Finkel v. Facebook

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

02/16/2009

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

New York

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
Teenager Denise Finkel sued four of her former high school classmates, their parents, and Facebook after the students created a private Facebook group called "90 Cents Short of a Dollar," which allegedly contained false and defamatory statements about her.  The complaint alleges... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Facebook, Inc.; Michael Dauber; Jeffrey Schwartz; Melinda Danowitz; Leah Herz; Richard Dauber; Amy Schwartz; Elliott Schwartz; Martin Danowitz; Bari Danowitz; Alan Herz; Ellen Herz

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Large Organization

Location of Party: 

  • New York

Location of Party: 

  • New York

Legal Counsel: 

Lisa T. Simpson and Aaron G.R. Rubin - Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP (for Facebook); Lina C. Rossillo - Morris Duffy Alonso & Faley (for Elliot, Jeffrey, and Amy Schwartz)
Description

Teenager Denise Finkel sued four of her former high school classmates, their parents, and Facebook after the students created a private Facebook group called "90 Cents Short of a Dollar," which allegedly contained false and defamatory statements about her. 

The complaint alleges that statements appearing on the private Facebook group asserted or implied that she "was a woman of dubious morals, dubious sexual character, having engaged in bestiality, an 'IV drug user' as well as having contracted the H.I.V. virus and AIDS." Cmplt. ¶ 23.  The postings are attached as an exhibit to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Facebook should be held liable for publishing the defamatory matter, explaining that it "should have known that such statements were false and/or have taken steps to verify the genuineness" of the statements. Id. ¶ 28.  

The complaint also alleges that the students' parents are liable for negligently failing to supervise their children.

Update:

9/15/09 - Court granted Facebook's motion to dismiss, finding that Facebook is immune from liability under Section 230 of the CDA.  Court rejects plaintiff's argument that Facebook's Terms of Use which grant it an "ownership interest" in the allegedy defamatory content makes Section 230 inapplicable.

 7/22/10 - After removal to state court, state judge dismissed the remaining claims, writing that, "Taken together, the statements can only be read as puerile attempts by adolescents to outdo each other" (slip op. at 7).

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • Third-Party Content
  • Section 230
  • Student Speech
  • Cyberbullying
  • User Comments or Submissions
Court Information & Documents
CMLP Information (Private)

Priority: 

1-High

CMLP Notes: 

Source: Newsday

  • Supreme Court Records On-Line Library - Docket for Finkel v. Facebook (search for Index Number 102578-2009)  THIS DOCKET SEARCH IS NOT CURRENTLY PULLING UP ANYTHING -- NEED TO CHECK AND RE-POST WHEN IT IS WORKING.
  • CR- Searching by Plaintiff=Finkel works.  The case number is correct, but the search doesn't pull up the case
  • avm 6/10/09 - pulled up case fine, uploaded motions to dismiss and attorney info, no rulings yet

 

Comments

Ownershp v. Immunity

This is an interesting issue, Max — I was just talking about this with my colleagues here today.  Our sense is that assertion of copyright ownership is a separate thing from "creation or development" in Section 230, but the plaintiff appears to be right that other cases haven't directly addressed this issue.  There are cases saying that an interactive computer service doesn't lose section 230 immunity even if it pays someone to create content (as long as the person is an independent contractor, not employee) -- the case that comes to mind is Blumenthal v. Drudge, 992 F. Supp. 44 (D.D.C. 1998).

Also, I think the plaintiff quotes selectively from Facebook's terms of use and misrepresents what the quoted language actually means. First off, the quoted passage says that site content is the "proprietary property of the Company, its users, or licensors with all rights reserved."  This plainly suggests that users own some of the content.  Plus, if you look closer at the rest of the terms, you'll see that lots of material expressly dealing with user content, including the grant of a license to Facebook to make various uses of user content.  If Facebook already owned the content, it wouldn't need a license.