Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment dismissing an amended complaint against Snap based on immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1). Plaintiffs, the surviving parents of two boys who died in a high-speed accident, alleged that Snap encouraged their sons to drive at dangerous speeds and caused the boys' deaths through its negligent design of its smartphone application Snapchat. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that Snapchat allegedly knew or should have known, before the accident, that its users believed that a reward system existed and that the Speed Filter was therefore incentivizing young drivers to drive at dangerous speeds.The panel applied the Barnes factors and concluded that, because plaintiffs' claim neither treats Snap as a "publisher or speaker" nor relies on "information provided by another information content provider," Snap does not enjoy immunity from this suit under section 230(c)(1). In this case, Snap is being used for the predictable consequences of designing Snapchat in such a way that it allegedly encourages dangerous behavior, and the CDA does not shield Snap from liability for such claims. The panel declined to affirm the district court's decision on the alternative ground that plaintiffs have failed to plead adequately in their amended complaint the causation element of their negligent design claim. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Lemmon v. Snap, Inc." on Justia Law

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky’s Attorney General opened civil price-gouging investigations into Kentucky-based merchants, including at least one member of the Guild that was selling goods to Kentuckians through Amazon’s online marketplace. The Guild challenged the constitutionality of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws as applied to sellers on Amazon, invoking the extraterritoriality doctrine of the dormant commerce clause. Accepting that the Attorney General sought only to enforce the Commonwealth’s price-gouging laws against Kentucky-based sellers in connection with sales to Kentucky consumers through Amazon’s platform, the district court nevertheless granted the Guild a preliminary injunction, concluding that enforcing the laws in connection with Amazon sales would have impermissible extraterritorial effects.The Sixth Circuit vacated, first holding that the Guild is likely to establish direct organizational standing and standing on behalf of its members. This enforcement of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws is unlikely to run afoul of the dormant commerce clause’s extraterritoriality doctrine, which invalidates state laws as per se unconstitutional in the narrow instances where a state expressly or inevitably exceeds its authority and seeks to control wholly out-of-state commerce. The effect on out-of-state commerce of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws depends entirely upon Amazon’s independent decision-making with regard to the structure of its online marketplace, so the application of those laws to Kentucky-based third-party sellers on Amazon in connection with sales to Kentucky consumers is unlikely to offend the extraterritoriality doctrine. View "Online Merchants Guild v. Cameron" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard she purchased from a third party seller named TurnUpUp on Amazon's website. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon.The Fourth District recently addressed this issue as a matter of first impression in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger), review denied November 18, 2020, holding that Amazon is an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and concluded that Bolger properly applied a well-established strict liability law to the facts of its case and was correctly decided. Based on the court's review of Amazon's third-party business model under the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), the court is persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine. Although the court concluded that Amazon is a link in the vertical chain of distribution, the court nevertheless recognizes that e-commerce may not neatly fit into a traditional sales structure. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact as to liability under the stream of commerce approach and thus the trial court erroneously granted summary adjudication on the strict liability claim. The court rejected Amazon's contention that it was merely a service provider and thus not strictly liable for plaintiff's injuries. Furthermore, the court was not persuaded by Amazon's reliance on those decisions that restrict strict liability to sellers or manufacturers by applying out-of-state law. The court also concluded that policy considerations underlying the doctrine are furthered by imposing strict products liability in this case. Finally, summary adjudication was improperly granted as to the negligent products liability claim where Amazon provides no legal support for its argument that negligent products liability may only be imposed on manufacturers and sellers. View "Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC" on Justia Law

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In the year leading up to the Mississippi Legislature’s statutory creation of a lottery, Jonathan Carr registered more than fifty domain names with some iteration of the name Mississippi Lottery. The newly created Mississippi Lottery Corporation accused Carr of cybersquatting. Carr countered with a claim of reverse domain-name hijacking, asserting the Lottery had violated his ownership rights to the domain names, which he contended he registered in good faith to promote his religious opposition to gambling and to provide resources to those with gambling addictions. Carr and the Lottery filed competing motions for preliminary injunction aimed at gaining the right to five domain names; the trial court granted the Lottery's motion, issuing a permanent injunction against Carr, and ordering that he immediately transfer the five domain names to the Lottery. Carr appealed, arguing the Lottery failed to prove he committed cybersquatting. But the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded it could not address the merits of Carr’s claim because the order Carr appealed was not final and thus not appealable. View "Carr v. Mississippi Lottery Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) restricts communications made with an “automatic telephone dialing system,” defined as equipment with the capacity both “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and to dial those numbers, 47 U.S.C. 227(a)(1). Facebook’s social media platform allows users to elect to receive text messages when someone attempts to log in to the user’s account from a new device. Facebook sent such texts to Duguid, alerting him to login activity on a Facebook account linked to his telephone number, but Duguid never created any Facebook account. Duguid tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the unwanted messages. He brought a putative class action, alleging that Facebook violated the TCPA by maintaining a database that stored phone numbers and programming its equipment to send automated text messages. The Ninth Circuit ruled in Duguid’s favor.The Supreme Court reversed: To qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system” under the TCPA, a device must have the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator or to produce a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator. The statutory context confirms that the TCPA’s autodialer definition excludes equipment that does not use a random or sequential number generator. Congress found autodialer technology harmful because autodialers can dial emergency lines randomly or tie up all of an entity's sequentially numbered phone lines. Duguid’s interpretation would encompass any equipment that stores and dials telephone numbers. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid" on Justia Law

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Yue, living in California, established and moderated a Chinese language online community website, ZZB. Many of ZZB’s bloggers and readers are California residents. Liu is a California resident who lives in Canada and owns and operates a competing website, Yeyeclub.com. Yang, who lives in Canada, posted on both sites. Yue filed suit in Contra Costa County against several defendants, including Yang and Liu, alleging unfair competition and defamation, citing Yang’s “sexually explicit, violent and insulting” posts on Yeyeclub. Some posts referred to Yang traveling to California to harm Yue. According to the complaint, Yang intentionally directed his defamatory messages at Yue in California, and intended to, and did, cause harm there.The trial court granted a motion to quash, finding that there was no basis for general jurisdiction over Yang. The court of appeal reversed. Yang purposefully availed himself of forum benefits, targeting his conduct at California through a website operated by a California resident that had a California audience, with a California focus. Yang’s defamatory posts on Yeyeclub injured Yue’s business and his reputation in California. Yang has not met his burden of presenting a compelling case that jurisdiction would be unreasonable under all of the circumstances. View "Yue v. Yang" on Justia Law

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In 1994, a California corporation purchased and registered the domain name and trademarks for “France.com.” Twenty years later, the corporation initiated a lawsuit in France, challenging a Dutch company’s use of the France.com trademark. The French Republic and its tourism office intervened, seeking to protect their country’s Internet identity and establish its right to the domain name. French trial and appellate courts declared the French Republic the rightful owner of the domain name. In the U.S., the corporation sued the French entities, which asserted sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1604. The district court denied a motion to dismiss, concluding that immunity “would be best raised after discovery.”The Fourth Circuit reversed, directing the district court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction over the appeal because the district court rested its order not on a failure to state a claim but on a denial of sovereign immunity, which constitutes an appealable collateral order. Neither FSIA’s “commercial activity” exception nor its “expropriation” exception applies. It is not clear that the French State’s actions in obtaining the website in judicial proceedings constitute “seizure” or an “expropriation” and they clearly do not constitute “commercial activity.” The corporation itself invoked the power of the French courts; only because it did so could the French State intervene in that action to obtain the challenged result. View "France.com, Inc. v. The French Republic" on Justia Law

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Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Church United filed suit against Vimeo, alleging that the company discriminated against them by deleting Church United’s account from its online video hosting platform. Plaintiffs claimed that Vimeo discriminated against them based on sexual orientation and religion under federal and state law. The district court concluded that Vimeo deleted Church United's account because of its violation of one of Vimeo's content policies barring the promotion of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on its platform.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims, agreeing with the district court that Section 230(c)(2) of the Communications Decency Act provides Vimeo with immunity from suit. The court concluded that, under Section 230(c)(2), Vimeo is free to restrict access to material that, in good faith, it finds objectionable. In this case, plaintiffs' conclusory allegations of bad faith do not survive the pleadings stage, especially when examined in the context of Section 230(c)(2). The court explained that Section 230(c)(2) does not require interactive service providers to use a particular method of content restriction, nor does it mandate perfect enforcement of a platform's content policies. Indeed, the fundamental purpose of Section 230(c)(2) is to provide platforms like Vimeo with the discretion to identify and remove what they consider objectionable content from their platforms without incurring liability for each decision. View "Domen v. Vimeo, Inc." on Justia Law

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After a blog operator filed suit against a content aggregator for copyright infringement after the aggregator copied and published the blog's content, the jury ruled in favor of the blog operator. At issue is whether the district court should have allowed the jury to decide whether the aggregator had an implied license to copy and publish the blog's content.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that, although the district court employed a too narrow understanding of an implied license, a jury could not have reasonably inferred that the blog impliedly granted the aggregator a license to copy and publish its content. In this case, the district court erred by granting judgment as a matter of law against the aggregator on its implied-license defense; the district court did not err by instructing the jury that it could consider unregistered articles in its calculation of statutory damages; the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying the aggregator's motion for a new trial on the basis of the jury's statutory-damages award; the district court did not err by failing to consult with the register of copyrights about the alleged fraud on the copyright office; and the aggregator is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its fair-use defense. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment against the aggregator. View "MidlevelU, Inc. v. ACI Information Group" on Justia Law