Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

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The appellants were two of a group of plaintiffs who sued eBay and PayPal, challenging provisions in their respective user agreements. Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint alleged 23 causes of action, 13 against eBay, seven against PayPal, and three against both defendants. The trial court dismissed, without leave to amend, 20 of the causes of action, including 14 claims against eBay. Three causes of action proceeded: breach of contract against both defendants and violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against eBay. More than three years later, the appellants opted out of the case against eBay, and voluntarily dismissed the two claims against it. Judgment of dismissal was entered against them.The appellants appealed, contending the trial court got it wrong as to 11 of the dismissed causes of action. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that this was the third appeal of the case. The trial court properly dismissed the claims and did not abuse its discretion in doing so without leave to amend. All of the alleged causes of action failed to state a claim. The court stated that “counsel for appellants has apparently been urging the same contentions for some nine years, all without success. This is enough.” View "George v. eBay, Inc." on Justia Law

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WhatsApp sued under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California state law, alleging that NSO, a privately owned and operated Israeli corporation, sent malware through WhatsApp’s server system to approximately 1,400 mobile devices. NSO argued that foreign sovereign immunity protected it from suit and, therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because NSO was acting as an agent of a foreign state, entitling it to “conduct-based immunity”—a common-law doctrine that protects foreign officials acting in their official capacity.The district court and Ninth Circuit rejected that argument. The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, 28 U.S.C. 1602, occupies the field of foreign sovereign immunity and categorically forecloses extending immunity to any entity that falls outside the Act’s broad definition of “foreign state.” There has been no indication that the Supreme Court intended to extend foreign official immunity to entities. Moreover, the FSIA’s text, purpose, and history demonstrate that Congress displaced common-law sovereign immunity as it relates to entities. View "WhatsApp Inc.v. NSO Group Technologies Ltd." on Justia Law

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McKeon has sold “MACK’S” earplugs to retail consumers since the 1960s. In the 1980s, Honeywell's predecessor began marketing and selling MAX-brand earplugs to distributors. The brand names are phonetically identical. In 1995, McKeon sued. The parties entered a settlement agreement that the district court approved by consent decree. To prevent customer confusion, Honeywell agreed not to sell its MAX-brand earplugs into the “Retail Market” but could continue to sell its earplugs in “the Industrial Safety Market and elsewhere." The agreement and the consent decree never contemplated the internet. In 2017, McKeon complained about sales of MAX-brand earplugs on Amazon and other retail websites.The district court ruled in favor of McKeon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and remanded. Laches is available to Honeywell as an affirmative defense but does not apply to these facts. Parties subject to consent decrees cannot scale their prohibited conduct over time, using minor undetected violations to justify later larger infringements. Honeywell did not establish that McKeon should have discovered the breaching conduct before Honeywell drastically increased online sales. McKeon’s interpretation of the consent decree is the better reading. Concluding that Amazon is a “retail establishment” makes sense given the parties’ intent. View "McKeon Products, Inc. v. Howard S. Leight & Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nicolescu, Miclaus, and coconspirators posted fake eBay car auctions. Operating from Romania, they concealed their IP addresses, and employed US-based “money mules,” to collect payments from unsuspecting buyers, taking in $3.5-$4.5 million. In 2014, a virus created by Nicolescu was embedded in the eBay auctions and in spam emails to collect more than 70,000 account credentials, including 25,000 stolen credit-card numbers. Their network of virus-infected computers “mined” for cryptocurrency, reaping $10,000–$40,000 per month, 2014-2016. The FBI and Romanian police executed a search warrant on members’ residences and retrieved electronic devices. Nicolescu and Miclaus were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 12 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit service marks, five counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.The district court added 18 levels to their Guidelines calculation (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(J)) for causing a loss of $3.5-$9.5 million, two levels (2B1.1(b)(4)) for being in the business of receiving and selling stolen property, two levels (2B1.1(b)(11)(B)(i)) for trafficking unauthorized access devices, four levels (2B1.1(b)(19)(A)(ii)) for being convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(5)(A), and four levels (3B1.1(a)) for being an organizer or leader. They were sentenced to 216 and 240 months’ imprisonment.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to jury instructions, but vacated the sentences. The court upheld the loss calculation and leadership enhancement. The court erred in applying the stolen property enhancement and in applying a 2B1.1(b)(19)(A)(ii) enhancement because the men were convicted of conspiracy, not a substantive section 1030(a)(5)(A) offense. View "United States v. Miclaus" on Justia Law

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The estates of some of the murder victims from the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, along with some of the injured, filed suit in federal court in Michigan against social media companies. The lawsuit was unsuccessful. A second action, this case, was filed in federal court in Florida against the same social media companies by different victims of the Pulse shooting. Here, plaintiffs alleged in part that the companies aided and abetted Omar Mateen, the shooter, in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) by facilitating his access to radical jihadist and ISIS-sponsored content in the months and years leading up to the shooting. Plaintiffs also alleged claims against the companies under Florida law for negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the ATA and state law claims with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs failed to make out a plausible claim that the Pulse massacre was an act of "international terrorism" as that term is defined in the ATA. Consequently, the companies—no matter what the court may think of their alleged conduct—cannot be liable for aiding and abetting under the ATA. In regard to the state law claims, the court concluded that plaintiffs have failed to adequately brief proximate cause under Florida law, and have therefore abandoned their challenge to the district court's ruling. Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' claims for aiding and abetting under the ATA and for negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death under Florida law. View "Colon v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Cheryl Thurston was blind and used screen reader software to access the Internet and read website content. Defendant-respondent Omni Hotels Management Corporation (Omni) operated hotels and resorts. In November 2016, Thurston initiated this action against Omni, alleging that its website was not fully accessible by the blind and the visually impaired, in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. By way of a special verdict, the jury rejected Thurston’s claim and found that she never intended to make a hotel reservation or ascertain Omni’s prices and accommodations for the purpose of making a hotel reservation. On appeal, Thurston contended the trial court erred as a matter of law: (1) by instructing the jury that her claim required a finding that she intended to make a hotel reservation; and (2) by including the word “purpose” in the special verdict form, which caused the jury to make a “factual finding as to [her] motivation for using or attempting to use [Omni’s] Website.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Thurston v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation" on Justia Law

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Hepp hosts FOX 29’s Good Day Philadelphia. In 2018, Hepp was told by coworkers that her photograph was making its way around the internet. The image depicts Hepp in a convenience store, smiling, and was taken without Hepp’s knowledge or consent. She never authorized the image to be used in online advertisements. Hepp alleged each use violated her right of publicity under Pennsylvania law. A dating app advertisement featuring the picture appeared on Facebook. A Reddit thread linked to an Imgur post of the photo. Hepp sued, citing 42 PA. CONS. STAT. 8316, and common law. The district court dismissed Hepp’s case, holding that the companies were entitled to immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which bars many claims against internet service providers, 47 U.S.C. 230(c). The Third Circuit reversed, citing an exclusion in 230(e)(2) limitation for “any law pertaining to intellectual property.” Hepp’s claims are encompassed within the intellectual property exclusion. View "Hepp v. Facebook" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over internet names, DotConnect appealed to ICANN's internal dispute resolution program and told the arbitrators they should grant it seven procedural advantages during the arbitration—advantages like interim relief and an independent standard of review. The arbitrators accepted DotConnect's arguments and gave DotConnect the advantages it sought, but the arbitrators did not award the .africa name to DotConnect. ICANN ultimately rejected DotConnect and awarded ZA the rights to .africa. DotConnect then filed suit against ICANN in Los Angeles Superior Court, where the trial court ruled against DotConnect on grounds of judicial estoppel.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's application of judicial estoppel and concluded that DotConnect has estopped itself from suing in court by convincing ICANN's arbitrators DotConnect could not sue in court. In this case, DotConnect took two contrary positions; DotConnect took these positions in quasi-judicial and judicial settings; DotConnect used its initial position—"we cannot sue in court"—to persuade the panel to award DotConnect seven legal victories; DotConnect's positions are totally inconsistent; DotConnect did not take its initial position as the result of fraud, ignorance, or mistake; and the trial court had an ample basis to decide, in its discretion, to apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to this case. The court rejected DotConnect's arguments to the contrary. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in all respects and awarded costs to respondents. View "DotConnectAfrica Trust v. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit considered for the second time the Wikimedia Foundation's contentions that the government is spying on its communications using Upstream, an electronic surveillance program run by the NHS. In the first appeal, the court found that Wikimedia's allegations of Article III standing sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss and vacated the district court's judgment to the contrary. The district court dismissed the case on remand, holding that Wikimedia did not establish a genuine issue of material fact as to standing and that further litigation would unjustifiably risk the disclosure of state secrets.The court concluded that the record evidence is sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to Wikimedia's standing, and thus the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the government on this basis. However, the court concluded that the state secrets privilege prevents further litigation of this suit. Furthermore, Wikimedia's other alleged injuries do not support standing. View "Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency/Central Security Service" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law