Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of PragerU's action alleging that YouTube and its parent company, Google, violated the First Amendment and the Lanham Act, as well as state laws, when YouTube tagged several dozen of PragerU's videos as appropriate for the Restricted Mode. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the First Amendment claim, holding that, despite YouTube's ubiquity and its role as a public-facing platform, YouTube is a private forum, not a public forum subject to judicial scrutiny under the First Amendment. In Manhattan Cmty. Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139 S.Ct. 1921, 1930 (2019), the Supreme Court held that merely hosting speech by others is not a traditional, exclusive public function and does not alone transform private entities into state actors subject to First Amendment constraints. The panel explained that the Internet does not alter this state action requirement of the First Amendment. The panel also held that PragerU's false advertising claim under the Lanham Act also failed, because none of PragerU's alleged actions were actionable under the Act. In this case, YouTube's statements concerning its content moderation policies, as well as its designation of certain of plaintiff’s videos for Restricted Mode, do not constitute "commercial advertising or promotion." Furthermore, the panel stated that the fact that certain PragerU videos were tagged to be unavailable under Restricted Mode does not imply any specific representation about those videos. Finally, the panel wrote that YouTube's braggadocio about its commitment to free speech constitutes opinions that are not subject to the Act. View "Prager University v. Google LLC" on Justia Law

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Curry, the founder of “Get Diesel Nutrition,” has paid for advertising for his products, including "Diesel Test," in national fitness magazines since 2002. In 2016, the defendants began selling a sports nutritional supplement, "Diesel Test Red Series." Like Curry’s product, the defendants’ product comes in red and white packaging with right-slanted all-caps typeface bearing the words “Diesel Test.” Curry alleges that he received messages indicating that customers were confused. The defendants concocted a fake ESPN webpage touting their product and conducted all their marketing online. In about seven months, they received more than $1.6 million in gross sales. At least 767 sales were to consumers in Illinois. After Curry demanded that the defendants cease and desist, both parties filed trademark applications for "Diesel Test." The Patent Office suspended both applications. Curry filed suit, alleging violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act, violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, filing a fraudulent trademark application, and violation of common law trademark protections. The district court dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Revolution’s activity can be characterized as purposefully directed at Illinois, the forum state, and related to Curry's claims. Physical presence is not necessary for a defendant to have sufficient minimum contacts with a forum state. Illinois has a strong interest in providing a forum for its residents to seek redress for harms suffered within the state by an out-of-state actor. View "Curry v. Revolution Laboratories, LLC" on Justia Law