“Internet Law” explained

For some reason, every time one says “lawyer” people tend to think of criminal law, family law or personal injury law.  Perhaps because those are very common.  Most people even understand the concept of a corporate or business lawyer, someone who handles trust and estates, or even one that handles intellectual property.  However, when we say “Internet Law” many people get the most confused look on their face and say: “What the heck is that?” If that is you, you’re in good company.  And, to be fair, the Internet really hasn’t been around all that long.

If you were to read the “IT law” page on Wikipedia you’d see a section related to “Internet Law” but even that page falls a little short on a solid explanation – mostly because the law that surrounds the Internet is incredibly vast and is always evolving.

When we refer to “Internet Law” we are really talking about how varying legal principles and surrounding legislation influence and govern the internet, and it’s use.  For example, “Internet Law” can incorporate many different areas of law such as privacy law, contract law and intellectual property law…all which were developed before the internet was even a thing.  You also have to think how the Internet is global and how laws and application of those laws can vary by jurisdiction.

Internet Law can include the following:

  • Laws relating to website design
  • Laws relating to online speech and censorship of the same
  • Laws relating to how trademarks are used online
  • Laws relating to what rights a copyright holder may have when their images or other content is placed and used online
  • Laws relating to Internet Service Providers and what liabilities they may have based upon data they process or store or what their users do on their platforms
  • Laws relating to resolving conflicts over domain names
  • Laws relating to advertisements on websites, through apps, and through email
  • Laws relating to how goods and services are sold online

As you can see just from the few examples listed above, a lot goes into “Internet Law” and many Internet Law attorneys will pick only a few of these areas to focus on because it can be a challenge just to keep up.  Indeed, unlike other areas of law, “Internet Law” is not static and is always evolving.

Do you think you have an Internet Law related question? If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business and individual clients and strive to meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

 

 

 

 

Section 230 is alive and well in California (for now) | Hassell v. Bird

Last week, on July 2, 2018 the Supreme Court of California overturned rulings that arguably threatened the ability for online platform users to share their thoughts and opinions freely by ruling in favor of Yelp in the hotly contested and widely watched Hassell v. Bird case.

For those that aren’t familiar with the underlying facts, I offer the following quick background:

In 2014 a dispute arose between California attorney, Dawn Hassell and her former client, Ava Bird when Bird posted a negative review of Hassell on the popular business review site, Yelp.  Hassell claimed that the content of the post was, among other things, defamatory and commenced an action against Bird for the same in the Superior Court of the County of San Francisco, Case No. CGC-13-530525. Bird failed to appear, and the Court entered a default order in favor of Hassell.  There is question as to whether Bird was actually served.  In addition, the court ordered Yelp, a non-party to the case who did not receive notice of the hearing, to remove reviews purportedly associated with Bird without explanation and enjoined Yelp from publishing any reviews from the suspected Bird accounts in the future.  Yelp challenged this order, but the court upheld its ruling.

Hoping for relief, Yelp appealed the decision to the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Four, Case No. A143233. Unfortunately for Yelp, the Appellate Court offered no relief and held that: Yelp was not aggrieved by the judgment; the default judgment which including language requesting non-party Yelp to remove the reviews from the website was proper; that Yelp had no constitutional right to notice and hearing on the trial court’s order to remove the reviews from the website; that the order to remove the reviews from Yelp and to prohibit publication of future reviews was not an improper or overly broad prior restraint; and that the Communications Decency Act (“CDA” or “Section 230”) did not bar the trial court’s order to remove the reviews.

The Appellate Court’s ruling was clearly contrary to precedent in California and elsewhere around the country. Yelp appealed the matter to the California Supreme Court, Case No. S235968, to “protect its First Amendment right as a publisher, due process right to a hearing in connection with any order that targets speech on Yelp’s website, and to preserve the integrity of the CDA” according to the blog post written by Aaron Schur, Yelp’s Deputy General Counsel. While Yelp led the charge, they were not left to fight alone.

The internet rallied in support of Yelp.  Dozens of search engines, platforms, non-profit organizations and individuals who value the free sharing of information and ideas contributed amicus letters and amicus briefs (I co-authored an amicus brief for this case) in support of Yelp, including assistance from those like UCLA Law Professor and Washington Post contributor Eugene Volokh and Public Citizen Litigator, Paul Alan Levy, whose work spotlighted the ease in which bogus court orders and default judgments are obtained for the sole purpose of getting search engines like Google to de-index content.  In case you are wondering, bogus court orders and false DMCA schemes are indeed a real problem that many online publishers face.

On April 3, 2018 the California Supreme Court heard oral argument on the case. On July 2, 2018 the Supreme Court released its 102 page opinion in a 3-1-3 decision (three on a plurality opinion, one swing concurring, and three dissenting via two opinions) holding that Hassell’s failure to name Yelp as a defendant, an end run-around tactic, did not preclude the application of CDA immunity.  The court clearly stated “we must decide whether plaintiffs’ litigation strategy allows them to accomplish indirectly what Congress has clearly forbidden them to achieve directly.  We believe the answer is no.” Based upon this win for the Internet, at least for now, online publishers in California (or those who have had this case thrown at them in demand letters or pleadings since the original trial and appellate court rulings) can breathe a sigh of relief that they cannot be forced to remove third-party content.

Aaron Shur made an important statement in concluding the Yelp blog post “…litigation is never a good substitute for customer service and responsiveness, and had the law firm avoided the courtroom and moved on, it would have saved time and money, and been able to focus more on the cases that truly matter the most – those of its clients.”  It’s important in both our professional and personal life to not get stuck staring at one tree when there is a whole forest of beauty around us.

While this is indeed a win, and returns the law back to status quo in California, it does raise some concern for some that certain comments in the opinion are signaling Congress to modify Section 230, again (referring to the recent enactment of FOSTA).  Santa Clara Law Professor, Eric Goldman broke down the Court’s lengthy opinion (a good read if you don’t want to spend the time to review the full opinion) while pointing out that “fractured opinions raise some doubts about the true holding of [the] case.”  The big question is where will things go from here?  Indeed, only time will tell.

Citation: Hassell v. Bird, 2018 WL 3213933 (Cal. Sup. Ct. July 2, 2018)

10 Online Safety Hacks You Can Implement Today

Every day you read about major companies, or even law firms, getting hacked.  Talk about some frustrating stuff! It’s even worse when it actually happens to you.  Of course, with the increase of technological convenience comes greater cyber security risk.  One of my personal favorite cyber security gurus and “Shark Tank” star Robert Herjavec recently provided insight for an article that outlined 10 safety hacks that are easy to implement if you aren’t already doing them.  What are those 10 safety hacks?  Continue reading…

Some of these seem pretty intuitive.  Others perhaps not so much but are a good idea.

  1. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all of your accounts.
  2. Cover internal laptop cameras.
  3. Don’t do any shopping or banking on public Wi-Fi networks.
  4. Ensure that websites are SSL secure (https instead of http) before making financial transactions online.
  5. Delete old, unused software applications and apps from your devices.
  6. Update your anti-virus software as soon as updates become available.
  7. Refresh your passwords every 30 days for all accounts and use unique passwords for each account.
  8. Update computer/mobile software regularly.
  9. Don’t click on unknown links or open unknown attachments.
  10. Change the manufacturer’s default passwords on all of your software.

One of my favorites is the “cover internal laptop cameras.”  I personally used to get made fun of because I would place a sticky note over the top of my camera on my computer.  I suppose it didn’t help that it was bright green (or hot pink) depending on what color sticky note I had handy so it drew attention until I was given a better one (a plastic slider made specifically for this purpose) at a networking event from Cox Business. Now it doesn’t seem so silly after all.

Another one that I know is important, but probably more difficult to do, is to “refresh your passwords every 30 days for all accounts and use unique passwords for each account.”  Holy moly!  Think of how many accounts have passwords these days?  Literally every different system/app/website that you use requires a password! One LinkedIn user listed as a “Cyber Security Specialist” for a software company offered the solution of a program like LastPass.  Apparently, according to this particular individual anyway, LastPass saves all of your passwords in a securely encrypted container on their servers and have many other built in safety features in the event of stolen or hacked data.  This way all you have to know is one password and LastPass will do the rest.  While surely there are other similar solutions out there, if you are interested, you can read more about LastPass on their How It Works page. Sounds pretty cool, right!?! It might help you break out of that password hell.

A little common sense plus adding in these 10 security hacks can go a long way! Do you have any security hacks to share? Have a favorite password protector that you use? Let us know in the comments!

If you are in the state of Arizona and are looking for that solid “friend in the lawyering business” consider Beebe Law, PLLC!  We truly enjoy helping our  business clients meet and exceed their goals!  Contact us today.

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  

Why Google De-Indexing May NOT be an Effective Reputation Management Solution.

What reputation management companies should know, defamation lawyers probably already know, but clients either aren’t being warned about or the clients are willing to try it anyway…

So your client comes in and complains that someone defamed them on the internet.  You put on your Super Lawyer cape and rush in to save the day.  No problem, you’ll walk through the litigation, get a court order that tells Google to remove, block or otherwise de-index the content from their search engine and, viola!  Problem solved, right?  WRONG.

While I sort of eluded to these issues in my blog article troubles with defamatory online reviews and content scrapers, just because search engines like Google will agree to de-index (which arguably, at least in the United States, they are under no obligation to do thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) doesn’t mean that the content goes away.  Indeed, it remains alive in many ways:

  1. The complaint that you filed, which contained the alleged defamatory language and or copies of the alleged defamatory postings is STILL part of the public court record and, in theory, always will be – most of which is accessible online;
  2. The website that hosts the alleged defamatory content may refuse (rightfully under the current US laws) to remove the content regardless of whether or not it is found to be defamatory;
  3. Google might “de-index” but they pretty much give people a road map on where to find the information via the Lumen Database and provide, where applicable, the supporting documents like a court order which, if people are smart and interested, they can find more information about the litigation through court records; and
  4. Under most privilege laws, one could write a story about the court case, even repeating verbatim the defamatory language right out of the court record, without penalty.

Indeed, if you search out a particular name in Google, and you see, at the bottom of the search results a statement about the matter having been removed from the search engine links, chances are, someone had information removed for some reason.  Typically a link to the Lumen Database is provided by Google and parties can click on that link to learn more about why the information was removed and what links were subject to being removed from the search results.

Depending on the situation, this “de-indexing” may not even last that long.  All a website has to do, if they were so inclined, is to update the URL and that would render the original URL de-index essentially useless.  The party who submit the information would then have to go back and try again by either getting another court order or resubmitting what they have to Google again – but then it could become a game of whack-a-mole and for what? The information is STILL available anyway.

I completely understand wanting to find a solution for relief for those that have genuinely been harmed online but I think there needs to be a shift from trying to bury and cover things up to providing A LOT more education regarding these issues (why people should be leery of what they read online, ways to not get themselves into these problems in the first place, constructive ways of handling issues) and perhaps, as I said recently, come up with harsher punishment for internet defamers.

Until next time friends…

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

 

Your Kids Cyber-bullying? Eventually You Could be Held Responsible.

In my blog series Fighting Fair on the Internet I have been writing in general about the varying problems I see with use of the internet.  After all, given my unique position and area of law I work in, I have had the opportunity to see all kinds of situations that most people never even think about.  Seriously – the good, bad, and the ugly – I see all of it.  And why do I write about it?  Because everyday I see people making stupid mistakes that eventually end up coming back to haunt them in one way or another and because I think education on these issues, raising awareness, plays a key part in reducing the amount of problems I see.

A colleague of mine showed me an NBC Miami article where Central Florida attorney Mark O’Mara was considering writing law that would give law enforcement officials the ability hold parents accountable for the bad things their kids were doing online.  In response to an arrest back in 2013 of two girls in a Florida bullying and suicide investigation, attorney O’Mara wrote on his blog:

The question is this: is their ignorance and apathy about their daughter’s cyber-bullying criminal? Under our current laws, it looks like the answer is “no.” Should that sort of willful blindness or gross negligence be criminal? I think it should, and here’s why: if a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone while using a parent’s gun, the parent can be held responsible. If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided by the parent, how is that different?

If you ask me, I am already all for harsher punishment for internet defamers and harassers so his argument makes sense.  That is, of course, so long as the punishment is reasonable but yet has enough teeth to ensure that parents actually monitor and pay some level of attention to what their kids are doing online.  If you are a parent, you SHOULD be monitoring what your kids are doing – not just to keep yourself out of trouble but to protect your child from all the dangers online (physical, mental, and legal).

After my first presentation to high school students regarding internet use and the repercussions from the same, it was abundantly clear that a lot more education was needed.  I went as far as explaining to the students that after my presentation they probably knew more than their parents did – after all, most of us old enough to have teenagers really didn’t have internet growing up and we especially didn’t have social media.  I encouraged students to go home and talk with their parents about what they learned…because not all advice that kids get from their parents is the best – especially when it comes to online issues.

As some food for thought, according to the Cyberbullying Research Institute, 48 states, plus Washington, DC, have laws that include cyber-bullying or online harassment.  Out of those states, 44 of them have criminal sanctions for cyber-bullying or electronic harassment.  Some information regarding the different state laws on these issues can be found here.  Similarly, just remember that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean “anonymous.”  In most cases, your identifying information is only one or two well written subpoenas away.

Long story short, with the continuing increase of use of the internet, don’t be surprised when laws start being enacted to hold parents liable for the wrongs of their children.  Want to be proactive and learn more for yourself, your kids, or even for a group?  Contact me!  See my contact page for more information.

Have thoughts on this to share?  Share them in the comments below!

 

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 10 | That Would be Harsher Punishment for Internet Defamers Stan…

For many reasons the movie Ms. Congeniality with Sandra Bullock has been a long time favorite of mine.   Especially when she answered the question “What is one of the most important thing our society needs?” with “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators Stan…and world peace!”  I’m pretty sure since that movie first came out in 2000 I have been remixing that one-liner to fit my varying smarty pants comeback needs.  In fact, in muddling to myself just this morning after reviewing some dyspeptic online commentary I determined that I would answer the question “That would be harsher punishment for internet defamers Stan…and world peace!”  It’s true…internet defamers and harassers really do suck.

In my line of work, and in my every day life, I see people being nasty to one another online – and sometimes people really cross the line and forget that words do hurt.  Sometimes I wonder what happened to the good old fashioned “take it out behind the barn and duke it out…looser buys the other guy a drink” form of justice.  Back in the day (and I really hate saying that because I am not THAT old) if anyone ran their mouth in person like they do today online – man, they’d get a beat down and, quite honestly, they would have probably deserved it.  To make matters worse, you get the morons that jump on the keyboard warrior band wagon without having the first clue about what is REALLY going on and they either share the crap out of the false stuff or otherwise join in on the bashing.  When is enough, enough?  What the hell happened to the human connection and manners?  So much of society needs a good metaphorical kick in the teeth.  The First Amendment doesn’t shelter you from false and defamatory statements nor should it be abused as a license to be a jerk-face.  Unfortunately, unlike the “old days,”  it no longer hurts to be stupid and run your mouth.

Indeed I am a Section 230 Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) supporter, because I don’t think that websites should be held liable for the stupid crap that other people do; after all, that mentality is akin to an over weight person blaming the spoon manufacturer for making a spoon that they can use to eat and get fat with.  “…but, but, the spoon made me fat!”  And to those who just read that and got all defensive – clearly my reference isn’t to those who have medical issues or things outside of their control.  I’m talking about the person who is heavy because of purposeful overeating, failing to do exercises, etc.  Sometimes life happens.  We get busy and fail to take care of ourselves as we should but we can’t blame the spoon manufacturer for it.  The spoon didn’t make us fat.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  This is absolutely no different and trying to hold websites liable for the stupidity of third-parties is asinine to me.  Yes, yes, I am well aware that the CDA protects websites from liability from third-party content, however, it doesn’t seem to stop people and attorneys from filing frivolous lawsuits…but I digress here.  That is another story for another day.  However, I do think that there should be some serious punishment for all these people who purposefully go out of their way to post false and defamatory information about others…the same goes for harassers.  Perhaps if these people got hit harder in the pocket book or were forced into doing community service – like helping with anti-bullying and harassment initiatives, maybe THEN it would slow down. There just needs to be more education and more deterrents.  It’s far too easy to sit behind the keyboard and be mean.  MEAN. PEOPLE. SUCK.

Until next time friends…

 

 

 

What’s in a Personality Test? Inside the Mind of Someone in the 8-12% ESTJ Category.

A few months ago I had the privilege of meeting a gentleman at a conference that explained to me his unique hiring process for his law firm. Instead of hiring and promoting based upon the traditional norms that one would expect he explained his philosophy for utilizing a personality test. Yes, that’s right, a personality test. As a person who has been in a position to do hiring and firing of employees and putting together teams – often moving people to coincide with their strengths so the can succeed rather than setting them up to fail – I was fascinated by this concept.  Truely fascinated. By the end of the short and casual conversation I felt that this guy had my personality pretty much pegged which made his comments regarding me being “rare” and “valuable” all the more interesting.  Apparently I was, in his mind at least, a “visionary” who also possessed the ability to “follow through.”

I’d like to think that I’m rather humble and maybe have a hard time accepting such compliments, especially when it comes to work, but this peaked my curiosity and I honestly wanted to know what it was that he saw that wasn’t so readily apparent to me. I didn’t see the significance. He then offered to allow me to take a personality test and visit with me about the results. I was absolutely interested and I almost couldn’t take it fast enough.  The results?  He was right!  The results suggested that I was indeed a visionary and a follow through person with the added near off the chart ability to adapt and work in a position that may not suit my personality for a long period of time and need for a high level of autonomy once I have mastered a task – which doesn’t take long for me.  I guess that explains why I’m not the “job hopping” type.  Sounds great, right?  Well, it depends on how you look at it, but for me, it kind of explains a lot about struggles I have experienced.

After taking his test (via the Culture Index) I really started digging in and trying to learn and understand more about what made me tick. I want to understand why I can butt heads with certain individuals yet have so many who have worked with me and under me say “take me with you” when I’ve considered a change in employment.  Accordingly, I began taking additional legitimate personality tests and studying up on my results.

Research suggests that people with personalities like mine make up only about 8-12% of the population.  This “executive” personality, also referred to as ESTJ by psychologists, is shared with people like Sonya Sotomayor, John D. Rockefeller, Steve Jobs, “Judge Judy,” Frank Sinatra and James Monroe.  At least I’m among some interesting company, right?  According to a test taken at 16Personalities.com I’m part of 11% of the population  with my ESTJ (-A/-T) personality.
Nevertheless, as cool as all this sounds, having this type of a personality can be both a blessing and a curse at the same time…but at least it is now making more sense.  16Personalities.com explains that “[s]trong believers in the rule of law and authority that must be earned, Executive personalities lead by example, demonstrating dedication and purposeful honesty, and an utter rejection of laziness and cheating, especially in work.”  Yeah, that last part is indeed a struggle for me.  I know when someone is being lazy or sort of halfassing something in order to just barely past muster.

Similarly, because I think of any group I’m part of as a team, the following passage from 16Personalities.com also makes sense: “Executives don’t work alone, and they expect their reliability and work ethic to be reciprocated – people with this personality type meet their promises, and if partners or subordinates jeopardize them through incompetence or laziness, or worse still, dishonesty, they do not hesitate to show their wrath.  For me, I don’t know that I would call it “wrath” per se, as I typically will handle matters as diplomatically as possible, but indeed I can see through BS and depending on the situation I may call someone on it.

Along the same lines, 16Personalities.com states that those with Executive personalities “show clear and consistent tendencies, and these are especially visible in the workplace. Whether subordinates, among colleagues or as managers, people with the [Executive] personality type create order, follow the rules, and work to ensure that their work and the work of those around them is completed to the highest standards. Cutting corners and shirking responsibility are the quickest ways to lose respect.”  This could not be more true for me. Not to say that a cut corner with a solid purpose won’t fly and may not even been encouraged when necessary, but when it’s to just be “good enough” without reason that I struggle with it.

I suppose it’s not all bad though.  Thanks to research, I have learned that the strengths of this personality of mine include (as provided by 16Personalities.com):

  • Dedicated – Seeing things to completion borders on an ethical obligation for Executives. Tasks aren’t simply abandoned because they’ve become difficult or boring – people with the Executive personality type take them up when they are the right thing to do, and they will be finished so long as they remain the right thing to do.
  • Strong-willed – A strong will makes this dedication possible, and Executives don’t give up their beliefs because of simple opposition. Executives defend their ideas and principles relentlessly, and must be proven clearly and conclusively wrong for their stance to budge.
  • Direct and Honest – Executives trust facts far more than abstract ideas or opinions. Straightforward statements and information are king, and Executive personalities return the honesty (whether it’s wanted or not).
  • Loyal, Patient and Reliable – Executives work to exemplify truthfulness and reliability, considering stability and security very important. When Executives say they’ll do something, they keep their word, making them very responsible members of their families, companies and communities.
  • Enjoy Creating Order – Chaos makes things unpredictable, and unpredictable things can’t be trusted when they are needed most – with this in mind, Executives strive to create order and security in their environments by establishing rules, structures and clear roles.
  • Excellent Organizers – This commitment to truth and clear standards makes Executives capable and confident leaders. People with this personality type have no problem distributing tasks and responsibilities to others fairly and objectively, making them excellent administrators.

I find all of these to be true, especially the last two.  I genuinely enjoy taking a business, observing its processes and figuring out how to make it more organized and efficient – especially if it results in a reduction in costs/overhead.  It’s just a skill that I have and one that I have used to create departments and implement policies and procedures for the same successfully.   In fact, if your company could use some help in this department, contact me for consulting! I’m happy to help!

At the same time, however, some of the typical weaknesses that I do recognize with my personality is that I can be considered stubborn or inflexible (especially without proof of concept) and I can find it difficult to relax.  A need for respect fosters a need to maintain dignity, which can make it difficult to cut loose and relax for risk of looking the fool. This is true in personal life and at work. Similarly, when it comes to work being done right, because I cannot accept shoddy or incomplete work, it’s not out of the ordinary for me to either send the work back to be fixed as many times as necessary or to just take it upon myself to fix the problem before it is presented. That need for respect and not wanting to look like a fool extends to work product as well for myself, my firm, or company I’m working for which means that if I am not careful, I can become overloaded and then feel overwhelmed.  Fortunately I am cognizant of these issues and I work on keeping myself in check.  Sometimes I’m better at it than others for sure.

All I can say is if you haven’t taken a personality test before, do it!  The test from 16Personalities.com had incredibly accurate results for me and the write up is quite interesting as you can see from some excerpts from this blog article.  Maybe you too will have an “Ah ha!” moment and have a greater understanding of how you operate and interact with others the way you do.  Who know, maybe through self evaluation you will realize that the job you are in now isn’t what’s best for you personality type and you may just decide to make a change for the better!  Life is short…find what makes you happy and feeds your soul.

Until next time friends…

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 9 |Troubles with Defamatory Online Reviews and Content Scrapers

Content scrapers are problematic for authors, defamation plaintiffs and website operators alike.

There is no doubt that there is typically a clash of interests between authors, defamation plaintiffs and the operators of websites who host public third-party content.  Authors either want the information to stay or be removed; defamation plaintiffs want information removed from the website(s); and website operators, such as many of the online review websites, fight for the freedom of speech and transparency – often arguing, among many other things, that the information is in a public court record anyway so removal is moot.  These kinds of arguments, often surrounding the application of federal law know as the Communications Decency Act, or Section 230 (which arguable provides that websites don’t have to remove content even if it is false and defamatory) are playing out in courts right now.  One example is the case of Hassell v. Bird which is up on appeal before the California Supreme Court relating to a posting on Yelp.  However, in spite of these clashes of interests, there does seem to be a trend emerging where the author, the plaintiffs, and the websites, are actually standing in the same boat facing the the same troublemaker.

Providing some background and context…

COPYRIGHT AND POSTING AN ONLINE REVIEW:  Many people are familiar with the term “copyright” and have a basic understanding that a copyright is a legal right that is created by the law that gives the creator of an original work limited exclusive rights for its use and distribution.  Wikipedia has some decent general information if you are interested in learning more.  For example, a guy who I will call John for the purpose of this story, can get on a computer and draft up a complaint about Jane and her company XYZ  before he posts it online on a review website.  As it sits on John’s computer as written, John would own the copyright to that information.  When John decides to post it online to a review website, depending on the website’s terms of service John may have assigned his copyright rights to the website in which he was posting on.  So either John or the website may own the copyright to that content.  That point is important for a few reasons, and there are arguments for and against such an assignment, but those issues are for another article some other time.

DEFAMATORY POSTING IS PUBLISHED ONLINE:  Continuing with the story, let’s say that John makes a bad call in judgment (because he hasn’t sat through one of my seminars relating to internet use and repercussions from the same, or hasn’t read my article on not being THAT guy, and doesn’t realize how bad doing this really is) and decides to post his false and defamatory posting about Jane and XYZ to an online review website.  It’s totally NOT COOL that he did that but let’s say that he did.  Now that posting is online, being indexed by search engines like Google, and anyone searching for Jane or XYZ might be seeing John’s posting.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEFAMATORY POSTINGS:  The internet tends to work at lightening speed and John’s post is sure to be caught on to by Jane or by someone who knows Jane or her company XYZ.  As an aside, I always recommend that people and businesses periodically, like once a month, run searches about themselves or businesses just to see what pops up.  It’s just a good habit to get into because if there is a problem you will want to address it right away – especially you think it is false and defamatory and want to take legal action because there are pretty strict statue of limitations on those – in many states only providing one year from the date of publication.  When Jane learns of the posting, maybe she knows who John is by what was said in the posting – and maybe she isn’t sure who posted it – but either way chances are she is likely going to seek legal help to learn more about her options.  Many people in Jane’s position will want to threaten to sue the website…but it’s actually not that simple.  Why?  Because unless the website actually contributed to writing the stuff, which they most likely didn’t, then they can’t be held liable for that content.  That’s the law here in the United States – the Communications Decency Act.  Fortunately, while online defamation is a niche area of law, there are many attorneys who are well versed in online defamation around the country that are able to assist people who find themselves in this kind of a situation.

So by now you are probably wondering how in the world a defamed party and a website could both be standing in the same boat.  I promise I am getting there but I felt the need to walk through this story for the benefit of those who don’t work in this field and have little to no clue what I am even talking about.  Baby steps…I’m getting there.

A FIGHT FOR REMOVAL:  As I pointed out in the beginning, arguably under the law, websites don’t have to remove the content even if it is found by a court or otherwise to be false and defamatory and that leaves plaintiffs in an awkward position.  They want the information taken down from the internet because it’s alleged to be harmful.  What can be done all depends on the website the content is on.

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT:  Many people think that reputation management is the way to go.  However, while reputation management can be helpful in some instances, and I’m not trying to knock those legitimate companies out there that can definitely help a company with increasing their advertising and image online, many find it only to be a temporary band-aid when trying to cover up negativity.  Similarly, in some cases, some reputation management companies may employ questionable tactics such as bogus DMCAs or fake Court Orders.  Yes, those situations are real – I actually just presented on that topic to a group of internet lawyers less than two months ago and I caution anyone who is using or considering a reputation management company that guarantees removal of content from the internet.

A WEBSITE’S INTERNAL POLICING:  The same law that protects websites from liability for third-party content is the same law that encourages self policing by providing for editorial discretion on what to post and not post.  As such, some websites have taken their own proactive approach  and created their own internal policing system where, depending on the circumstances and what was written, the website might find that the posting violated their terms of service and, within their discretion, take some sort of action to help a victim out.  Not every website has this but it’s certainly worth checking into.

COURT ORDERS:  Remember, a website, arguably per the law, doesn’t necessarily have to take a posting down regardless of what the court order says.  Shocking, but this has been found to be true in many cases around the country.  So what do websites do?  Here are a few scenarios on how websites might consider a court order:

  • Some websites will, without question, accept a court order regardless of jurisdiction and remove content – even if it is by default which can mean that the defendant didn’t appear and defend the case.  It’s worth while to note that some people won’t appear and defend because: 1) they never got notice of the lawsuit in the first place; 2) they didn’t have the knowledge to fight the case themselves; and 3) they didn’t have the resources to hire an attorney to fight the case – let’s face it – good lawyers are expensive!  Even cheap lawyers are still expensive.
  • Some websites will remove a posting only if there is some sort of evidence that supported the court order – like the defendant appeared and agreed to remove or even if there is a simple affidavit by the author who agrees that the information is false and is willing to remove it.
  • Some websites will only redact the specific content that has been found to be false and defamatory by the court based on evidence.  This means that whatever opinions or other speech that would be protected under the law, such as the truth, would remain posted on the website.
  • And still, other websites won’t event bother with a court order because they are out of the country and/or just don’t give a crap.  These types of websites are rumored to try and get people to pay money in order for something to be taken down.

COURT ORDER WHACK-A-MOLE WITH SEARCH ENGINES LIKE GOOGLE:  One of the biggest trends is to get a court order for removal and send it in to search engines like Google for de-indexing.  What de-indexing does is it removes the specific URL in question from the search engine’s index in that particular country.  I make this jurisdictional statement because countries in the European Union have a “Right to be Forgotten” law and search engines like Google are required to remove content from searches stemming from Europe but, that is not the law in the US.  The laws are different in other countries and arguably, Google doesn’t have to remove anything from their searches in the US.  Going back to our story with John, Jane and company XYZ, if Jane manages to litigate the matter and get a court order for the removal of the URL to the posting from search engine index, then, in theory, Jane’s name or company wouldn’t be associated with the posting.

Now this all sounds GREAT, and it seems to be one of the better solutions employed by many attorneys on behalf of their clients, BUT there are even a few problems with this method and it becomes a game of legal whack-a-mole:

  1. A website could change the URL which would toss it back into the search engine’s index and make it searchable again.  The party would either have to get a new court order or, at least, submit the court order again to the search engine with the new court order.
  2. If sending the Court Order to Google, Google will typically post a notice to their search results that a search result was removed pursuant to a court order and give a link to the Lumen Database where people can see specifically what URLs were removed from their index and any supporting documentation.  This typically includes the court order which may, or may not, include information relating to the offending content, etc.  Anyone can then seek out the court case information and, in many cases, even pull the subject Complaint from online and learn exactly what the subject report said and learn whether or not the case was heard on the merits or if the case was entered by default or some other court related process.  Arguably, the information really isn’t gone fore those who are willing to do their homework.
  3. The first amendment and many state privilege laws allow the press, bloggers, etc. to make a story out of a particular situation so long as they quote exactly from a court record.  No doubt a court record relating to defamation will contain the exact defamatory statements that were posted on the internet.  So, for example, any blogger or journalist living in a jurisdiction that recognizes the privilege law, without condition on defamation, could write a story about the situation, post the exact content verbatim out of the court record as part of their story, and publish that story online, inclusive of the defamatory content, without liability.

The up-hill battle made WORSE by content scrapers.

With all that I have said above, which is really just a 10,000 foot view of the underlying jungle, poor Jane in my example has one heck of an up-hill battle regarding the defamatory content.  Further, in my example, John only posted on one review website.   Now enter the content scrapers who REALLY muck up the system causing headache for authors, for defamation plaintiffs, and for website providers like review websites.

CONTENT SCRAPERS:  When I say “content scrapers,” for the purpose of this blog article, I am referring to all of these new “review websites” that are popping up all over who, to get their start, appear to be systematically scraping (stealing) the content of other review websites that have been around for a long time and putting it on their own websites.  Why would anyone do this you ask?  Well, I don’t know exactly but I could surmise that it: 1) content helps their rankings online which helps generate traffic to their websites; 2) traffic to a website helps bring in advertising dollars to the ads that are running on their websites; and 3) if they are out of country (which many appear to be outside of the United States) they don’t really give a crap and can solicit money for people who write and ask for content to be taken down.  I sometimes refer to these websites as copycat websites.

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHES FOR AUTHORS:  Many people have their favorite review website that they turn to to seek out information on – be it Yelp for reviews on a new restaurant they want to try, TripAdvisor for people’s experience with a particular hotel or resort, or any other online review websites…it’s a brand loyalty if you will.  An author has the right to choose which website they are willing to post their content on and, arguably, that decision could be based in part on the particular website’s Terms of Service as it would relate to their content.  For example, some websites will allow you to edit and/or remove content that you post while other websites will not allow you to remove or edit content once it is posted.  I’d like to think that many people look  to see how much flexibility is provided with respect to their content before they chose which forum to post it on.

When a copycat website scrapes/steals content from another review website they are taking away the author’s right to choose where their content is placed.  Along the same lines, the copycat websites may not provide an author with the same level of control over their content.  Going back to my John, Jane and XYZ example, if John posted his complaint about Jane on a website that allowed him to remove it at his discretion, it’s entirely possible that a pre-litigation settlement could be reached where John voluntarily agreed to remove his posting or, John decided to do so on his own accord after he cooled down and realized he made a big mistake posting the false and defamatory posting about Jane online.  However, once a copycat website steals that content and places it on their website, John not only has to argue over whether or not he posted the content on another website but also may not be able to enter into a pre-litigation settlement or remove it at his own direction.  In fact, there is a chance that the copycat website will demand money in order to take it down – and then, who knows how long it will even stay down.  After all the copycat website doesn’t care about the law because stealing content is arguably copyright infringement.

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHE FOR DEFAMATION PLAINTIFFS:  As discussed within this article, defamation plaintiffs have an up-hill battle when it comes to pursuing defamation claims and trying to get content removed from the internet.  It almost seems like a losing battle but that appears to be the price paid for keeping the freedom of speech alive and keeping a level of transparency.  Indeed, there is value to not stifling free speech.  However, when people abuse their freedom of speech and cross the line online, such as John in my example, it makes life difficult for plaintiffs.  It’s bad enough when people like John post it on one website, but when a copycat website then steal content from other review websites, and post it to their website(s), the plaintiff now has to fight the battle on multiple grounds.  Just when a plaintiff will make headway with the original review website the stolen content will show up on another website.  And, depending on the copycat website’s own Terms of Service, there is a chance that it won’t come down at all and/or the copycat website will demand money to have the content, that they stole, taken down.  Talk about frustrating!

CONTENT SCRAPERS CAUSE HEADACHE FOR REVIEW WEBSITES:  When it comes to online review sites, it’s tough to be the middle man…and by middle man I mean the operator of the review website.  The raging a-holes of the world get pissed off when you don’t allow something “over the top” to be posted on their website and threaten to sue – arguing you are infringing on their first amendment rights.  The alleged defamation victims of the world get pissed off when you do allow something to get posted and threaten to sue because well – they claim they have been defamed and they want justice.  The website operator gets stuck in the middle having zero clue who anyone is and is somehow supposed to play judge and jury to thousands of postings a month?  Not that I’m trying to write myself out of a job but some of this stuff gets REALLY ridiculous and some counsel are as loony as their clients.  Sad but true.  And, if dealing with these kinds of issues wasn’t enough, enter the exacerbators, i.e, the copycat websites.

To begin with, website operators that have been around for a long time have earned their rankings.  They have had to spend time on marketing and interacting with users and customers in order to get where they are – especially those that have become popular online.  Like any business, a successful one takes hard work.  Copycat websites, who steal content, are just taking a shortcut to the top while stepping on everyone else.  They get the search engine ranking, they get the advertising dollars, and they didn’t have to do anything for it.  To top it off, while the algorithms change so often and I am no search engine optimization (SEO) expert, I suspect that many of the original websites may see a reduction in their own rankings because of the duplicative data online.  Reduced rankings and traffic may lead to a reduction in revenue.

I like to think that many website operators try hard to find a happy medium between freedom of speech and curtailing over the top behavior.  That’s why websites have terms of service on what kind on content is allowed and not allowed and users are expected to follow the rules.  When a website operator learns of an “over the top” posting or other situation that would warrant removal or redaction, many website operators are eager to help people.  What is frustrating is when a website feels like they are helping a person only to get word days later that the same content has popped up elsewhere online – meaning a copycat website.  In some instances people wrongly accuse the original website for being connected to the copycat website and the original website is left to defend themselves and try to convince the person their accusations are inaccurate.  There is the saying of “no good deed goes unpunished” and I think that it is true for website operators in that position.

As the new-age saying goes “The Struggle is Real!”

I don’t know what the solution is to all of these problems.  If you have kept up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series that I have been working on over the past year, you know that I REALLY disapprove of people abusing the internet.  I support the freedom of speech but I also think that the freedom of speech shouldn’t give one a license to be a-hole either.  I don’t know that there is a bright line rule for what content should and should not be acceptable…but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in Jacobellis v. Ohio back in 1964 to describe his threshold for obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”  For me, after having seen so much through work and just in my own personal life, I think that is true.  My hope is that if I keep talking about these issues and hosting educational seminars and workshops in effort to raise awareness perhaps people may join my mission.  I firmly believe that we can ALL do better with our online actions…all we need is a little education and guidance.

Until next time friends…

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet | Part 8 – Don’t Be Sheep – Think Before You Click or Opine

The Information Highway Turned into a Mis-information Highway.

When did everyone lose their minds and all critical thinking skills?  Are we nothing more than mindless drones who forgot how to conduct any research?  Did they stop teaching these skills in school?  And who in the heck decided it was a good idea to create a bunch of fake garbage and post it to the internet just to see how gullible everyone is or use it as a mechanism for revenge?

Before you share – be proactive and conduct a little research. THINK before you CLICK and SHARE.

Some of these examples may be older, but it’s going to prove a point:

No, Mark Zuckerberg is not giving away his stock to you people who share the message on your page. No one gets something for nothing…and what you are assuming he said isn’t what he said. No…it’s not been confirmed by some news station either.  Did you actually see it on the news?  No – don’t share it “just in case.”

No, Facebook is not likely to start charging for its use. Are you serious? They probably make way too much money off of advertising and selling data that you all give for free when do anything on the website…including playing all those mind games to find out what personality you have or what your first Facebook picture was.

No, Facebook isn’t going to make everything you posted public…which is comical because if its online, in a sense, it is already public…but that’s a different story for a different day.  I’ve seen so many copy and paste different versions of a privacy scare (privacy hoax) that suggests the information was seen on the news and that if you copy and past some crap that talks about the UCC 1-308 and the Rome Statute you are advising Facebook that you don’t give them permission to use your data and that it is private and confidential.  I’m sorry, but friggen really?  You all have Google…how about learning what UCC 1-308 and the Rome Statute even refers to before making yourself look like a bone head and sharing it with other people who will do the same bone head thing by accepting it as gospel and sharing it – you know, “just in case.”  Is the “just in case” one’s way of saying I’m way too lazy to research this, but since it uses legal words it must be legit, so I’m going to share it anyway?  FYI – The UCC stands for the Uniform Commercial Code and governs the sale of goods and other commercial transactions like processing checks, etc.  The Rome Statute has to deal with International Criminal Court.

No, Walmart is not likely to give you hundred dollar gift cards for sharing stuff on your page. Nope, Target isn’t likely going to do it either. What a brilliant subliminal advertising ploy that people are playing into though.  It gets so many to share their name brand all over the internet without them having to do anything or spend any advertising dollars.

No, you’re not likely going to be given a chance to get a new car if you share some advertisement that was probably created by basement boy with time on his hands who wanted to see how many people would share his inside joke on your page.  Did you bother to check in with the company to see if it was a legitimate offer they were running?  Mmmm, my guess is probably not.

No, Redbull isn’t made out of “bull semen” or “bull pee.” It’s made up of all kinds of other things, including synthetic ingredients that arguably may not be the best for you but come on… bull semen?  Seriously?  Who comes up with this stuff?

No, your favorite “news” station isn’t telling you everything you ought to know.  Indeed, your favorite news station has clipped, edited and skewed what was REALLY said…so you better go find the whole debate or story, educate yourself by taking the time to watch the whole thing (pray it was live otherwise it’s likely been edited to fit an agenda), and THEN form an opinion – to do anything less is to allow yourself to be swayed by only a tiny piece of information that may, or may not, have been taken out of context. Don’t be sheep.  It’s amazing how many people take Main Stream Media (MSM) for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Having been interviewed a few times by MSM for different stories I can tell you the final product is swayed, chopped, hacked bullshit that looks and feels like a whole story – but it’s not.  In fact, in my experience, it’s actually quite different.

No, a headline doesn’t always reflect the story.  Ever heard of click-bait?  That headline that get’s your attention, because it sounds like a train wreck, is often misleading as to what is actually written in the article.  If you are going to click on that advertising dollar generating article, at least don’t be lazy.  Read the entire article, and even then, take it with a grain of salt because it’s probably not the whole story.  Don’t just read the headline and then share it will all your friends making assumptions based upon the headline alone.

No, that review you read may not be legitimate.  Even if it is in multiple places all over the internet – it could all still be the same author or content scrapers.  I’ll talk about that more in another blog eventually.  Yes, many people write honest and legitimate reviews for legitimate reasons BUT just like you see on social media, there are review trolls.  Review trolls are the people that suck at life so bad that they have to resort to making up or drastically embellish stories about their exes:  ex-business partner, ex-employer, ex-employee, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-husband/wife and even former friends or family that they aren’t getting along with.  Some people even resort to making up crap about themselves to gain sympathy of others (playing a victim is so easy these days) or might resort to making up stories about their competitors – because well, some people can’t stand to see others do better than them and misery loves company.  Be sure to take everything with a grain of salt and remember to conduct some research – after all what you read (be it checking up on a person or a business) could be entirely made up and once it’s up…it can’t always come down.  That goes for you too Human Resource hiring managers…

No, that meme that someone put together with their phone, incorrect math, spelling and all, isn’t necessarily true.  I can understand sharing the funny ones for humor or satire, but some people post that sh!t like it’s the TRUTH!  Holy cow – anyone can make that stuff up and then ya’ll go sharing it like it was written in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Oh wait, some are too young to even remember actual fact books like that.  And when did “meme” even become a word?  Seems about the equivalent of the  so called words “bae” and “fleek” to me.  I wonder if my parents thought the same thing about the use of the word “rad” back in the 80s – but then again, at least “rad” was just the shortened version of “radical.”  That at least made some sense.

As a society, I feel that we need to stop being so damn lazy and accepting garbage, including MSM stories, posted on the web as truth without question.  I’ve seen so many accept anything that is written on the Internet as gospel and then share and opine based on, well…nothing but bad information. WTF?  You might as well take your brain out, play pat-a-cake with it, and stick it back in as mush.  You were given a brain…so use it!

Until next time friends…

 

Fighting Fair on the Internet – Part 7 | Freedom of Speech – the Double Edged Sword

If you’ve been keeping up with this Fighting Fair on the Internet blog series you know I believe that: the Internet sucks (well, it can suck); we as a society have lost the human connection and mannersopinions are like poop (we need more courtesy flushes); no one really likes the person who crosses the line onlinewords DO hurt; and that my hope is that people can dig down and make America KIND again…and that really goes for the rest of the world caught up in the three-ring circus without a ring-master that is life.  This of course begs the question: what is the root cause of the problem?  I could run a poll of 1,000 different people and I suspect I could get 1,000 different answers to that question.  So let’s look at one concept:  Freedom of Speech.

I know this is a huge topic and there is no way I could touch on all aspects but recently a situation occurred that made me look at both sides of the freedom of speech coin.  Sure, I have thought about it a lot – especially given the nature of my line of work – but this was different.  You know, the funny thing about freedom of speech is that rarely does one dislike it unless and until something is said or written negatively about them or it otherwise provokes negative emotions within.  And, I suppose it goes without saying, that what one person finds offensive will often not be the same, at least to the same degree, as the next person.  I believe that each person and their perspectives are shaped by their unique set of circumstances in life – upbringing, religion, education, and personal life experiences.  For example, one who may have been brought up in a family where there was domestic violence in the home may have a much deeper and more passionate emotion on the subject than one who didn’t have such trauma in their life growing up.  Someone could joke about it to someone that hasn’t experience it and it may come across funny.  However, the same joke to the person who has experienced it may not find it so funny.  The thing is, there really is not a “bright line” rule and therefore leaves a lot of room for disagreements.

Let’s look at freedom of speech in a social context:  Typically if something is said more generally – it’s likely to be less offensive to an individual.  Someone might say “I don’t like the president!” and while some people may disagree with that opinion they are not likely to take it personally.  That’s because  it’s not about them personally.  But what happens when criticism is directed towards a specific individual?  I don’t know a single person that likes criticism of any kind.  True, some people take criticism better than others but still, even constructive criticism, can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being depending on how the information is presented.

I don’t think Newton’s Third Law: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” applies only to motion.  Think about kids on the playground; one kid says something mean or does something mean to another kid, the first reaction, right or wrong, for the kid on the receiving end is to do something mean back – whether it be harsh words or physical violence.  The internet has, in many respects, become a giant sandbox full of bratty little children – except, most people interacting online aren’t “children.”  Someone expresses their negative opinion, or worse – maybe makes up some kind of total BS, about someone online and then what happens?  The person who got called out, out of hurt feelings and anger, will likely come up with something equally as mean, or worse, back.  It’s like a perpetual fight that never seems to end, and, worse yet, the playground fight is online, for all to see, FOREVER.  Then what sets in is the fools remorse that I talk about in my presentations and briefly in my article that speaks on the topic of crossing the line online…and many times there isn’t much that can be done about it.  You can’t un-ring a bell.

Final thoughts:  Be careful with your words in person, and especially online.  It’s okay for you exercises your free speech right to voice your opinion about things, but if you do it about someone specifically, right or wrong, you should be prepared and understand that there is a good chance that the person who you wrote about may exercise their freedom of speech, possible with “playground tactics,” to come back with the same, or even worse, reaction.  And remember, not all opinions are created equal.  Sometimes it’s okay to give an opinion a “courtesy flush.

Until next time friends.