Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Freed created a Facebook profile, limited to his “friends.” Eventually, he exceeded Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit on profiles and converted his profile to a “page,” which has unlimited “followers.” His page was public, anyone could “follow” it; for the page category, Freed chose “public figure.” Freed was appointed Port Huron’s city manager. He updated his Facebook page to reflect that title. In the “About” section, he described himself as “Daddy ... Husband ... and City Manager, Chief Administrative Officer for the citizens of Port Huron, MI.” Freed listed the Port Huron website as his page’s website, the city’s general email as his page’s contact information, and the City Hall address as his page’s address. Freed shared photos of family events, visits to local community events, and posts about administrative directives he issued as city manager. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, he posted policies he initiated for Port Huron and news articles on public-health measures and statistics. Lindke responded with criticism. Freed deleted those comments and eventually “blocked” Lindke from the page.Lindke sued Freed under 42 U.S.C 1983, arguing that Freed violated his First Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Freed. Freed’s Facebook activity was not state action. The page neither derives from the duties of his office nor depends on his state authority. View "Lindke v. Freed" on Justia Law

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NOCO manufactures and sells battery chargers and related products. Although it sells these products itself, NOCO also authorizes resellers if they sign an agreement. NOCO discovered that OJC was selling NOCO’s products on Amazon without authorization. NOCO complained to Amazon that OJC was selling NOCO’s products in violation of Amazon’s policy. Around the same time, another company (Emson) also complained to Amazon about OJC. Amazon asked OJC for proof that it was complying with its policy concerning intellectual property rights. OJC did not provide adequate documents. Amazon temporarily deactivated OJC’s account.OJC claimed that NOCO submitted false complaints, and sued for defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and violation of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of OJC’s claims. To succeed on those claims, OJC must establish that NOCO was the proximate cause of its injury. It cannot do this because three intervening causes broke the causal chain, relieving NOCO of any liability: Emson’s complaint, Amazon’s independent investigation and decision, and OJC’s opportunity to prevent the harm to itself. View "NOCO Co. v. OJ Commerce, LLC" on Justia Law

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Novak created “The City of Parma Police Department” Facebook account to exercise his “fundamental American right” of “[m]ocking our government officials.” He published posts “advertising” free abortions in a police van and a “Pedophile Reform event.” Some readers called the police station. Officers verified that the official page had not been hacked, then posted a notice on the Department’s page, confirming that it was the official account and warning that the fake page was “being investigated.” Novak copied that post onto his knockoff page. Officers asked Facebook to preserve all records related to the account and take down the page. Lieutenant Riley issued a press release and appeared on the nightly news. Novak deleted the page. The investigation continued. Officers got a search warrant for Facebook, discovered that Novak was the author, then obtained an arrest warrant and a search warrant based on an Ohio law that makes it illegal to use a computer to disrupt or impair police functions. Officers arrested Novak, searched his apartment, and seized his phone and laptop. He spent four days in jail before making bond.Indicted for disrupting police functions, Novak was acquitted. In Novak’s subsequent suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The officers reasonably believed they were acting within the law. The officers could reasonably believe that some of Novak’s Facebook activity was not parody, not protected, and fair grounds for probable cause. View "Novak v. City of Parma, Ohio" 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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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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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

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When a Google employee views a digital file and confirms that it is child pornography, Google assigns the file a hash value (digital fingerprint). It then scans Gmail for files with the same value. Google learned that a Gmail account had uploaded files with hash values matching child pornography and sent a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC’s systems traced the IP address to Kentucky. A local detective connected Miller to the Gmail account.The Sixth Circuit affirmed Miller’s convictions. The Fourth Amendment restricts government, not private, action. A private party who searches a physical space and hands over paper files to the government has not violated the Fourth Amendment. Rejecting Miller’s argument that the detective conducted an “unreasonable search” when he later opened and viewed the files sent by Google, the court reasoned that the government does not conduct a Fourth Amendment search when there is a “virtual certainty” that its search will disclose nothing more than what a private party’s earlier search revealed. A hash-value match has near-perfect accuracy, creating a “virtual certainty” that the files in the Gmail account were the known child-pornography files that a Google employee had viewed. The admission of NCMEC’s report at trial did not violate Miller’s Sixth Amendment right to confront “witnesses.” The rule applies to statements by people. NCMEC’s automated systems, not a person, entered the information into the report. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Royal employed Kraft and Matthews (Defendants) in its sales team. Royal’s employee handbook prohibited using company equipment for personal activities; unauthorized use, retention, or disclosure of any of Royal’s resources or property; and sending or posting trade secrets or proprietary information outside the organization. Royal’s “GPS Tracking Policy” stated, “[e]mployees may not disable or interfere with the GPS (or any other) functions on a company-issued cell phone,” nor may employees “remove any software, functions or apps.” The Defendants resigned to become employed with one of Royal’s competitors. Royal discovered that, shortly before his resignation, Kraft forwarded from his Royal email account to his personal one quotes for Royal customers and Royal paystubs; contacted a Royal customer through Royal’s email server to ask the customer to send “all the new vendor info” to Kraft’s personal email account; then deleted and reinstalled the operating system on his company-issued laptop, rendering its data unrecoverable. Matthews did much the same and announced her resignation on social media, sharing a link to the song, “You Can Take This Job and Shove It.”Royal sued, citing the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030, which refers to one who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” The district court concluded that the Defendants did not “exceed[]” their “authorized access,” under CFAA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While their conduct might violate company policy, state law, perhaps another federal law, the employees were authorized to access the information in question. View "Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft" on Justia Law

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The Playpen website, a message board for advertising and distributing child pornography, is within the “dark-web,” protected by the “Tor hidden service network,” rendering the website relatively inaccessible. A foreign law enforcement agency alerted FBI agents of its suspicions that a U.S.-based IP address was used to house Playpen. Agents identified the server and executed a search warrant, which allowed them to create a duplicate server at a government facility in the Eastern District of Virginia. The FBI assumed administrative control of the website, then obtained a search warrant from the Eastern District of Virginia to employ a Network Investigative Technique (NIT) to unmask anonymous users. The NIT warrant led the District Court of the Southern District of Ohio to issue a search warrant that allowed authorities to search Bateman’s residence and computer where they found over 599 illicit images of children. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of motions to suppress the evidence and for a "Franks" hearing, to question Agent Macfarlane, who submitted the affidavit to obtain the NIT warrant. The search of Bateman’s home was valid under the good-faith exception. Agent Macfarlane’s affidavit provided a detailed and sufficiently specific picture of Playpen and of the NIT program; it accurately described the locations to be searched, which necessarily included locations outside of the Eastern District of Virginia, and accurately described the NIT’s operation as triggered only when an activating computer’s signals entered the Eastern District of Virginia. View "United States v. Bateman" on Justia Law