Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries
Colon v. Twitter, Inc.
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
Thurston v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation
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
Hepp v. Facebook
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
DotConnectAfrica Trust v. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers
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
Wikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency/Central Security Service
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
Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC
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
Swenberg v. Dmarcian
Swenberg sued Dmarcian, Draegen, and Groeneweg, alleging claims related to his ownership interest in and employment with the company. Dmarcian was incorporated in Delaware and, in 2017, registered with the California Secretary of State as a foreign corporation with its “principal executive office” in Burlingame. Groeneweg, who resides in the Netherlands, is alleged to be a chief executive of, and have an ownership interest in, “a company whose true name is unknown to Swenberg, but which was a European affiliate entity of” Dmarcian (Dmarcian EU). The complaint alleges on information and belief that Groeneweg is presently a shareholder or beneficial owner of Dmarcian.The trial court granted Groeneweg’s motion to quash service for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court of appeal reversed. By publicly presenting himself as a leader of Dmarcian, having Dmarcian EU’s web address automatically route to Dmarcian’s Web site, administered in California, and receiving prospective customers directed to Dmarcian EU by a Dmarcian employee in California, Groeneweg “purposely availed himself " of forum benefits and purposefully derived benefit from his activities in the forum. There is no unfairness in requiring him to subject himself to the jurisdiction of California courts in litigation involving his relationship with that California company and its employees. View "Swenberg v. Dmarcian" on Justia Law
Sosa v. Onfido, Inc.
Onfido provides biometric identification software that is incorporated into its customers’ products and mobile apps for verifying users’ identities. Onfido partnered with OfferUp—an online consumer marketplace—to verify users’ identities. Sosa verified his identity with OfferUp using the technology provided by Onfido—the app’s TruYou feature. To complete the verification process, Sosa uploaded a photograph of his driver’s license and a photograph of his face. Sosa alleges that Onfido then used biometric identification technology without his consent to extract his biometric identifiers and compare the two photographs.Sosa brought class action claims against Onfido under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Onfido moved to stay the case and to compel individual arbitration based on an arbitration provision in OfferUp’s Terms of Service. The district court rejected each of Onfido’s nonparty contract enforcement theories and denied Onfido’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Onfido failed to establish that there was an outcome-determinative difference between Illinois and Washington law, and the district court properly applied Illinois law—the law of the forum state—to determine that Onfido failed to establish that it was a third-party beneficiary of the Terms of Service or that it could otherwise enforce the contract’s arbitration provision either as an agent of OfferUp or on equitable estoppel grounds. View "Sosa v. Onfido, Inc." on Justia Law
Boigris v. EWC P&T, LLC
EWC, which runs a nationwide beauty brand European Wax Center and holds the trademark "European Wax Center," filed suit under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), against defendant, who used GoDaddy.com to register the domain names "europawaxcenter.com" and "euwaxcenter.com." EWC alleged that defendant registered his domain names with a bad faith intent to profit from their confusing similarity to EWC's "European Wax Center" mark.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of EWC, concluding that no reasonable juror could conclude that "europawaxcenter" and "euwaxcenter" are not confusingly similar to "European Wax Center" -- they are nearly identical to the mark in sight, sound, and meaning. View "Boigris v. EWC P&T, LLC" on Justia Law
Parish Transport LLC, et al. v. Jordan Carriers Inc.
Eric Parish and Parish Transport LLC (Parish Transport) emailed Doug Jordan, the Vice President of Jordan Carriers Inc. (Jordan Carriers), to inquire about purchasing heavy haul equipment from Jordan Carriers. After several email exchanges, Doug Jordan offered to sell the equipment for $1,443,000. Months later, Eric Parish responded, submitting Parish Transport’s offer to buy the equipment for $1,250,000. Later that day, Jordan replied, informing Parish Transport that he needed to discuss the offer and would get back with an answer. Jordan concluded his email with his name and contact information. After discussing the deal with his partner, Jordan replied to Parish’s email, stating, “Ok. Let’s do it.” But this time, Jordan’s email concluded with “Sent from my iPhone” instead of his name and contact information. The next day, Jordan received a higher bid for the equipment from Lone Star Transportation LLC (Lone Star), which Jordan accepted verbally over the telephone. After receiving a confirmation email from Lone Star, Jordan emailed Parish Transport informing the company that “a contract has already been entered into for the sale of [the equipment].” Parish Transport sued for breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation. The matter was later transferred and consolidated with Jordan Carriers’ motion for declaratory judgment. After the cases were consolidated, Jordan Carriers moved for summary judgment, arguing “that it did not have an enforceable contract with Parish [Transport] for the sale of the equipment.” The circuit court agreed and granted Jordan Carriers’ motion for summary judgment. Parish Transport appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because “[w]ithout a signature, an enforceable contract does not exist.” The Court of Appeals determined that “[m]erely sending an email does not satisfy the signature requirement” and that “[a]n email that states ‘Sent from my iPhone’ does not indicate that the sender intended to sign the record.” The Mississippi Supreme Court granted certiorari to address an issue of first impression: an interpretation or application of Mississippi’s Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). After careful analysis, the Court found the UETA permitted contracts to be formed by electronic means, i.e, emails. Further, the Court found that the determination of whether an email was electronically signed pursuant to the UETA was a question of fact that turned on a party’s intent to adopt or accept the writing, which was a determination for the fact finder. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact about Doug Jordan’s intent, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Parish Transport LLC, et al. v. Jordan Carriers Inc." on Justia Law