Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

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A generic name—the name of a class of products or services—is ineligible for federal trademark registration. Booking.com, a travel-reservation website, sought federal registration of marks including the term “Booking.com.” Concluding that “Booking.com” was a generic name for online hotel-reservation services, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) refused registration. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court decision that “Booking.com”—unlike the term “booking” standing alone—is not generic. The Supreme Court affirmed. A term styled “generic.com” is a generic name for a class of goods or services only if the term has that meaning to consumers. Whether a compound term is generic turns on whether that term, taken as a whole, signifies to consumers a class of goods or services. Consumers do not perceive the term “Booking.com” that way. Only one entity can occupy a particular Internet domain name at a time, so a “generic.com” term could convey to consumers an association with a particular website. An unyielding legal rule disregarding consumer perception would be incompatible with a bedrock principle of the Lanham Act. The PTO’s policy concerns do not support a categorical rule against the registration of “generic.com” terms. Several doctrines ensure that registration of “Booking.com” would not yield its holder a monopoly on the term “booking.” View "Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V." on Justia Law

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SM Kids filed suit against Google and related entities, seeking to enforce a 2008 agreement settling a trademark dispute over the Googles trademark. The agreement prohibited Google from intentionally making material modifications to its then-current offering of products and services in a manner that is likely to create confusion in connection with Googles. The district court concluded that the trademark assignment was invalid, and dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's judgment and held that the validity of the trademark was not a jurisdictional matter related to Article III standing but was instead a merits question properly addressed on a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a motion for summary judgment, or at trial. In this case, the district court erroneously resolved Google's motion as a fact-based motion under Rule 12(b)(1) and considered evidence beyond the complaint, as well as placed on SM Kids the burden of proving subject-matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "SM Kids, LLC v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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Personal Web’s patents share a largely common specification and claim priority to an abandoned patent application, which was filed in 1995. According to the specification, there was a problem with the way computer networks identified data in their systems. There was “no direct relationship between the data names” and the contents of the data item. Computer networks could become clogged with duplicate data, and the efficiency and integrity of data processing systems could be impaired. The inventors purported to solve this problem by devising “True Names” for data items. The system created a “substantially unique” identifier for each data item that depended only on the content of the data itself and did not depend on purportedly less reliable means of identifying data items, such as user-provided file names. PersonalWeb sued Amazon for patent infringement. After the district court issued its claim construction order, PersonalWeb stipulated to the dismissal of all its claims against Amazon with prejudice; the court subsequently entered judgment against PersonalWeb. In 2018, PersonalWeb filed dozens of new lawsuits against website operators, many of which were Amazon’s customers. Amazon intervened. The Federal Circuit affirmed a declaratory judgment that PersonalWeb’s lawsuits against Amazon’s customers were barred as a result of the prior lawsuit brought by PersonalWeb against Amazon. View "In Re PersonalWeb Technologies LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case case, which stemmed from a late-night argument on Twitter among several high school students, presented to the Colorado Supreme Court centered on the applicable framework for distinguishing a true threat from constitutionally protected speech in the "cyber arena." R.D., a juvenile, was adjudicated delinquent for harassment by communication based on those tweets directed at another student that took place in the wake of a local school shooting. Put differently, the question was whether R.D.'s statements were "true threats." The Supreme Court held a true threat is a statement that, considered in context and under the totality of the circumstances, an intended or foreseeable recipient would reasonably perceive as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence. In determining whether a statement is a true threat, a reviewing court must examine the words used, but it must also consider the context in which the statement was made. Particularly where the alleged threat is communicated online, the contextual factors courts should consider include, but are not limited to: (1) the statement’s role in a broader exchange, if any, including surrounding events; (2) the medium or platform through which the statement was communicated, including any distinctive conventions or architectural features; (3) the manner in which the statement was conveyed (e.g., anonymously or not, privately or publicly); (4) the relationship between the speaker and recipient(s); and (5) the subjective reaction of the statement’s intended or foreseeable recipient(s). Because neither the juvenile court nor the court of appeals had the benefit of the framework announced by this case, the Supreme Court reversed judgment and remanded for reconsideration. View "Colorado in Interest of R.D." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Attorney General (OAG) charged Walker with forgery and computer crimes. The prosecutor and the lead investigator requested that Penn State produce Walker’s emails from her employee account. At Penn’s request, they obtained a subpoena. The subpoena was missing information regarding the date, time or place where the testimony or evidence would be produced, or which party was requesting the evidence. The subpoena was incomplete and unenforceable. The prosecutor offered the subpoena to Penn’s Assistant General Counsel, who instructed an employee to assist. After the OAG obtained Walker’s emails, the pending criminal charges were dismissed with prejudice. Walker filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed, citing qualified immunity because Walker did not have a clearly established right to privacy in her work emails. A Third Circuit panel affirmed, reasoning that Penn produced the emails voluntarily, rather than under coercion resulting from the invalid subpoena and was acting within its legal authority and through counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Walker's amended complaint, alleging violations of the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701 (SCA). The SCA is inapplicable because Penn does not provide electronic communication services to the public. Penn acted within its rights as Walker’s employer in voluntarily disclosing her work emails. Penn’s search of its server to produce Walker’s emails is not prohibited by the SCA, regardless of whether its counsel was induced by deceit or knowingly cooperative. It is the law of the case that Penn consented to disclose Walker’s emails. View "Walker v. Coffey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a consolidated complaint on behalf of themselves and a putative class of people, alleging that internal Facebook communications revealed that company executives were aware of the tracking of logged-out users and recognized that these practices posed various user-privacy issues. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs have standing to pursue their privacy claims under the Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act (SCA), and the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), as well as their claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In this case, plaintiffs have adequately alleged that Facebook's tracking and collection practices would cause harm or a material risk of harm to their interest in controlling their personal information. Therefore, plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a clear invasion of the historically recognized right to privacy. Furthermore, plaintiffs sufficiently alleged a state law interest whose violation constitutes an injury sufficient to establish standing to bring their claims for Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (CDAFA) violations and California common law trespass to chattels, fraud, and statutory larceny. On the merits, the panel held that plaintiffs adequately stated claims for relief for intrusion upon seclusion and invasion of privacy under California law. Plaintiffs have also sufficiently alleged that Facebook's tracking and collection practices violated the Wiretap Act and CIPA. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' SCA claims, because the allegations do not show that the communications were even in "storage," much less that the alleged "storage" within a URL toolbar falls within the SCA's intended scope. The district court also properly dismissed plaintiffs' breach of contract claim, because plaintiffs failed to adequately allege the existence of a contract. Finally, plaintiffs' claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing were rejected. View "Davis v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff XMission, L.C. appealed a district court's dismissal of its claims against Fluent, LLC for lack of personal jurisdiction over Fluent in Utah. Fluent was a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in New York. It described its service as digital marketing; its business model was apparently based on supplying consumer data to businesses. XMission was a Utah limited liability company with its principal place of business in Salt Lake City. As an internet service provider (ISP), it used servers and other hardware that it owned and operated in Utah to provide internet access for its commercial and residential customers. It also provided email hosting and other internet-related services. Any email sent to a domain hosted by XMission would arrive on XMission’s email servers in Utah. XMission’s complaint against Fluent was based on more than 10,000 emails sent from 2015 to early 2018 to more than 1,100 XMission customers in Utah through its servers, allegedly in violation of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM Act). The emails at issue instructed recipients to follow links that offered to rewards. By clicking the link, the recipient is taken to a Fluent-controlled data-gathering domain that prompts the recipient to enter personal information such as name, age and date of birth, gender, email address, social media activity, zip code, and street address. Fluent apparently collects and aggregates the consumer information and sells this personal data to others to assist them in developing targeted marketing campaigns. The record does not disclose whether the email recipients actually obtain any rewards from the named companies or whether Fluent is compensated in any way by those companies for these emails. After review, the Tenth Circuit remained unpersuaded the offending emails created personal jurisdiction over Fluent in Utah, and thus affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "XMission, L.C. v. Fluent, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA), alleging that defendant failed to provide plaintiff with a copy of the written authorization he gave online for recurring monthly charges to his debit card. The Second Circuit affirmed in part, holding that Webloyalty satisfied its obligation under the EFTA by providing plaintiff with an email containing the relevant terms and conditions of that authorization. In this case, the EFTA did not require Webloyalty to provide plaintiff with a duplicate of the webpage on which he provided authorization for recurring fund transfers, and Webloyalty's email to plaintiff was sufficient. However, the court held on a separate claim arising under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, that the district court erroneously dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and concluded that they were meritless. The court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "L.S. v. Webloyalty, Inc." on Justia Law

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The defendants were indicted on murder, weapons, and gang-related charges stemming from a drive-by shooting. Each defendant served a subpoena duces tecum on one or more social media providers (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, collectively “Providers”), seeking public and private communications from the murder victim’s and a prosecution witness’s accounts. Providers repeatedly moved to quash the subpoenas on the ground that the federal Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. 2701) barred them from disclosing the communications without user consent. The trial court concluded that the Act must yield to an accused’s due process and confrontation rights, denied the motions to quash, and ordered Providers to produce the victim’s and witness’s private communications for in camera review. The court of appeal granted mandamus relief, concluding the trial court abused its discretion by not adequately exploring other factors, particularly options for obtaining materials from other sources, before issuing its order. The trial court focused on defendants’ justification for seeking the private communications and the record does not support the requisite finding of good cause for the production of the private communications for in camera review. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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An objecting class member appealed from the district court's approval of a settlement between Facebook and a nationwide class of its users who alleged that Facebook routinely captured, read, and used website links included in users' private messages without their consent, and that these practices violated federal and California privacy laws. The district court found that the settlement was fair and approved it, granting in full class counsel's request for fees and costs. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court had Article III jurisdiction to approve the settlement and that this panel had jurisdiction to evaluate the fairness of the settlement. In this case, plaintiffs identified a concrete injury that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act protect; plaintiffs established standing to seek injunctive relief; and post-filing developments did not moot this case. The panel rejected the merits of objector's contentions that the district court abused its discretion by approving the settlement. The panel rejected the argument that the settlement was invalid under Koby v. ARS National Services, Inc., 846 F.3d 1071, 1081 (9th Cir. 2017). Rather, the panel held that, given how little the class could have expected to obtain if it had pursued claims further based on the facts alleged here (and, correspondingly, how little it gave up in the release), it was not unreasonable that the settlement gave the class something of modest value. The panel rejected objector's argument that the settlement was invalid under In re Bluetooth Headset Products Liability Litigation, 654 F.3d 935 (9th Cir. 2010), and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that none of the warning signs weighed against approval of the settlement. View "Campbell v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law