Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries
Carr v. Mississippi Lottery Corporation
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
Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid
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
Yue v. Yang
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
France.com, Inc. v. The French Republic
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
Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC
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
Domen v. Vimeo, Inc.
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
MidlevelU, Inc. v. ACI Information Group
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
Chen v. Paypal, Inc.
California residents who sell goods on eBay, an online marketplace, as part of their online businesses and use PayPal to receive payments for many of their sales filed a putative class action. The suit challenged provisions of the user agreements, including PayPal’s policy of placing a temporary hold on funds in a user’s account when PayPal believes there is a high level of risk associated with a transaction or a user’s account; PayPal’s retention of interest on users’ funds that are placed in pooled accounts when users maintain a balance in their PayPal accounts; PayPal’s buyer’s protection policy, which allows buyers, under certain circumstances, to dispute transactions up to 180 days after the date of purchase; and a claim that PayPal aids and abets buyers in defrauding sellers by the manner in which it resolves disputes. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the claims against PayPal, without leave to amend. The challenged practices are not unconscionable. The degree of procedural unconscionability that arises from the fact that a contract is one of adhesion is ‘minimal.” View "Chen v. Paypal, Inc." on Justia Law
The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc.
Redbubble operates a global online marketplace. Around 600,000 independent artists, not employed by Redbubble, upload images onto Redbubble’s interface. Consumers scroll through those images and order customized items. Once a consumer places an order, Redbubble notifies the artist and arranges the manufacturing and shipping of the product with independent third parties. Redbubble never takes title to any product shown on its website and does not design, manufacture, or handle these products. The shipped packages bear Redbubble's logo. Redbubble handles customer service, including returns. Redbubble markets goods listed on its website as Redbubble products; for instance, it provides instructions on how to care for “Redbubble garments.” Customers often receive goods from Redbubble’s marketplace in Redbubble packaging.Some of Redbubble’s artists uploaded trademark-infringing images that appeared on Redbubble’s website; consumers paid Redbubble to receive products bearing images trademarked by OSU. Redbubble’s user agreement states that trademark holders, and not Redbubble, bear the burden of monitoring and redressing trademark violations. Redbubble did not remove the offending products from its website. OSU sued, alleging trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and Ohio’s right-of-publicity law. The district court granted Redbubble summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Redbubble’s marketplace involves creating Redbubble products and garments that would not have existed but for Redbubble’s enterprise. The district court erred by entering summary judgment under an overly narrow reading of the Lanham Act. View "The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc." on Justia Law
Murphy v. Twitter, Inc.
Murphy, a journalist with approximately Twitter 25,000 followers, had a Twitter “verification badge,” which “lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.” Murphy “writes primarily on feminist issues, including the Me Too movement, the sex industry, sex education, third-wave feminism, and gender identity politics.” Murphy argues “that there is a difference between acknowledging that transgender women see themselves as female and counting them as women in a legal or social sense.” Murphy posted several tweets critical of transgender women. Twitter removed her posts and informed her she had violated its hateful conduct rules. After she posted additional similar messages, Twitter permanently suspended her account.Murphy filed suit, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and violation of the unfair competition law. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding Murphy’s suit was barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230, under which interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. The court of appeal affirmed. Each of Murphy’s causes of action seeks to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions. Murphy also failed to state a cognizable claim under California law. The Hateful Conduct Policy was in place when Murphy began posting her deleted tweets; Twitter expressly reserved the right to remove content, and suspend or terminate accounts “for any or no reason.” View "Murphy v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law