Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Internet Law
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky’s Attorney General opened civil price-gouging investigations into Kentucky-based merchants, including at least one member of the Guild that was selling goods to Kentuckians through Amazon’s online marketplace. The Guild challenged the constitutionality of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws as applied to sellers on Amazon, invoking the extraterritoriality doctrine of the dormant commerce clause. Accepting that the Attorney General sought only to enforce the Commonwealth’s price-gouging laws against Kentucky-based sellers in connection with sales to Kentucky consumers through Amazon’s platform, the district court nevertheless granted the Guild a preliminary injunction, concluding that enforcing the laws in connection with Amazon sales would have impermissible extraterritorial effects.The Sixth Circuit vacated, first holding that the Guild is likely to establish direct organizational standing and standing on behalf of its members. This enforcement of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws is unlikely to run afoul of the dormant commerce clause’s extraterritoriality doctrine, which invalidates state laws as per se unconstitutional in the narrow instances where a state expressly or inevitably exceeds its authority and seeks to control wholly out-of-state commerce. The effect on out-of-state commerce of Kentucky’s price-gouging laws depends entirely upon Amazon’s independent decision-making with regard to the structure of its online marketplace, so the application of those laws to Kentucky-based third-party sellers on Amazon in connection with sales to Kentucky consumers is unlikely to offend the extraterritoriality doctrine. View "Online Merchants Guild v. Cameron" on Justia Law

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Redbubble operates a global online marketplace. Around 600,000 independent artists, not employed by Redbubble, upload images onto Redbubble’s interface. Consumers scroll through those images and order customized items. Once a consumer places an order, Redbubble notifies the artist and arranges the manufacturing and shipping of the product with independent third parties. Redbubble never takes title to any product shown on its website and does not design, manufacture, or handle these products. The shipped packages bear Redbubble's logo. Redbubble handles customer service, including returns. Redbubble markets goods listed on its website as Redbubble products; for instance, it provides instructions on how to care for “Redbubble garments.” Customers often receive goods from Redbubble’s marketplace in Redbubble packaging.Some of Redbubble’s artists uploaded trademark-infringing images that appeared on Redbubble’s website; consumers paid Redbubble to receive products bearing images trademarked by OSU. Redbubble’s user agreement states that trademark holders, and not Redbubble, bear the burden of monitoring and redressing trademark violations. Redbubble did not remove the offending products from its website. OSU sued, alleging trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, and Ohio’s right-of-publicity law. The district court granted Redbubble summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Redbubble’s marketplace involves creating Redbubble products and garments that would not have existed but for Redbubble’s enterprise. The district court erred by entering summary judgment under an overly narrow reading of the Lanham Act. View "The Ohio State University v. Redbubble, Inc." on Justia Law

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

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

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

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Novak created a “farcical Facebook account” that looked like the Parma Police Department’s official page. The page was up for 12 hours and published posts including a recruitment advertisement that “strongly encourag[ed] minorities to not apply.” and an advertisement for a “Pedophile Reform" event. Some of its about 100 followers thought it was funny. Others were angry or confused and called the police station. The Department posted a warning on its official Facebook page. Novak reposted that warning on his page, to “deepen his satire.” Novak deleted “pedantic comments” on his page explaining that the page was fake, The Department contacted Facebook requesting that the page be shut down and informed local news outlets. Novak deleted his creation. Based on a search warrant and subpoena, Facebook disclosed that Novak was behind the fake. The police obtained warrants to search Novak’s apartment and to arrest him, stating that Novak unlawfully impaired the department’s functions. Novak responded that, other than 12 minutes of phone calls, the police department suffered no disruption. Novak was acquitted, then sued, alleging violations of his constitutional and statutory rights. The district court dismissed in part, with 26 claims remaining. The Sixth Circuit granted the officers qualified immunity on claims related to anonymous speech, censorship in a public forum, and the right to receive speech were dismissed. View "Novak v. City of Parma" on Justia Law

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Team sells materials to help individuals profit in multi-level marketing businesses. Doe anonymously runs the “Amthrax” blog, in which he criticizes multi-level marketing companies and Team. Doe posted a hyperlink to a downloadable copy of the entirety of “The Team Builder’s Textbook,” copyrighted by Team. After Team served the blog’s host with a take-down notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 512, Doe removed the hyperlink. Team filed suit, seeking only injunctive relief and that the court identify Doe. Doe asserted fair-use and copyright-misuse defenses and that he has a First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The court ultimately entered summary judgment for Team, found that unmasking Doe “was unnecessary to ensure that defendant would not engage in future infringement” and that “defendant has already declared ... that he has complied with the proposed injunctive relief” by destroying the copies of the Textbook in his possession such that “no further injunctive relief is necessary.” The Sixth Circuit remanded with respect to unmasking Doe; the district court failed to recognize the presumption in favor of open judicial records. View "Signature Management Team, LLC v. Doe" on Justia Law

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Luis, a resident of Florida, developed an online personal relationship with Ohio resident, Catherine. The relationship was apparently platonic, but Catherine’s husband, Joseph, was suspicious and secretly installed WebWatcher on Catherine’s computer to monitor her communications. According to Luis, WebWatcher and its manufacturer, Awareness, surreptitiously intercepted the emails, instant messages, and other communications between Luis and Catherine and disclosed the communications to Joseph, who used them as leverage to divorce Catherine on favorable terms. Luis filed suit and eventually settled his claims against all defendants except Awareness, against which he alleged violations of the federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. 2511-2512, the Ohio Wiretap Act, and Ohio common law. The district court dismissed, reasoning that concluded that Awareness did not “intercept” Luis’s communications because it was Joseph—not Awareness—that installed the WebWatcher program. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the lower court failed to take into account the extent to which Awareness itself was allegedly engaged in the asserted violations, noting Awareness’s continued operation of the WebWatcher program, even after that program is sold to a user. Luis’s complaint sufficiently alleged that Awareness​ (via WebWatcher) acquires communications in a manner that is contemporaneous with their transmission. View "Luis v. Zang" on Justia Law

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Tennessee and North Carolina municipalities that provide broadband service would like to expand their networks beyond their current territorial boundaries to underserved nearby areas. State laws either forbid or put onerous restrictions on such expansion by municipal telecommunications providers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), citing its statutory mandates to remove barriers to broadband service and to promote competition in the telecommunications market, issued an order purporting to preempt these state statutory provisions. The Sixth Circuit reversed the order, which “essentially serves to re-allocate decision-making power between the states and their municipalities.” No federal statute or FCC regulation requires the municipalities to expand or otherwise to act in contravention of the preempted state statutory provisions. This preemption by the FCC of the allocation of power between a state and its subdivisions requires at least a clear statement in the authorizing federal legislation. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, cited by the FCC, states that the FCC “shall” take action to promote broadband deployment, but “falls far short of such a clear statement.” View "State of Tenn. v. Fed. Commc'n Comm'n" on Justia Law

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O’Kroley googled himself and found “Texas Advance Sheet,” followed by “indecency with a child in Trial Court Cause N . . . Colin O’Kroley v Pringle.” O’Kroley was never involved in an indecency case; his case was listed immediately after such a case, on a service that summarizes judicial opinions. If users clicked the link they would see that the cases were unrelated. Claiming “severe mental anguish,” O’Kroley sued Google for $19,200,000,000,000, asserting “libel,” “invasion of privacy,” “failure to provide due process,” “cruel and unusual punishment,” “cyber-bullying,” and “psychological torture.” The court dismissed, citing the Communications Decency Act, which insulates interactive computer services from certain lawsuits, 47 U.S.C. 230. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Google is an interactive computer service, providing “access by multiple users to a computer server,” not the publisher or speaker of the allegedly defamatory content. A separate “entity [was] responsible . . . for the [content’s] creation.” Google cannot be held liable for merely providing access to, and reproducing, the allegedly defamatory text. “ Google performed some automated editorial acts on the content, such as removing spaces and altering font, and kept the search result up even after O’Kroley complained; these acts come within “a publisher’s traditional editorial functions.” View "O'Kroley v. Fastcase, Inc" on Justia Law