Justia Internet Law Opinion Summaries
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
Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc.
Clearview's facial recognition tool takes advantage of public information on the Internet. Clearview uses a proprietary algorithm to “scrape” pictures from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Venmo. Clearview’s software harvests from each scraped photograph the biometric facial scan and associated metadata (time and place stamps); that information is put onto its database, which is stored on servers in New York and New Jersey. Clearview offers access to this database for users who wish to find out more about someone in a photograph. Many of its clients are law-enforcement agencies. The New York Times published an article about Clearview.This putative class action asserted violations of Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/15. After its removal to federal court, the district court remanded the case to state court, stating that the complaint alleged only a bare statutory violation, not the kind of concrete and particularized harm that would support Article III standing in federal court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In alleging a violation of a general rule that prohibits the operation of a market in biometric identifiers and information, the complaint described only a general, regulatory violation, not something that is particularized to the plaintiffs and concrete. It alleged no particularized injury resulting from the commercial transaction. View "Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc." on Justia Law
Dziubla v. Piazza
Plaintiffs-appellants Robert Dziubla and Linda Stanwood claimed defendant Ignatius Piazza II, owner of a Nevada firearms training facility, harassed and threatened them by publishing defamatory statements along with their personal identifying information, and sending associates to invade their home. Piazza retorted that plaintiffs conned him out of thousands of dollars and are now attempting to steal his property and "chill his constitutional rights." The trial court granted in part and denied in part Piazza’s special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. With one important clarification as to the scope of protected activity, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion. That clarification involved so-called “doxing” allegations in the complaint: plaintiffs’ claim that Piazza published private personal identifying information about them to thousands of gun enthusiasts as a thinly-veiled threat about what could happen if they continued to litigate the business dispute. Although it was included in an otherwise-protected litigation “alert” that discussed the pending lawsuit, the doxing information was entirely extraneous to the court proceedings that were the ostensible subject of the communication. The Court of Appeal thus rejected Piazza’s assertion that plaintiffs could not meet the “minimal merit” standard on the anti-SLAPP motion because the doxing allegations would necessarily be barred by the litigation privilege in Civil Code section 47(b). The order granting the special motion to strike was reversed in part as to two of plaintiffs’ cause of action ‒ the tenth, seeking an injunction, and the twelfth, alleging a civil rights violation ‒ but only as to the claims included in these causes of action that alleged injury from the publication of their personal information, i.e., the doxing allegations. In all other respects, the order was affirmed. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Dziubla v. Piazza" on Justia Law
Rad v. Attorney General United States
In 2012, Rad and others were charged with acquiring penny stocks, “pumping” the prices of those stocks by bombarding investors with misleading spam emails, and then “dumping” their shares at a profit. Rad was convicted of conspiring to commit false header spamming and false domain name spamming under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7701(a)(2), which addresses unsolicited commercial email. The PSR recommended raising Rad’s offense level to reflect the losses inflicted on investors, estimating that Rad realized about $2.9 million in “illicit gains” while acknowledging that because “countless victims” purchased stocks, the losses stemming from Rad’s conduct could not “reasonabl[y] be determined.” Rad emphasized the absence of evidence that any person lost anything. Rad was sentenced to 71 months’ imprisonment. The record is silent as to how the court analyzed the victim loss issue. The Third Circuit affirmed. DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), which renders an alien removable for any crime that “involves fraud or deceit” “in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.” The IJ and the BIA found Rad removable.The Third Circuit remanded. Rad’s convictions for CAN-SPAM conspiracy necessarily entail deceit under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The second element, requiring victim losses over $10,000, however, was not adequately addressed. The court noted that intended losses, not just actual ones, may meet the requirement. View "Rad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law
Clare v. Clare
A husband's unauthorized access into his wife's work emails—undoubtedly an invasion of her privacy—could also constitute a violation of the Stored Communications Act.After wife and her law firm employer filed suit against husband and his divorce lawyer, the other parties resolved their claims and wife filed a second amended complaint alleging one cause of action against husband under the Act. The district court granted summary judgment for husband because wife failed to show that the e-mails husband allegedly accessed were in "back up storage" as defined by the Act.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's exclusion of a declaration submitted by plaintiff, concluding that the district court abused its discretion in disregarding the declarant's personal knowledge about wife's e-mail storage. The panel explained that the evidence does not require expert qualification where the declarant was employed with the IT company that services wife's law firm and the information he provides is far from technical.The panel held that the Act provides a private cause of action against one who intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage. Electronic storage includes storage for purposes of backup protection, which requires that there be a second, backup copy of a message. In this case, the declaration submitted by plaintiff created a genuine dispute of material fact with respect to whether the e-mails defendant accessed were entitled to protection under the Act. Finally, the panel agreed with the Fourth Circuit's recent rejection of any distinction between the protection afforded to "service copies," meaning those less conveniently accessible. The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Clare v. Clare" on Justia Law
United States v. Miller
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
Royal Truck & Trailer Sales & Service, Inc. v. Kraft
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
Thurston v. Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC
Plaintiffs Cheryl Thurston and Luis Licea (collectively Thurston) were California residents who purchased items from defendant Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC (Fairfield), a Georgia limited liability company, through the company's website. Thurston alleged Fairfield’s website was not fully accessible by the blind and the visually impaired, in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The trial court granted Fairfield’s motion to quash service of summons, ruling that California could not obtain personal jurisdiction over Fairfield, because Fairfield did not have sufficient minimum contacts with California. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding the evidence showed that Fairfield made some eight to ten percent of its sales to Californians. "Hence, its website is the equivalent of a physical store in California. Moreover, this case arises out of the operation of that website." The trial court therefore could properly exercise personal jurisdiction over Fairfield. View "Thurston v. Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC" on Justia Law