed opinion that the church was a "creepy" and unsafe environment and condemned O'Neal for his "extra-biblical legalistic teaching[s]" and allowing a known sex offender into the church. This blog received many similar comments, such as those by the Stephens.

    In response, O'Neal and the Beaverton Grace Bible Church filed the complaint in this action. On April 26, 2012, the defendants filed a special motion to strike the defamation claim under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute. This motion also asserted as defenses that: the speech was comprised of protected opinion; the church and Pastor O'Neal are public figures and there is no evidence of actual malice; and the church autonomy doctrine applies.

    On the same day, Beaverton Grace Bible Church and O'Neal filed an amended complaint. An additional defendant, Meaghan Varela, was added for her comments on Smith's blog, and more allegedly defamatory speech on the blog was identified. Accordingly, on May 1, 2012, the defendants filed a second special motion to strike in response to the additional allegations of the amended complaint, as a supplement to their first motion. On May 14, Beaverton Grace Bible Curch and O'Neal opposed the motions to strike and filed a declaration by a congregant to demonstrate that the allegation of allowing a known sex offender access to the church was a false statement.

    Update:

    On July 23, 2012, the court granted the defendants' special motion to strike. The court found that the statements made were on "issues of public interest," that several of the statements were not provable assertions of fact, and that the balance were pure opinion. The court awarded $16,750 in attorney's fees to defendants  Kathy Stephens and Jason Stephens, and invited defendants Julie Ann Smith, Hannah Smith, and Meaghan Varela to submit statements for fees.

    Content Type: 

    CMLP Notes: 

    KMB created

    AFS edited to include motion to dismiss 7/27 AFS

    Originally submitted by OMLN attorney Linda Williams, who represents some of the parties.

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    Subject Area: 

    Art of Living Foundation v. Does 1-10

    Date: 

    11/05/2010

    Threat Type: 

    Lawsuit

    Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

    John or Jane Doe ("Skywalker"), John or Jane Doe ("Klim")

    Type of Party: 

    Large Organization

    Type of Party: 

    Individual

    Court Type: 

    Federal

    Court Name: 

    United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

    Case Number: 

    10–CV–05022–LHK

    Legal Counsel: 

    Joshua Koltun

    Publication Medium: 

    Blog

    Relevant Documents: 

    Status: 

    Pending

    Disposition: 

    Dismissed (partial)
    Settled (partial)

    Description: 

    Substantive Proceedings

    The Art of Living Foundation is an international nonprofit organization that, according to its website, is "engaged in stress-management and service initiatives." Two former followers, Skywalker and Klim, published anonymous blogs (entitled "Leaving the Art of Living" and "Beyond the Art of Living") criticizing the Art of Living's practices and their leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. In addition to their critiques, they also provide excerpts from the Art of Living's teaching manuals and other materials (normally provided to members in courses for a fee).

    On August 14, 2010, Skywalker and Klim received a demand from Art of Living (from its headquarters in India) to take down this material. The branch of Art of Living in the United States (based in California) also filed a complaint on November 5, 2010, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Art of Living alleged copyright infringement under federal law for the blogs' publication of portions of the "Breath Water Sound Manual." In addition, Art of Living alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, defamation, and trade libel under California law, based on the aforementioned publication and the Does' critical statements about the organization.

    On January 31, 2011, the Does filed a motion to dismiss the defamation and trade libel claims for failure to state a claim. They also filed a special motion to strike the defamation, trade libel, and trade secrets claims under California's anti-SLAPP statute. Art of Living filed both an opposition to the motion to dismiss and an opposition to the motion to strike on March 17, 2011, to which the Does replied (reply re: motion to dismiss; reply re: motion to strike) on April 6, 2011. After a hearing in May, on June 15, 2011, U.S. District Judge Koh dismissed the defamation and trade libel claims and denied (without prejudice) the motion to strike. Judge Koh found that the statements at issue were opinions rather than assertions of fact, resolving the defamation claim, and that Art of Living did not sufficiently allege harm or damages for the trade libel claim. Judge Koh also held that discovery on the trade secrets claim could not proceed until Art of Living identified the trade secrets with reasonable particularity.

    On July 14, 2011, Art of Living proceeded to amend their complaint in accordance with the June 15th order, removing the dismissed claims from their complaint. Art of Living also provided further detail and content identification in regards to the remaining copyright infringement and trade secrets claims. The Does answered the amended complaint on July 28, 2011.

    The Does then filed a second special motion to strike on September 12, 2011 (with the redacted version entering the docket on January 9, 2012), this time directed at the remaining trade secret claim. This motion was opposed by Art of Living on September 29, 2011. Additionally, on September 27, 2011, the Does filed a motion for summary judgment on the copyright infringement claims. Art of Living filed an opposition to this motion on October 11, 2011, which the Does replied to on October 24, 2011. 

    In an order on May 1, 2012, Judge Koh granted summary judgment on the copyright infringement claim. Judge Koh found that Klim was entitled to summary judgment based on noninfringement, and that Art of Living did not provide enough support for its claim of authorship of the manual to pursue a copyright infringement claim against Skywalker because the copyright registration certificate was obtained after the litigation began). The district court also granted Klim's motion to strike the trade secrets misappropriation claim while denying the motion to strike in regards to Skywalker. While Skywalker conceded that there was at least some overlap between his blog postings and the materials Art of Living designated as trade secrets, Art of Living presented no evidence that Klim misappropriated any of these materials.

    Anonymity in Art of Living v. Does

    Throughout the proceedings described above, there was an ongoing issue with respect to the defendants' ability to proceed anonymously.

    On November 9, 2010, Art of Living filed a motion for leave to take expedited discovery. Pursuant to an ex parte order by Magistrate Judge Beeler, on December 20, 2010, Art of Living subpoenaed Google and Wordpress to reveal the identities of bloggers Skywalker and Klim. Not long after being notified of this by Google, the Does filed a motion to quash the subpoena. In response, Art of Living filed an opposition on March 22, 2011, and the Does replied on April 28, 2011. On August 10, 2011, Magistrate Judge Lloyd denied the motion to quash in regards to Skywalker's claim while granting it for Klim, finding that the copyright claim was a sufficient basis for permitting identification of Skywalker.

    In response, on August 24, 2011, Skywalker filed a motion for relief from the order of the Magistrate Judge regarding the motion to quash. On August 31, 2011, Public Citizen, joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU, submitted an amicus brief. This brief urged the court to apply the balancing test adopted in Dendrite Int'l v. Does, despite the copyright claim being considered in the case. Art of Living's opposition to the motion for relief was filed on September 16, 2011, and Skywalker replied on September 30, 2011.

    On November 9, 2011, Judge Koh granted the motion, finding that Skywalker's First Amendment right to anonymous speech outweighed Art of Living's need for discovery at this time. Judge Koh applied the Highfields Capital two-part test (which relied heavily on Dendrite) for determining whether to allow discovery seeking the identity of an anonymous defendant: "(1) The plaintiff must produce competent evidence supporting a finding of each fact that is essential to a given cause of action; and (2) if the plaintiff makes a sufficient evidentiary showing, the court must compare the magnitude of the harms that would be caused to the competing interests by a ruling in favor of the plaintiff and by a ruling in favor of the defendant."

    In a case management conference and corresponding minute order on May 9, 2012, Judge Koh again denied all of Art of Living's motions to disclose Skywalker's identity. By also refusing to extend discovery a setting the trial date and length, these rulings potentially allowed Skywalker to defend at trial anonymously.

    Related Case and Settlement

    On June 8, 2012, Judge Koh granted Art of Living's motion to relate Art of Living Foundation v. Eng-An Chou (Docket no. 5:12-CV-02748-LHK) to this case. Chou involves Art of Living's claim that Eng-An Chou breached her contracts with Art of Living by disclosing some of the organization's confidential texts to Skywalker for posting on his blog.

    The next week, the cases were referred to Judge Joseph C. Spero for a Magistrate Judge Settlement Conference. The conference was held on June 12, 2012 and a settlement was reportedly reached. As part of the settlement agreement, Skywalker and Klim published a joint statement informing readers of the settlement and would proceed to freeze their blogs on June 19, 2012. The joint statement noted that there are no restrictions on the Does to create new blogs, and that no identity had or would be disclosed in relation to this litigation and settlement. Art of Living also agreed to drop the lawsuit with prejudice (also dropping the separate suit against Chou) and to pay Skywalker and Klim's attorney's fees.

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    Judge Explains His Decision on Blogger to the Chicken Littles

    Federal Judge Marco A. Hernandez got a lot of attention and cyberchatter late last year when he held that blogger Crystal Cox was not protected by Oregon's reporters' shield law, leading to a $2.5 million defamation verdict against her. See Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-H (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2011).

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    Jones v. Dirty World, LLC

    Date: 

    12/23/2009

    Threat Type: 

    Lawsuit

    Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

    Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, LLC; Hooman Karamian; Dirty World, LLC; Dirty World Entertainment, LLC

    Type of Party: 

    Individual

    Type of Party: 

    Media Company

    Court Type: 

    Federal

    Court Name: 

    U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Kentucky

    Case Number: 

    2:09-cv-00219-WOB

    Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

    $338,000.00

    Legal Counsel: 

    Alexander C. Ward and Alexis B. Mattingly (Huddleston Bolen LLP) and David Gingras (Gingras Law Office, PLLC) (for defendants Hooman Karamian and Dirty World, LLC)

    Publication Medium: 

    Blog

    Relevant Documents: 

    Status: 

    Pending

    Disposition: 

    Lawsuit Filed

    Description: 

    On December 23, 2009, a Jane Doe filed a lawsuit in federal court. The plaintiff intended to sue TheDirty.com, alleging that a number of posts on the blog (self-described as a "reality blogger . . . all about gossip and satire") defamed her.

    According to court documents, TheDirty operates through user-submitted posts. Readers of the site submit posts, and TheDirty's editor, Nik Richie, selects some of the submissions for publication on the site. Richie also adds one or two sentences of comment to each post.

    The contested posts made a number of crude comments about the sexual affairs of the plaintiff, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and schoolteacher. The posts made claims about the plaintiff's promiscuity, among other topics.

    The complaint alleged that the posts made a number of false statements about plaintiff's sexual history, and included four counts: defamation, libel per se, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff later filed an amended complaint, more specifically alleging the purported identity of the website's operator, and adding a second libel per se count (bringing the total to five).

    Instead of suing the Arizona-based company that operated TheDirty.com, however, the plaintiff named a California company which operated a website called TheDirt.com. According to news reports, this led to a failure to serve the intended defendants. With the served defendant making no response, the plaintiff eventually moved for a default judgment, which was granted by the district court. The default judgment included an $11 million damage award, $10 million of which was punitive.

    When the operator of TheDirty.com announced publicly that it had nothing to do with TheDirt.com, the plaintiff moved for leave to file a second amended complaint seeking to add the Arizona operator of TheDirty.com.  The plaintiff did not voluntarily vacate the $11 million judgment; instead, she indicated that she did not trust TheDirty.com's operator when it disclaimed a relationship with TheDirt.com, but wanted to be sure that all of the appropriate parties were named. The amended complaint included the same five counts as the first amended complaint.

    Now identified and served, TheDirty moved to dismiss and made two arguments: that jurisdiction in Kentucky was lacking, and the CDA § 230 protected TheDirty. Since the plaintiff only alleged that TheDirty "published" the disputed material, as opposed to "creating" it, TheDirty argued that § 230's protections applied.

    The plaintiff, in response, made a number of § 230 arguments. First, she argued that, by adding comments to the user-submitted posts, the operator of TheDirty became a "creator" of the content. Second, she argued that TheDirty was designed to "encourage" users to post defamatory material. Third, she argued that because TheDirty claimed ownership of user-submitted material, the site and its operators become "publishers."

    After TheDirty submitted a reply, the court denied the motion to dismiss. The judge focused mainly on the jurisdiction questions, and only briefly discussed § 230, ruling that discovery was required before the § 230 question could be resolved. Shortly thereafter, TheDirty answered the second amended complaint.

    Seven months later, TheDirty moved for summary judgment. The motion focused on two arguments: (1) that the disputed posts were submitted by users of the site, and (2) the comments that Richie added to the user-submitted posts were non-actionable opinion. At this point in the litigation, the plaintiff's real name appeared in the case caption.

    The plaintiff responded, arguing that because Richie read each user-submitted post before approving it for publication on TheDirty, and because TheDirty encouraged "the development of defamatory material," § 230's protections did not apply. TheDirty then filed another reply, responding in detail to the idea that TheDirty "created" the posts at issue. TheDirty argued that § 230 caselaw was well-established, and that performing editorial/moderation functions did not suffice to make TheDirty the "creator" of the posts.

    On January 10, 2012, the district court judge denied TheDirty's motion for summary judgment. The judge based his § 230 ruling on two cases: Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, and Federal Trade Commission v. Accusearch. Taken together, according to the judge, these cases stood for the proposition that if a website "specifically encourage[s] development of what is offensive about the content" of the disputed post, § 230 provides no protection. The judge ruled that TheDirty's name and management style, combined with Richie's added comments to the post, meant that TheDirty encouraged the offensive content.

    Updates:

    05/09/12: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted Jones's motion to dismiss the TheDirty's interlocutory appeal of the district court's denial of their summary judgment motion. The Court of Appeals held that the denial of a motion to dismiss is not a final order, and that there were not sufficient interests at stake to hear TheDirty's appeal prior to final adjudication.

    01/25/13: The first trial of the matter ends in a hung jury after two days of deliberation; the district court judge declared a mistrial.

    07/11/13: After retrial, a jury awarded Jones $338,000 in damages.

    08/12/13: The trial court denied the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, again rejecting the application of Section 230 to the facts of the case. Based upon the legislative intent of Section 230 to encourage voluntary censorship of offensive content, the court held that the protection of the statute does not extend to intermediaries who actively encourage the posting of offensive material: "[T]he Act's text indicates that it was intended only to provide protection for site owners who allow postings by third parties without screening them and those who remove offensive content."

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    CMLP Notes: 

    1/12/2012: Pulling it together; will be done first thing tomorrow (JS)

    1/13: Ready for review (JS)

    1/13: JH editing

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    Threat Source: 

    Blog Post

    United States v. Puerto 80 Projects, S.L.U.

    Threat Type: 

    Police Activity

    Date: 

    01/31/2011

    Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

    Puerto 80 Projects, S.L.U.

    Type of Party: 

    Government

    Type of Party: 

    Organization

    Court Type: 

    Federal

    Court Name: 

    United States District Court, Southern District of New York

    Case Number: 

    11-cv-3983

    Legal Counsel: 

    Durie Tangri LLP

    Publication Medium: 

    Website

    Relevant Documents: 

    Status: 

    Pending

    Description: 

    Puerto 80 is a solely-owned limited liability company based in Arteixo, Spain. The company operates a website entitled Roja Directa, which provides a chronological listing of sporting events with links to websites that are streaming live broadcasts of those events over the Internet. The website also operates a series of message boards and a small blog.

    On January 31, 2011, an agent with the United States Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, filed an affidavit for a warrant to seize several domain names, including rojadirecta.org and rojadirecta.com. Using a recently-modified civil forfeiture law passed in 2008, the agent alleged that these domain names were property used for the commission of criminal copyright infringement, and thus subject to seizure. According to the United States, Roja Directa linked to websites streaming sporting events, the copyrights of which are owned by the NFL, NBA, NHL, and WWE. These organizations did not license the webcasts. This seizure was part of a larger IP enforcement campaign called Operation in Our Sites, which began in June of 2010 and continues today.

    A federal magistrate judge issued a warrant for the seizure of the domain names. This order applied specifically to the URLs only, and not the servers which contain the Roja Directa website. The warrant ordered the domain name registries for the ".com" and ".org" top level domains, as well as Puerto 80's registrar for "rojadirecta.com" and "rojadirecta.org," to transfer ownership of the domain name to the United States, who then displayed a page informing the public that the domain name had been seized.

    According to Puerto 80, the company attempted to negotiate with the United States for the return of the domain names, but reached no agreement. On June 13, 2011, Puerto 80 filed a petition for release of its seized property pursuant to 18 U.S.C.§ 983(f) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Puerto 80 argued that linking to other websites does not constitute criminal copyright infringement, there is no risk that evidence will be unavailable should the government decide to initiate a forfeiture proceeding, and the restriction of the expressive content of the website before an adjudication of whether the content was infringing was a prior restraint of speech. The United States filed a memorandum in opposition, arguing that the actions of Puerto 80 constituted criminal copyright infringement, to release the domain name would allow continuation of that infringement, and the domain name seizure was not a prior restraint because Roja Directa was able to move the websites to new domains housed outside of the United States.

    On August 4, 2011 the district court denied Puerto 80's petition for release.The court did not find the hardship necessary for a § 983(f) dismissal, and suggested that the First Amendment arguments were best left to a motion to dismiss against the forfeiture complaint. Puerto 80 filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on August 18, 2011, and shortly thereafter filed a motion for expedited appeal, which the Second Circuit granted.

    Puerto 80 filed its opening brief to the Second Circuit on September 16, 2011. The United States filed a response brief on November 15, 2011. The court also accepted an amicus curiae brief from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed on November 22, 2011.

    Puerto 80's reply brief to the government's response is due on December 6, 2011, with argument before the Second Circuit slated for the week of December 19th.

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    Live Tweeting from the ‘Restaurant of Broken Dreams’

    When web developer Andy Boyle overheard a couple discussing their marital woes in a Burger King in Boston on Nov. 7, he immediately recognized the entertainment value and began tweeting a play-by-play.

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    Tarek Mehanna and the Freedom for the Thought That We Hate

    Suppose you and I are friends. We've grown up together. We've shared conversation; we've traded ideas. Now suppose that as I've gotten older, I've changed. In fact, I've become a zealot. One day I bring up the topic of suicide bombers. And, to your surprise, I actually sympathize with people who strap explosives to their chests and go looking for crowds of innocents.

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    Pages