It’s hard to find caselaw to support your claims when you have none – Wilson v. Twitter

When the court’s opinion is barely over a page when printed, it’s a good sign that the underlying case had little to no merit.

This was a pro se lawsuit, filed against Twitter, because Twitter suspended at least three of Plaintiff’s accounts which were used to “insult gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for violating the company’s terms of service, specifically its rule against hateful conduct.”

Plaintiff sued Twitter alleging that “[Twitter] suspended his accounts based on his heterosexual and Christian expressions” in violation of the First Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and for alleged “legal abuse.”

The court was quick to deny all of the claims explaining that:

  1. Plaintiff had no First Amendment claim against Twitter because Twitter was not a state actor; having to painfully explain that just because Twitter was a publicly traded company it doesn’t transform Twitter into a state actor.
  2. Plaintiff had no claim under § 1981 because he didn’t allege racial discrimination.
  3. Plaintiff’s Civil Rights claim failed because: (1) under Title II, only injunctive relief is available (not damages like Plaintiff wanted); (2) Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act bars his claim; and (3) because Title II does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation (an no facts were asserted to support this claim).
  4. Plaintiff failed to allege any conduct by Twitter that cold plausibly amount to legal abuse.

The court noted that Plaintiff “expresses his difficulty in finding case law to support his claims.” Well, I guess it would be hard to find caselaw to support claims when you have no valid ones.

Citation: Wilson v. Twitter, Civil Action No. 3:20-0054 (S.D. W.Va. 2020)

Disclaimer: This is for general information purposes only and none of this is meant to be legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Breaking down the DOJ Section 230 Workshop: Stuck in the Middle With You

The current debate over Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230) (often referred to as “Section 230” or “CDA”) has many feeling a bit like the lyrics from Stealers Wheel – Stuck in The Middle With You, especially the lines where it says “clowns to the left of me, jokers to my right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.” As polarizing as the two extremes of the political spectrum seem to be these days, so are the arguments about Section 230.  Arguably the troubling debate is compounded by politicians who either don’t understand the law, or purposefully make misstatements about the law in attempt to further their own political agenda.

For those who may not be familiar with the Communications Decency Act, in brief, it is federal law enacted in 1996 that, with a few exceptions carved out within the statute, protects the owners of websites/search engines/applications (each often synonymously referred to as “platforms”) from liability from third-party content.  Platforms that allow third-party content are often referred to as user generated content (“UGC”) sites.  Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, TripAdvisor, and Yelp are all examples of such platforms and reasonable minds would likely agree that there is social utility behind each of these sites. That said, these household recognized platform “giants” aren’t the only platforms on the internet that have social utility and benefit from the CDA.  Indeed, it covers all of the smaller platforms, including bloggers or journalists who desire to allow people to comment about articles/content on their websites. 

So, what’s the debate over?  Essentially the difficult realities about humans and technology.  I doubt there would be argument over the statement that the Internet has come a long way since the early days of CompuServe, Prodigy and AOL. I also believe that there would be little argument that humans are flawed.  Greed was prevalent and atrocities were happening long before the advent of the Internet.  Similarly, technology isn’t perfect either.  If technology were perfect from the start, we wouldn’t ever need updates … version 1.0 would be perfect, all the time, every time.  That isn’t the world that we live in though … and that’s the root of the rub, so to speak.

Since the enactment of the CDA, an abundance of lawsuits have been initiated against platforms, the results of which further defined the breadth of the law.  For those really wanting to learn more and obtain a more historical perspective on how the CDA came to be, one could read Jeff Kosseff’s book called The Twenty Six Words That Created the Internet.  To help better understand some of the current debate over this law which will be discussed shortly, this may be a good opportunity to point out a few of the (generally speaking) practical implications of Section 230:

  1. Unless a platform wholly creates or materially contributes to content on its platform, it will not be held liable for the content created by a third-party.  This immunity from liability has also been extended to other tort theories of liability where it is ultimately found that such theory stems from the third-party content.
  2. The act of filtering content by a platform does not suddenly transform it into a “publisher” aka the person that created the content in the first place, for the purposes of imposing liability.
  3. A platform will not be liable for their decision to keep content up, or take content down, regardless of whether such information may be perceived as harmful (such as content alleged to be defamatory). 
  4. Injunctive relief (such as a take down order from a court) is legally ineffective against a platform if such order relates to content that they would have immunity for.

These four general principals are the result of litigation that ensued against platforms over the past 23+ years. However, a few fairly recent high-profile cases stemming from atrocities, and our current administration (from the President down), has put Section 230 in the crosshairs and desires for another amendment.  The question is, amendment for what?  One side says platforms censor too much, the other side says platforms censor too little, platforms and technology companies are being pressured to  implement stronger data privacy and security for their users worldwide while the U.S. government is complaining about measures being taken are too strong and therefore allegedly hindering their investigations.  Meanwhile the majority of the platforms are singing “stuck in the middle with you” trying to do the best they can for their users with the resources they have, which unless you’re “big Internet or big tech” is typically pretty limited.  And frankly, the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world don’t speak for all platforms because not all platforms are like Facebook nor do they have the kind of resources that Facebook has.  When it comes to implementation of new rules and regulations, resources matter.

On January 19, 2020 the United States Department of Justice announced that they would be hosting a “Workshop on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act” on February 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.  The title of the workshop “Section 230 – Nurturing Innovation or Fostering Unaccountability?”  The stated purpose of the event was to “[D]iscuss Section 230 … its expansive interpretation by the courts, its impact on the American people and business community, and whether improvements to the law should be made.”  The title of the workshop was intriguing because it seemed to suggest that the answer was one or the other when the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

On February 11, 2020 the formal agenda for the workshop (the link to which has since been removed from the government’s website) was released.  The agenda outlined three separate discussion panels:

  • Panel 1:  Litigating Section 230 which was to discuss the history, evolution and current application of Section 230 in private litigation;
  • Panel 2: Addressing Illicit Activity Online which was to discuss whether Section 230 encourages or discourages platforms to address online harms, such as child exploitation, revenge porn, and terrorism, and its impact on law enforcement; and
  • Panel 3: Imagining the Alternative which was to discuss the implications on competition, investment, and speech of Section 230 and proposed changes. 

The panelists were made up of legal scholars, trade associations and a few outside counsel who represent plaintiffs or defendants.  More specifically, the panels were filled with many of the often empaneled Section 230 folks including legal scholars like Eric Goldman, Jeff Kosseff; Kate Klonik, Mary Ann Franks, and staunch anti- Section 230 attorney Carrie Goldberg, a victim’s rights attorney that specializes in sexual privacy violations.  Added to the mix was also Patrick Carome who is famous for his Section 230 litigation work, defending many major platforms and organizations like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Craigslist, AirBnB, Yahoo! and the Internet Association.  Other speakers included Annie McAdams, Benjamin Zipupsky, Doug Peterson, Matt Schruers, Yiota Souras, David Chavern, Neil Chilson, Pam Dixon, and Julie Samuels.

A review of the individual panelist’s bios would likely signal that the government didn’t want to include the actual stakeholders, i.e., representation from any platform’s in-house counsel or in-house policy.  While not discounting the value of the speakers scheduled to be on panel, one may find it odd that those who deal with the matters every day, who represent entities that would be the most impacted by modifications to Section 230, who would be in the best position to determine what is or is not feasible to implement in the terms of changes, if changes to Section 230 were to happen, had no seat at the discussion table.  This observation was wide spread … much discussion on social media about the lack of representation of the true “stakeholders” took place with many opining that it wasn’t likely to be a fair and balanced debate and that this was nothing more than an attempt by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to gather support for the bill relating to punishing platforms/tech companies for implementing end-to-end encryption.  One could opine that the Bill really has less to do with Section 230 and more to do with the Government wanting access to data that platforms may have on a few perpetrators who happen to be using a platform/tech service.

If you aren’t clear on what is being referenced above, it bears mentioning that there is a Bill titled “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2019” aka “EARN IT Act of 2019” that was proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham.  This bill came approximately two weeks after Apple was ordered by AG Barr to unlock and decrypt the Pensacola shooter’s iPhone.  When Apple responded that they couldn’t comply with the request, the government was not happy.  An article written by CATO Institute stated that “During a Senate Judiciary hearing on encryption in December Graham issued a warning to Facebook and Apple: ‘this time next year, if we haven’t found a way that you can live with, we will impose our will on you.’”  Given this information, and the agenda topics, the timing of the Section 230 workshop seemed a bit more than coincidence.  In fact, according to an article in Minnesota Lawyer, Professor Eric Goldman pointed out that the “DOJ is in a weird position to be convening a roundtable on a topic that isn’t in their wheelhouse.”

As odd as the whole thing may have seemed, I had the privilege of attending the Section 230 “Workshop”.  I say “workshop” because it was a straight lecture without the opportunity for there to be any meaningful Q&A dialog from the audience.  Speaking of the audience, of the people I had direct contact with, the audience consisted of reporters, internet/tech/first amendment attorneys, in-house counsel/representatives from platforms, industry association representatives, individual business representatives, and law students.  The conversations that I personally had, and personally overheard, was suggestive that the UGC platform industry (the real stakeholders) were all concerned or otherwise curious about what the government was trying to do to the law that shields platforms from liability for UGC.

PANEL OVERVIEW:

After sitting through nearly four hours’ worth of lecture, and even though I felt the discussion to be a bit more well-rounded than I anticipated, I still feel that the entire workshop could be summarized as follows: “humans are bad and do bad things; technology is a tool in which bad humans do bad things; technology/platforms need to find a way to solve the bad human problem or face liability for what bad humans occasionally do with the tools they create; we want to make changes to the law even though we have no empirical evidence to support the position that this is an epidemic rather than a minority…because bad people.”

Perhaps that is a bit of an oversimplification but honestly, if you watch the whole lecture, that’s what it boils down to.

The harms discussed during the different panels included:

  • Libel (brief mention)
  • Sex trafficking (Backpage.com, FOSTA, etc.)
  • Sexual exploitation of children (CSAM)
  • Revenge porn aka Non-Consensual Pornography aka Technology Facilitated Harassment
  • Sale of drugs online (brief mention)
  • Sale of alleged harmful products (brief mention)
  • Product liability theory as applied to platforms (ala Herrik v. Grindr)

PANEL #1:

In traditional fashion, the pro-Section 230 advocates explained the history of the CDA, how it is important to all platforms that allow UGC, not just “big tech” and resonated on the social utility of the Internet … platforms large and small.  However, the anti-Section 230 panelists pointed to mainly harms caused by platforms (though not elaborated on which ones) by not removing sexually related content (though defamation was a short mention in the beginning). 

Ms. Adams seemed to focus on sex trafficking – touching on how once Backpage.com was shut down that a similar close site started up in Amsterdam. She referred to the issues she was speaking about as a “public health crisis.” Of course, Ms. Goldberg raised argument relating to the prominent Herrik v Grindr case wherein she argued a product liability theory as a work around Section 230. That case ended when writ was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in October of 2019. I’ve heard Ms. Goldberg speak on this case a few times and one thing she continually harps on is the fact that the Grindr didn’t have way to keep Mr. Herrik’s ex from using their website. She seems surprised by this. As someone who represents platforms, it makes perfect sense to me. We must not forget that people can create multiple user profiles, from multiple devices, from multiple IP addresses, around the world. Sorry, Plaintiff attorneys…the platforms’ crystal ball is in the shop on these issues … at least for now. Don’t misunderstand me. I believe Ms. Goldberg is fighting the good fight, and her struggle on behalf of her clients is real! I admire her work and no doubt she sees it with a lens from the trenches she is in. That said, we can’t lose sight of reality of how things actually work versus how we’d like them to work.

PANEL #2:

There was a clear plea from Ms. Franks and Ms. Souras for something to be done about sexual images, including those exploiting children.  I am 100% in agreement that while 46 states have enacted anti “revenge porn” or better termed Non-Consensual Pornography laws, such laws aren’t strong enough because of the malicious intent requirement.  All a perpetrator has to say is “I didn’t mean to harm victim, I did it for entertainment” or another seemingly benign purpose and poof – case closed.”  That struggle is difficult! 

No reasonable person thinks these kinds of things are okay yet there seemed to be an argument that platforms don’t do enough to police and report such content.  The question becomes why is that?  Lack of funding and resources would be my guess…either on the side of the platform OR, quite frankly, on a under-funded/under-resourced government or agency to actually appropriately handle what is reported.  What would be the sense of reporting unless you knew for sure that content was actionable for one, and that the agency it is being reported to would actually do anything about it?

Interestingly, Ms. Souras made the comment that after FOSTA no other sites (like Backpage.com) rose up.  Curiously, that directly contradicted Ms. Adams’s statement about the Amsterdam website popping up after Backpage.com was shut down.  So which is it?  Pro-FOSTA statements also directly contradicts what I’ve heard last October at a workshop put on by ASU’s Project Humanities entitled “Ethics and Intersectionality of the Sext Trade” which covered the complexities of sex trafficking and sex work.  Problems with FOSTA was raised during that workshop.  Quite frankly, I see all flowery statements about FOSTA as nothing more than trying to put lipstick on a pig; trying to make a well-intentioned, emotionally driven, law look like it is working when it isn’t.

Outside of the comments by Ms. Franks and Ms. Souras, AG Doug Peterson out of Nebraska did admit that the industry may self-regulate and sometimes that happens quickly, but he still complained that the state criminal law preemption makes his job more difficult and advocated for an amendment to include state and territory criminal law to the list of exemptions.  While that may sound moderate, the two can be different and arguably such amendment would be overbroad when you are only talking about sexual images.  Further, the inclusion of Mr. Peterson almost seemed as a plug in for a subtle push about how the government allegedly can’t do their job without modification to Section 230 – and I think a part of the was leaning towards, while not making a big mention about it, was the end-to-end encryption debate.  In rebuttal to this notion, Matt Schruers suggested that Section 230 doesn’t need to be amended but that the government needs more resources so they can do a better job with the existing laws, and encouraged tech to work to do better as they can – suggesting efforts from both sides would be helpful

One last important point made during this panel was Kate Klonik making the distinction between the big companies and other sites that are hosting non-consensual pornography.  It is important to keep in mind that different platforms have different economic incentives and that platforms are driven by economics.  I agree with Ms. Klonik that we are in a massive “norm setting” period where we are trying to figure out what to do with things and that we can’t look to tech to fix bad humans (although it can help).  Sometimes to have good things, we have to accept a little bad as the trade-off.

PANEL #3

This last panel was mostly a re-cap of the benefits of Section 230; the struggles that we fact when trying to regulate with a one-size fits all mentality and, I think most of the panelists seem to be agreeing that there needs to be some research done before we go making changes because we don’t want unintended consequences.  That is something I’ve been saying for a while and reiterated during the ABA’s Forum on Communications Law Digital Communications Committee hosted a free CLE titled “Summer School: Content Moderation 101” wherein Jeff Kosseff and I, in a moderated panel by Elisa D’Amico, Partner at K&L Gates, discussed Section 230 and a platform’s struggle with content moderation.  Out of this whole panel, the one speaker that had most people grumbling in the audience was David Chavern who is the President of News Media Alliance.  When speaking about solutions, Mr. Chavern likened Internet platforms to that of traditional media as if he was comparing two oranges and opined that platforms should be liable just like newspapers.  Perhaps he doesn’t understand the difference between first party content and third-party content.  The distinction between the two is huge and therefore I found his commentary to be the least relevant and helpful to the discussion. 

SUMMARY:

In summary, there seem to be a few emotion evoking ills in society (non-consensual pornography, exploitation of children, sex trafficking, physical attacks on victims, fraud, and the drug/opioid crisis) that the government is trying to find methods to solve.  That said, I don’t think amending Section 230 is the way to address that unless and until there is reliable and unbiased data that would suggest that the cure won’t be worse than the disease. Are the ills being discussed really prevalent, or do we just think they are because they are being pushed out through information channels on a 24-hour news/information cycle?

Indeed, reasonable minds would agree that we, as a society, should try and stop harms where we can, but we also have to stop regulating based upon emotions.  We saw that with FOSTA and arguably, it has made things more difficult on law enforcement, victims alike and has had unintended consequences, including chilling speech, on others.  You simply cannot regulate the hate out of the hearts and minds of humans and you cannot expect technology to solve such a problem either.  Nevertheless, that seems to be the position of many of the critics of Section 230.

For more reading and additional perspectives on the DOJ Section 230 Workshop, check out these additional links:

Disclaimer: This is for general information purposes only and none of this is meant to be legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

“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)

Digital Millennium Copyright Act: It’s NOT for Reputation Management

Let me start out by saying that if your entire business model is based on submissions of Copyright infringement notices (“Digital Millennium Copyright Act Notices” or more commonly referred to as “DMCA Notices”), you should first have a clue about: 1) what goes in one; and 2) what circumstances will likely be found by the court as “infringement.”  If you can’t even get that right, you are doing a disservice to both your customer and are risking litigation against you.  #PetPeeve Yes, I have services in mind but they shall go unnamed.

I understand that in today’s modern world it is incredibly easy for someone to take a picture that posted of someone on the internet and then turn around and upload it elsewhere.  Indeed, depending on the circumstances, it may very well be an instance of Copyright infringement and a DMCA Notice may very well be warranted.  There is an entire legal analysis that often goes into determining Copyright infringement and those who are untrained should consult legal counsel who regularly handles Copyright infringement issues to help walk through the elements.

Notwithstanding the above, if you think that submitting a DMCA Notice to a site where such image is being used in connection with a review, in an effort to get that review or image to be removed from that site, you are likely going to fall flat and may have just wasted time and money.  Why? Because such use is more likely than not going to be considered “fair use” by a court.

The doctrine of fair use is codified at Section 107 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 107 (“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work … for purposes such as criticism [and] commentary … is not an infringement of copyright.”); see also Suntrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 268 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir.2001) (“copyright does not immunize a work from comment and criticism.”).  Similarly, courts around the country have upheld the fair use doctrine for the type of claim that most people write to review websites about, i.e., an image connected with a critical review. See Dhillon v. Does 1-10, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2014 WL 722592 (N.D.Cal. 2014) (finding of fair use when Plaintiff’s professional headshot was used for article criticism and commentary); Galvin v. Illinois Republican Party, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 5304625 (N.D.Ill. 2015) (finding of fair use when Plaintiff’s photograph was used in a flyer for the purpose of criticism and commentary); Katz v. Chevaldina, Slip Copy, 2014 WL 2815496, 111 U.S.P.Q.2d 1281, (S.D.Fla. 2014) (finding unauthorized use of unflattering photo of businessman in a blog that is critical of his business practices to be fair use as a matter of law); Katz v. Google, Inc., —F.3d—, 2015 WL 5449883 (11th Cir. 2015) (finding of fair use when blogger used a photograph of a businessman, which he owned the copyright to, in a posting that was to deter others from conducting business with businessman); and Weinberg v. Dirty World, LLC, et al., 2:16-CV-09179 (C.D.Cal. Jul. 27, 2017) (finding fair use when photograph, captured from a video clip which Plaintiff had rights to, was uploaded to an online review website to “ridicule, mock, and critique” the figures in the image).

Moral of the story: if you are considering using a DMCA Notice (or hiring some Reputation Management company who uses this “method”) in effort to try and get postings or images removed from the internet…you should seriously reconsider your strategy. Chances are such companies (or law firms – I’ve seen ridiculous letters from attorneys too) are just taking your money and you may not get the results boasted about. Remember, there has to be a good faith believe that the use is infringing and when there is an abundance of case law that says “fair use”…one questions the “good faith” requirement.

Are you a business that operates a website where you regularly receive DMCA Notices? 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.  

 

 

From the #MoronFiles | F’n Litigators

PRELUDE: 

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I see all kinds of crazy stuff in my line of work. Some of the things that come across my desk make me frustrated with society and you probably know that I blog about Fighting Fair on the Internet because of the things that I see.  In addition, sometimes the things that I see that frustrate me include others that are part of my profession. Like any profession, there are certain shit bags (okay, maybe they aren’t all shitbags…just most of them) out there that give us lawyers a bad reputation and quite frankly, it pisses me off.

Some things that I see warrant a full blog article – so I write those.  Others just warrant a short mention because I find the conduct both outrageous AND funny.  I’ve decided to start a collection of true stories, with some identifying facts modified so I don’t have to deal with the psychos, and will be continually adding more of those to the #MORONFILES for your reading pleasure:

06/13/2017 #MORONFILES ENTRY:

No offense to any of the “normal” professional litigators out there because I work with some AMAZING ones…but what the hell is with the scorched earth approach right out of the box?  You are not an ape.  Stop pounding your chest.  I understand getting a little frustrated after repeated inquiries  (when there is merit to your position) however, when you come out of the box swinging, threatening meritless litigation (because you are too lazy to f’n do some legal research before running the diarrhea of the fingers on your keyboard) you are not setting yourself up for good things to come.  This is especially true when you are asking for a favor – you know, asking someone to do something they are not legally obligated to do.  You can bet that counsel like me will remember your shit attitude in the future, your name will be marked on the “shit list”, and you won’t be given any courtesies in the future.  Your shitty attitude has just screwed any future clients who may be similarly situated.  You want to be helpful to your clients?  Check that ego at the door. Respect begets respect and people remember how you treat them.

ADA Compliance and Websites: Yes, it’s really a thing.

I’ve said it before…it seems like everyone today has a website.  Whether you are a stay at home mom blogger, operate an e-commerce boutique shop, a local mechanic shop with a basic website or a full blown tech company – chances are you are no stranger to the internet and websites. Websites are how people find and interact with you or your company. Depending on what your website is designed for, you may have more risks to consider.  For example, as I recently discussed, if your website hosts third-party content, there are risks associated with that kind of a website.  Similarly, if your website collects email addresses so that you can later market to them, that presents an email marketing risk. This article is going to briefly discuss a new potential risk for website operators – that is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

You might be thinking: “How could a website become an issue with the ADA?”  That was my initial reaction too until I considered people who are blind or have a hearing impairment.  It’s easy to take for granted senses that we are used to having.  Think of all the “closed captioned (cc) for the hearing impaired” text that we have heard/seen on the television in the past.  Well, how does that work for those videos that you are making and posting to your website?  How do people navigate your website if they can’t see? Until a recent conference I had never even thought about how a visually impaired person accesses the internet.  I have since discovered that the visually impaired often access the internet through a special screen reader.  JAWS seems to be the most popular and I found a few interesting YouTube videos that give a demonstration of the JAWS program from different perspectives.  If you are curious, like I was and want a unique perspective that may help you with your website accessibility, you can see two of the links I found HERE and HERE.  The second video is from a student’s perspective which has a lot of good insight – including difficulties with .pdf documents, etc.

The above examples coupled with the legal actions that have been taken against websites in relation to an ADA claim, and the fact that I am starting to see solicitations from Continuing Learning Education companies teaching attorneys how to initiate actions, sends a solid message that this is something people/businesses need to be thinking about as they move forward with their existing websites and/or build out  new websites.

THINGS TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employments, State and local government services, places of public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.
  • These laws can be enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) through private lawsuits and indeed there are cases where the DOJ has specifically stated in rulings that websites should be designed so that they are accessible to those who have physical disabilities including vision and hearing.
  • The DOJ has already required some websites to modify their sites to comply with the ADA guidelines – see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
  • There is no set required standards YET but it’s expected soon and they may require compliance within 12 months from the date of publication of the new standards to the public register.  If you have a big website, and perhaps a lot of changes that will need to be made, that isn’t a lot of time.

WHAT IS BEING LOOKED AT FOR COMPLIANCE?

WebAIM.org appears to be a pretty decent resource for information.  They have a pretty comprehensive checklist that may assist you and your website developing team out, however, below is a few points for consideration:

Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

  • Guideline 1.1: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need online – think of large print, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Guideline 1.2: Provide captions and alternatives for multimedia.
  • Guideline 1.3: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example a more simplistic layout) without losing information or structure.
  • Guideline 1.4: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.

User interface components and navigation must be operable.

  • Guideline 2.1: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  • Guideline 2.2: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • Guideline 2.3: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (like flashing content)
  • Guideline 2.4: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

  • Guideline 3.1: Make text content readable and understandable.
  • Guideline 3.2: Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Guideline 3.3: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

  • Guideline 4.1: Maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

WHAT IF MY WEBSITE ISN’T COMPLIANT?   

For websites that aren’t compliant the following are some things you should consider:

  • Have a 24/7 telephone number serviced by a live customer service agent who can provide access to the information on the website – the phone number must be identified on the website and be accessible using a screen reader.
  • Consider starting to make adjustments to your website to help ensure you are compliant.

NEED HELP ENSURING COMPLIANCE?

It is always a good idea to get a formal legal opinion on these kinds of matters if in doubt. Being proactive is a far better position to be in than being reactive and in a time crunch and money might be tight. If you are in the state of Arizona, and need help with suggestions on how to help make your website ADA compliant or would like to discuss this topic generally so that you have a better understanding of how this issue might impact your business, Beebe Law, PLLC can help!  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.  

 

 

From the #MoronFiles | I Demand!

PRELUDE: 

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I see all kinds of crazy stuff in my line of work. Some of the things that come across my desk make me frustrated with society and you probably know that I blog about Fighting Fair on the Internet because of the things that I see.  In addition, sometimes the things that I see that frustrate me include others that are part of my profession. Like any profession, there are certain shit bags (okay, maybe they aren’t all shitbags…just most of them) out there that give us lawyers a bad reputation and quite frankly, it pisses me off.

Some things that I see warrant a full blog article – so I write those.  Others just warrant a short mention because I find the conduct both outrageous AND funny.  I’ve decided to start a collection of true stories, with some identifying facts modified so I don’t have to deal with the psychos, and will be continually adding more of those to the #MORONFILES for your reading pleasure:

05/23/2017 #MORONFILES ENTRY:

Perhaps not as good as the prior entry, however, this is still worth a note because it is one of my biggest pet peeves. If an individual or entity is NOT (emphasis on the NOT) legally obligated to take any action in connection with your situation one wonders what in the world counsel is thinking when they write a letter and use the phrase “I demand…” in bold and underlined, in the closing of their letter. You “demand!?!” What? Are you my mother asking me to do my chores or else I’m going to be grounded for the summer? Given the fact that your tone is complete shit, and my client has ZERO legal obligation to do anything, your “demand” is now being filed away and NOT responded to. #DENIED! Why? Because I’m not interested in dealing with an ass-hat and you have now given me NO incentive to even look at your materials.  Moral to the story: Like my momma always says “you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.” I subscribe to that philosophy…plus I like to treat others as I would expect to be treated.

 

So You Want to Run a Website: Common Risks When Hosting Third-Party Content

It seems like EVERYONE today has a website.  Whether it be a personal blog to a full scale business – websites are how people “find” and often “interact” with you today.  However, just like any business, it doesn’t come without risk.  This article will address a few of the most common areas where a website operator can incur liability if they want to host third-party content (i.e., you want to allow people to post and/or comment on postings).

To begin with, as I have referenced in my prior articles regarding Troubles with Defamatory Online Reviews and Content ScrapersThat Would be Harsher Punishment for internet Defamers StanWhy Google De-Indexing May NOT be an Effective Reputation Management Solution, etc., at least in the United States, the federal law often referred to as the Communications Decency Act, aka Section 230 or the “CDA” generally immunizes websites from third-party content.  In layman’s terms, this means that an internet service provider, such as a website, is not typically liable for content written by a third-party.  That does NOT, however, mean that you don’t have to be cautious.  In fact, the intricacies of the law surrounding the CDA can be quite complex.  It would be tragic for an unsuspecting business to be sued into bankruptcy over preventable little mistakes.

The following are a few common areas of potential liability:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY:  Intellectual Property, including claims of Copyright and Trademark Infringement are NOT barred by the Communications Decency Act.  If a third-party puts content on your website that infringes on someone else’s Copyright or Trademark, you could be held liable.

DEVELOPING CONTENT:  Depending on how you solicit and/or edit a third-party’s content you could be held liable.  Many of plaintiffs have argued against website’s editorial decisions or even what sort of requirements/fields are built in for website users to enter information into, can take them outside of the protections of the CDA.

If you are considering starting up a new website or a business with an existing website it is wise to take these matters into account at the very beginning, or as soon as otherwise practicable.  Moreover, individuals and businesses are wise to consult an internet lawyer that practices in internet law when beginning to lay out their business plan for their website.  A consultation fee now can save you THOUSANDS in the long run.

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.  If you are in the state of Arizona, and seeking consultation in the area of infringement relating to Copyright, Trademark, or other risks associated with being a website and hosting third-party content, contact Beebe Law, PLLC today.

 

 

 

 

So Good You Can’t Make It Up | A Collection From the #MoronFiles

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I see all kinds of crazy stuff in my line of work. Some of the things that come across my desk make me frustrated with society and you probably know that I blog about Fighting Fair on the Internet because of the things that I see.  In addition, sometimes the things that I see that frustrate me include others that are part of my profession. Like any profession, there are certain shit bags (okay, maybe they aren’t all shitbags…just most of them) out there that give us lawyers a bad reputation and quite frankly, it pisses me off.

Some things that I see warrant a full blog article – so I write those.  Others just warrant a short mention because I find the conduct both outrageous AND funny.  I’ve decided to start a collection of true stories, with some identifying facts modified so I don’t have to deal with the psychos, and will be continually adding more of those here for your reading pleasure:

07/05/2017 – A “Nominal Defendant” | Following a nice four day weekend it’s always fun to come back to the office to a freshly filed complaint against one of your clients. Said complaint was filed out of state (one in which does NOT have jurisdiction over my client for a host of reasons including Plaintiff having agreed to jurisdiction elsewhere), the “cause of action” (which isn’t really a cause of action in the first place – apparently Plaintiff’s counsel confuses causes of action with remedies) is without legal merit, and counsel called my client a “nominal defendant.” Let’s be real here; there is no “nominal defendant.” ALL defendants (in most cases anyway) will have to extend valuable resources and time to deal with even the most handicapped complaint by filing motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or other defenses.  You can’t paint a rainbow on birdshit and call it a rainbow…no, it’s still birdshit.  You know, just so we are clear…

06/16/2017 – You Know You Are A Lazy Lawyer When | It’s been a busy few weeks to say the least.  This one will be short and sweet.  If you are going to spend the money to serve someone, you should probably spend some time actually trying to figure out the proper entity to name and statutory agent first.  A way you start this is by trying to run a search in this really cool search engine called Google.  And then you can also use these cool public websites where businesses are registered called the Corporation Commission for the particular state.  That will not only give you proper entity spelling but also who the proper statutory agent for service is.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know that sometimes that can be easier said that done for some entities…BUT…this particular one I have in mind is EASILY found online.  What this tells me: lazy lawyer probably just billed his client for less than half ass work that will result in NOTHING because it’s not valid. #Ignored #FeelingSorryForTheirClient

06/13/2017 – F’n LitigatorsNo offense to any of the “normal” professional litigators out there because I work with some AMAZING ones…but what the hell is with the scorched earth approach right out of the box?  You are not an ape.  Stop pounding your chest.  I understand getting a little frustrated after repeated inquiries  (when there is merit to your position) however, when you come out of the box swinging, threatening meritless litigation (because you are too lazy to f’n do some legal research before running the diarrhea of the fingers on your keyboard) you are not setting yourself up for good things to come.  This is especially true when you are asking for a favor – you know, asking someone to do something they are not legally obligated to do.  You can bet that counsel like me will remember your shit attitude in the future, your name will be marked on the “shit list”, and you won’t be given any courtesies in the future.  Your shitty attitude has just screwed any future clients who may be similarly situated.  You want to be helpful to your clients?  Check that ego at the door. Respect begets respect and people remember how you treat them.

05/31/2017 – You Signed Your Name on This? | So here is a new one for the books.  A business client of mine is served with a third-party Subpoena Duces Tecum (fancy way of saying it’s asking for documents or things) today.  Today is May 31st – and this is important and you will see why in a minute.  Okay, standard procedure…except: 1) it’s an Amended Subpoena (never received the original subpoena); 2) allegedly issued from a state court that is in another state (so yeah, that’s not going to work – domestication pal); 3) asking for information to be provided back in the middle of April “to avoid having to make an appearance” (so, we get to time travel like Marty McFly?); 4) the said date of appearance was also scheduled for back in the middle of April (hmmm, must be banking on more of that time travel); 5) the date of said Amended Subpoena was dated back on the first of this month (so you know, the document production and/or appearance was supposed to occur BEFORE it was even signed AND the person apparently couldn’t get it served for over 30 days); 6) the Subpoena had no case number; and…oh, this is the best part… 7) WAIT FOR IT…WAIT FOR IT…when I looked up the case caption…there is no case pending with that case caption in that court!  You have got to be kidding me!?!  To top it off, right there at the bottom of this pile of crap is the name, bar number and signature of the attorney that paid to have it served upon my client.  Well alrighty then Shady McShaderson…

  • 06/08/2017 – UPDATE on “Shady McShaderson” | Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any more ridiculous than what was mentioned above…when “Shady McShaderson” got called out for above mentioned antics the response back was basically that the law of the state allows for attorneys to do a subpoena without a case number.  Ummm, come again?  I’m well aware of the pre-litigation discovery process in the particular state and this is NOT in line with the procedure, pal.  I don’t care what color you paint your abuse of process turd…it’s still a stinky turd!
  • 8/23/2017 – UPDATE on “Shady McShaderson” | Whoa! Shady McShaderson got a case going! So after sending a BS subpoena, for a case that doesn’t exist, Shady McShaderson and realized we’ve ignored it, the genius counsel finally filed a case!  What did said genius counsel do? Provided us with a case number.  That’s it?  What a fricken moron.  Come on…how much lazier and shadier can you get?  Of course such action was called out and it was explained, again, what the PROPER procedure is…  The response “no worries…”  Where do they find these people?  And how do they keep a bar license?

05/23/2017 – I Demand! | Perhaps not as good as the prior entry, however, this is still worth a note because it is one of my biggest pet peeves. If an individual or entity is NOT (emphasis on the NOT) legally obligated to take any action in connection with your situation one wonders what in the world counsel is thinking when they write a letter and use the phrase “I demand…” in bold and underlined, in the closing of their letter. You “demand!?!” What? Are you my mother asking me to do my chores or else I’m going to be grounded for the summer? Given the fact that your tone is complete shit, and my client has ZERO legal obligation to do anything, your “demand” is now being filed away and NOT responded to. #DENIED! Why? Because I’m not interested in dealing with an ass-hat and you have now given me NO incentive to even look at your materials.  Moral to the story: Like my momma always says “you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.” I subscribe to that philosophy…plus I like to treat others as I would expect to be treated.

05/12/2017 – Disbarred Attorney | Today I reviewed a rather rude communication from an individual who wrote a meritless threatening letter (and I mean, the person couldn’t possibly have a viable claim based upon statute of limitations and other precedent law given the situation) making dumb statements and signed their name with “a Dallas lawyer” and a request that the communication be taken seriously.  Sure thing there good buddy!  Well, when I receive communications that I perceive to be on the “shittier side of Sears” (my spin on the old “softer side of Sears” advertising) I will look into the individual.  Ah, low and behold said “Dallas lawyer,” was DISBARRED from the state of Texas over two years ago for some rather naughty stuff…as in the crime allegedly committed is a felony in the state.  Right there, on the State Bar website, CLEAR AS DAY, it said this person was DISBARRED.  The State law there says that you are not a lawyer in the state unless you are licence to practice there.  So, no person, that makes you NOT a Texas attorney…and, in fact, your state can make holding yourself out as an attorney, when you aren’t, a felony.  Get that? F-E-L-O-N-Y.  Yeah, poor decision on your part.  Asshat.

Until next time friends…

 

From the #MoronFiles | Disbarred Attorney

PRELUDE: 

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I see all kinds of crazy stuff in my line of work. Some of the things that come across my desk make me frustrated with society and you probably know that I blog about Fighting Fair on the Internet because of the things that I see.  In addition, sometimes the things that I see that frustrate me include others that are part of my profession. Like any profession, there are certain shit bags (okay, maybe they aren’t all shitbags…just most of them) out there that give us lawyers a bad reputation and quite frankly, it pisses me off.

Some things that I see warrant a full blog article – so I write those.  Others just warrant a short mention because I find the conduct both outrageous AND funny.  I’ve decided to start a collection of true stories, with some identifying facts modified so I don’t have to deal with the psychos, and will be continually adding more of those to the #MORONFILES for your reading pleasure:

05/12/2017 #MORONFILES ENTRY:

Today I reviewed a rather rude communication from an individual who wrote a meritless threatening letter (and I mean, the person couldn’t possibly have a viable claim based upon statute of limitations and other precedent law given the situation) making dumb statements and signed their name with “a Dallas lawyer” and a request that the communication be taken seriously.  Sure thing there good buddy!  Well, when I receive communications that I perceive to be on the “shittier side of Sears” (my spin on the old “softer side of Sears” advertising) I will look into the individual.  Ah, low and behold said “Dallas lawyer,” was DISBARRED from the state of Texas over two years ago for some rather naughty stuff…as in the crime allegedly committed is a felony in the state.  Right there, on the State Bar website, CLEAR AS DAY, it said this person was DISBARRED.  The State law there says that you are not a lawyer in the state unless you are licence to practice there.  So, no person, that makes you NOT a Texas attorney…and, in fact, your state can make holding yourself out as an attorney, when you aren’t, a felony.  Get that? F-E-L-O-N-Y.  Yeah, poor decision on your part.  Asshat.

Website Terms of Service: You Are Responsible for Your Own Actions

In my practice I write and review website terms of service with some regularity.  Most website Terms of Service have sections that relate to a users online conduct; that is, the rules that the website expects you follow when using their website.  If you don’t read anything else (because let’s fact it, unless you LOVE fine print, you probably aren’t going to read it) you absolutely should review the section that discusses what conduct is expected of you.  If you aren’t going to follow the rules don’t use the website.

Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, right?  You’d think so, however, you would be fascinated to learn how many people don’t pay attention to these things and then, when they get busted breaking a Terms of Service rule, they come back and try to blame the website for the rule!  Um, no.  How about you try taking some responsibility for your own actions?  Yeah, let’s try that.

WHAT DO THE TERMS OF SERVICE SAY ABOUT MODIFICATION OR REMOVAL OF CONTENT?

Many websites will allow users to post content and then edit or remove the postings at a later date.  Consider sites like Facebook for example.  Other websites will give you only the ability to delete postings, but not edit, as seen with sites like Twitter.  At the same time many websites will not allow a user to edit or remove information once it is posted, regardless of the circumstances.

I typically see these no-removal rules often with complaint/review styled websites and this information is usually spelled out in the Terms of Service and, in some cases, elsewhere on the website.  Why would a website make such a rule?  Some websites claim that the reason they have a no removal policy, especially on a review/complaint type website, is because those websites believe that people will be bullied into taking truthful content down when the public really should be warned about bad actors or bad businesses.  I suppose the websites figure that if they have a rule against removing content, it doesn’t do the bad actors or bad businesses any good to harass the poster because the information is going to remain up anyway.  Yes, I know this opens Pandora’s Box for the “but what if…” statements and I know well the arguments against such non-removal rules, but I will not engage in that here because I’d be writing a dissertation and I’m trying to keep on topic and make this relatively short.

TERMS OF SERVICE:  WHY YOU SHOULD CARE.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, most people don’t care about these kinds of things and go on there merry way using a website, posting content, etc, – until they are threatened with litigation over something they posted.  Defamation is against the law and is actionable.  Most websites will make you agree, per their terms of service, that you will not do anything illegal.  They might even spell out that you have to tell the truth if you are posting a complaint or review.  Unfortunately, people either can’t read, don’t know what “truth” means, or otherwise don’t give a crap because they write stupid stuff anyway.  If you say something mean and untruthful online about someone else or someone else’s business – there is a possibility that you will see a defamation action against you.  Heck, even if what you say is truthful, you still could see a defamation action against you.  It’s the way the world these days – people sue over the most ridiculous stuff! Yes there are defenses to such claims, like the truth, however, if you use an attorney, it’s going to be legal battle that you will have to fund.

Typically a person considering litigation is going to go the easiest route and ask the person who posted the information to simply remove it.  If the person posted the information to websites like Facebook or Twitter, chances are one can just log into their account, edit or delete the content at issue, and be done with it.  HOWEVER, what happens when you posted the content to a website that specifies, right in their terms of service, that you can’t remove the posting?  If that is the case, chances are, that content isn’t coming down – even if you ask and regardless of the situation.

DON’T BLAME THE WEBSITE FOR YOUR MISTAKE.

Now we are getting to the ironic part.  A person will use a website, knowingly break the rules (such as posting false and defamatory stuff) and then, when they get a letter from a lawyer or a lawsuit against them, all of the sudden get concerned about what they wrote and will try to figure out how to take it down.  It’s like when you’ve been speeding, know you were speeding, and act all surprised when you get pulled over by a cop and quickly try to make an excuse for why you were speeding – as if that is going to somehow change the fact that you broke the law by speeding.  When an author gets a letter from a lawyer about a posting online the first thing they do is try to take it down.  In some instances they can remove the content…but that doesn’t always work as I explained above.  It amazes me how many people will write to a website asking for their stuff to be removed even when the terms of service, and the fact that someone can’t remove something after it was posted, was made abundantly clear before they made the posting.  When they get told “no” somehow that comes as a shock.  What happens next, in my experience, is one or any combination of the following:

  1. Excuses of why they wrote what they did.  The whole I was mad/sad/hurt shouldn’t have done it story.  This is what I call fools remorse.
  2. Allegations that “someone else” wrote it. People will literally allege that their “minor child” wrote the sophisticated well written posting about a business dealing. Uh huh, sure they did…and way to throw your kid under the bus.
  3. Stories of how the author/user of the website is “special.”  Most people that claim “special circumstances” aren’t all that unique when compared to anyone else.  I know your momma thinks you are special – but a website probably isn’t going to think so.
  4. Statements of “I wrote it.  It’s false…so you HAVE to take it down!”  No, actually the website doesn’t (at least under current federal law) and are you basically admitting that you breached the contract with the website that said you wouldn’t post something that is false?  Hmmm, that doesn’t seem like a very smart argument.
  5. I’m going to sue you if you don’t take it down!  Cool story – the current law doesn’t support your position and you are making yourself look like ass.  By the way, those terms of service that you agreed to by using the website or otherwise “checking the box” saying you agreed – yeah, that’s called a contract.

I wish I was making this stuff up but I have literally seen all of these kinds of excuses/stories made by people who are getting into trouble for what they posted online.  If you are one of THOSE people – you deserve to get into trouble.  The most ridiculous position that one can take is to be mad and blame a website for having known consequences to a rule THAT YOU BROKE.  That’s like being mad at the law makers who created the speed limit when you get into trouble because you broke the law by speeding!  No one made you speed.  Own the problems that you create.

Bottom line; read the Terms of Service before you use a website.  If you break the rules (especially if you are a harasser or defamer) don’t get mad at the websites for having the rules and consequences (that you failed to consider when you broke the rules) applied to you.  You have to own and accept responsibility for your actions – regardless of how hard of a pill that is to swallow. 

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.

Texas Court Paving the Highway for Abuse of Anonymous Authors’ Rights One Pre-Litigation Discovery Order at a Time: Glassdoor v. Andra Group

The United States has long held close to its heart the right for authors to speak anonymously.  However, protecting an anonymous author is getting more and more difficult these days.  The March 24, 2017 ruling by the Appellate Court for the Fifth District of Texas in Glassdoor, Inc., et al. v. Andra Group, LP certainly didn’t help either.

In my practice I see volumes of subpoenas sent to websites holding third-party anonymous content requesting the anonymous author’s identifying information.   Most of the time Plaintiffs file a John or Jane Doe defamation related litigation, which preserves the statute of limitations, and then they conduct limited discovery in order to ascertain who the proper defendants are and move forward from that point.  Typically, most states have some sort of notice requirement to the anonymous author that would provide them the opportunity to appear and defend their right to remain anonymous.  In the state of Arizona we have the controlling case of Mobilisa v. Doe, 217 Ariz. 103, 114-15, 170 P.3d 712, 723-24 (App. 2007).  It’s common for websites to raise objections on behalf of an anonymous author when the appropriate basic standards have not been met and, as I recently discussed in another article regarding Glassdoor, courts are ruling that websites like Glassdoor have the standing for the same.  This process, including giving author notice in a reasonable way, has always seemed fair to me.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a loophole that many Plaintiffs are taking advantage of, and it can be problematic for anonymous authors and websites alike.  I think that pre-litigation discovery tools (Illinois Rule 224, Texas Rule 202, etc.) are being abused in cases dealing with anonymous authors.   While I firmly believe that purposeful defamers and harassers should have the book thrown at them (i.e., fines, community service and/or educational requirements), often times the burdens on the plaintiff are not that high, it may not require notice to the author, and once an anonymous author’s information is revealed you can’t un-ring that bell.  I believe that pre-litigation discovery tools need either a very high threshold, have a notice requirements like that of Mobilisa or, alternatively, be barred in cases where a party is utilizing it to seek anonymous author information.

In this case Andra filed a Rule 202 petition against Glassdoor seeking to discover the anonymous reviewers’ identities relating to some ten (10) allegedly defamatory postings made about it.  Glassdoor, along with two (2) of the anonymous authors, filed an anti-SLAPP dismissal motion.  The trial court denied the motion and granted in part the Rule 202 petition which basically allowed Plaintiff to take the deposition of Glassdoor (even though claims against Glassdoor were not anticipated) regarding two (2) of the anonymous postings, not written by Glassdoor nor either Doe 1 or Doe 2, and was going to limit the deposition to five specific statements within those reviews.  Glassdoor and the anonymous authors understandably appealed the trial court’s ruling.

The Appellate court then skipped over the whole concept of anonymous free speech when it justified the trial court’s order by stating that “[k]nowing the reviews’ contents alone did not tell Andra [plaintiff] whether it had viable claims against the anonymous reviewers” and that “Andra also needed to know not only the reviewers’ relationships with Andra to evaluate potential defensive issues such as substantial truth.”  See Memorandum, p. 7.  Yeah, you read that right.  The balancing test on pages 8-10 are equally problematic and even through the trial court limited the deposition of Glassdoor to a handful of statements the author(s) of the selected statements still didn’t necessarily have notice nor necessarily the opportunity to appear and defend.  Even more troubling is the statement by the Court “[b]ut Rule 202 does not require a petitioner investigating a potential claim to show a probable right in relief on the merits.”  See Id, pg. 12.  Say what?  So a Rule 202 petition can be a BS fishing expedition, not give notice to an author of the BS fishing expedition, require a website to extend time and resources to sit for a BS fishing expedition and/or raise all defenses that may otherwise lie with the knowledge of an author, and that is all okay?  Who made up this batch of Koolaid?  How can the Court not see how this is paving the highway for abuse by plaintiffs?

You can review the entire Memorandum Opinion here: 

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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.

 

 

 

Should websites be able to raise objections on behalf of their anonymous users? A California Appellate Court thinks so – Glassdoor v. Superior Court (Machine Zone, Inc.)

While I sometimes think that the California courts can get things wrong, e.g. Hassell v. Bird (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 1336, rev. granted, (thank goodness) they also, in my opinion, can get things right.  On March 10, 2017, the Sixth Appellate Court for Santa Clara County, California in the matter of Glassdoor, Inc. v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County (Machine Zone, Inc.), under Case No H042824, concluded that Glassdoor  (a website in which workers can post their own reviews about past or current employers) has standing, i.e, the authority, to assert an anonymous user’s interest in maintaining his anonymity against Machine Zone’s efforts to compel Glassdoor to identify him/her.  Can I get a fricken hallelujah!

Clearly I am elated by this ruling.  This is not only good for people who write honest reviews but also for websites that allow third parties to post content on their websites.  In my line of work I have seen parties file claims against anonymous authors sometimes alleging causes of action that wouldn’t even stand up to basic case analysis of the statute of limitations let alone anything more complicated like ensuring they have met the requirements that are necessary under state law in order for a website to release and anonymous author’s identifying information.  These parties will then submit their subpoena or some form of discovery order to a third-party website like Glassdoor and demand production of the identifying author information.  If the website’s subpoena compliance department is lead by anyone like me, chances are they have an entire checklist of criteria for their respective state that must be met prior to production.  Here in Arizona the controlling law is Mobilisa v. Doe (App. 2007) 217 Ariz. 103, 114-15, 170 P.3d 712, 723-24.  Mobilisa requires that a requesting party show: 1) that the anonymous author has been given adequate notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond to the discovery request (which itself has specific requirements that have to be adhered to); 2) that the requesting party’s cause of action could survive a motion for summary judgment on the elements of the claim not dependent on the identify of the anonymous author (and that requires more than laying out a mere prima facie case); and 3) a balance of the parties’ competing interests needs to favor disclosure.  Indeed, Mobilisa sets out some hoops that requesting parties have to jump through in order to try and protect the rights of an anonymous author and if requesting parties don’t conform, chances are that subpoena is going to be met with objection.

While I haven’t seen it all that often, I can think of a few instances where counsel was met with my objections and they tried to argue that the website lacked standing to raise such objections.  Typically I find this to be the biggest cop out – nothing more than an effort to circumvent the rules – especially when they are met with legitimate objections like statute of limitations or failure to meet other requirements.  Many websites, like Glassdoor, will fight this if challenged and I’m pleased to see this outcome.

Absolutely the anonymous author has their rights and can assert them on their own behalf but there are many reasons why an author may not stand up and defend.  What if the author doesn’t get notice of the matter?  I have personally seen some suspicious activities going on in the past and UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh and Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney Paul Alan Levy have helped raised awareness about many of the same concerns that I have had.  Take for example their Washington Post article which discusses “Dozens of suspicious court cases, with missing defendants, aim at getting web pages taken down or deindexed.”  What if the author lacks the knowledge to even understand that they have a defense?  The minute that a lawsuit gets filed defendants tend to get scared – especially if they are not in a solid financial position.  It’s not uncommon for an author to stand behind their story but fear the litigation and so they bury their head in the sand in hopes that the matter will “go away.”  They may not even consider the fact that they have a defense.  It’s not as if many people have legal knowledge -even the basics – and legal departments of websites can’t be giving people legal advice.  What if the author told the truth and cant afford a defense?   Here again I am aware of a situation where a person wrote a review – alleged that the story was truthful, but got sued in another state over the posting and couldn’t afford to appear and defend the situation in the other state.  How is that justice?  I’m sorry ma’am/sir – your right to free speech is only to the extent your pocket book can pay for a defense?  

Now I’m not suggesting that websites take on the litigation defense of all of their users – that would not be economically feasible.  Websites usually have no unique knowledge that would put them in a position to argue truth as a defense or anything like that.  However, I think websites who want to help protect their anonymous authors should have the ability to stand up to those who may be simply trying to take advantage of an anonymous author’s vulnerabilities through basic objections.  If you are making claims that are so far outside the statute of limitations it isn’t even funny, OBJECTION.  You’re case couldn’t stand on it’s own anyway.  If you aren’t following the correct process under the applicable law to ensure that an author has the appropriate notice and reasonable opportunity to defend, OBJECTION.  You can always attempt to cure the deficiencies and try again.  If you can’t – well, then you probably don’t have much of a case in the first place.  It’s a whole lot easier for a website’s legal department or subpoena compliance department to look at a situation and say “Nope, try again…” or “Nope, not happening…” than it is for a user to try and teach themselves the law or hire expensive counsel (face it – even the cheap attorneys aren’t “cheap”) to teach them the law and make the same objections on their behalf – within a short period of time.

I am so glad that the Glassdoor court recognized some of these issues and considered the potential for chilling effects on free speech.  As the Court points out in Glassdoor, “…some attacks on anonymity may be mounted for their in terrorem effect on potential critics.” Glassdoor at p.12.  This is a fantastic ruling and you can review the entire 33 page ruling below or by clicking HERE.

Until next time friends…

Statute of Limitations is a real thing and why you, a client, should understand it.

In the last couple of weeks I have seen an increasing amount of demand letters threatening litigation or actual lawsuits based on alleged claims that are far outside of the statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations is the law which defines a period of limitation for bringing certain types of legal actions.  Most statute of limitations are between one (1) year and six (6) years depending on the claim.  When a lay person doesn’t know and sends the demand letter or files the complaint I can kind of understand that.  Some people don’t even think about things like that.  While ignorance of the law isn’t a real excuse, it is often looked at with a softer lens by many.  When it is an attorney who does this kind of stuff – I’m sorry, it’s absolutely not excusable.  Indeed, I have seen MANY attorneys make this mistake and it upsets me – not only because it makes other attorneys in the profession look bad but I also feel for the attorney’s client who probably paid for that mistake because they didn’t know better.

An attorney should not be taking a client’s hard earned money to draft a meritless demand letter or complaint!  If your attorney is worth their weight in salt they will spend the time necessary to do the research and will be honest and tell you when your case has no merit… not just take your money and set YOU up for failure.  In fact, such conduct isn’t in line with the Professional Rules of Conduct.  While states typically have their own rules of professional conduct, also known as the Rules of Ethics, it is pretty clear that the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.1, says this kind of crap is a no-no.  See the pertinent excerpt below:

Advocate
Rule 3.1 Meritorious Claims And Contentions

A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law…

It seems that the moment someone feels wronged  in some way someone, that person’s first line of thinking tends to be  “I’m gonna sue!”  I see that written and posted online all over the place or hear it in general conversation.  The problem is there are indeed times when you don’t have the legal standing to sue.  Some of the first questions to your attorney should include:

  1. What kinds of claims might I have given my situation?
  2. What are the applicable Statute of Limitations to those claims?
  3. Are any of my claims within those Statute of Limitations?
  4. Are there any viable exceptions to those Statute of Limitations?

If the answers regarding question nos. three and/or four above is “NO” then don’t ask your attorney to draft a demand letter threatening legal action for those claims and certainly don’t ask them to draft a complaint anyway.  Similarly, don’t let your attorney talk you into drafting a demand letter threatening litigation or actually filing a  meritless complaint.  You will only be footing the bill to fail – and filing fees, process server fees, and the time that your attorney will charge you to draft the bogus letter or complaint will only hurt YOUR pocket book.  And, to add salt to the wound, there is a chance that the Defendant could turn around and sue both you, and your attorney, for malicious prosecution.  It happens…and you could end up paying for not only your attorney’s fees BUT the attorneys’ fees of the other party as well.

Long story short – know the statute of limitations for bringing claims and don’t waste time and resources on frivolous demand letters and complaints.  It will save you a lot of time, money and other resources in the end.

If you are in Arizona, and have questions about statute of limitations for a particular claim in Arizona, feel free to contact me.