Articles Posted in Internet 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

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Yoder hosts auctions for used construction equipment. Its largest annual auction is in Florida. Efacts, owned by Garafola, provides auctioneers with online bidding platforms. In 2003, Yoder began accepting live Internet bids during the Florida auction. Efacts provided services. Efacts received and maintained confidential customer information relating to Yoder’s auctions. In 2008 the companies had a falling out. Yoder terminated the contract and hired RTB, another online bidding services company. On February 7-9, 2010, Efacts accessed the RTB bidding platform without authorization, using an RTB administrative username and password. Garafola was aware of the username and password combination from Efacts’ prior relationship with Yoder and submitted winning bids with a combined price of $41,000 for which it did not pay. On February 10- 11, an Efacts employee gained unauthorized access to the RTB platform, posing as a Yoder customer, and placed 18 winning bids with a combined price of $1,212,074 which were not paid. The Sixth Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of Yoder, rejecting claims based on denial of spoliation sanctions; denial of hearsay objections to documents produced by internet service providers; denial of summary judgment on Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claim; and imposition of sanctions under FRCP 37. View "Yoder & Frey Auctioneers, Inc v. EquipmentFacts, LLC" on Justia Law

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America’s largest law school, Thomas M. Cooley, has four Michigan campuses and one in Florida and about 3,500 students. . Anziska was “of counsel” at a New York law firm. On June 8, 2011, under the title “Investigating the Thomas Cooley School of Law,” Anziska posted on the website “JD Underground,” that the firm was investigating law schools for preying on the ignorance of “naive, clueless 22-year-olds. Perhaps one of the worst offenders is the Thomas Cooley School of Law, which grossly inflates its post-graduate employment data and salary information…. students are defaulting on loans at an astounding 41 percent… most likely … will continue to defraud unwitting students unless held civilly accountable. If you have any relevant information or know of anyone who has attended Thomas Cooley … correspondences will be kept strictly confidential.” On June 13, the firm received a cease-and-desist letter from Cooley, claiming that the post was defamatory. On June 15, under the title “Retraction re: Investigating the Thomas Cooley School of Law,” a partner posted on JD Underground that the earlier post “contained certain allegations which may have been couched as fact regarding employment and default data. These statements are hereby retracted.” Meanwhile, Anziska disseminated a draft proposed class action complaint involving 18 former or current Cooley students, containing the same allegations. The complaint became publicly available on the internet. Cooley sued, alleging defamation, tortious interference with business relations, breach of contract, and false light. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Cooley was a limited-purpose public figure and the record would not allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the defendants published the challenged statements with actual malice. View "Thomas M. Cooley Law Sch. v. Kurzon Strauss, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Dirty World website enables users to anonymously upload comments, photographs, and video, which Richie selects and publishes along with his own editorial comments. Jones is a Kentucky high school teacher and a member of the cheerleading squad for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. She was the subject of several submissions posted by anonymous users and of editorial remarks posted by Richie, including photographs of Jones and a statement that she “slept with every other Bengal Football player.” Jones requested that the post be removed. Richie declined. A subsequent post alleged that her former boyfriend “tested positive for Chlamydia Infection and Gonorrhea ... sure Sarah also has both ... he brags about doing sarah in … her class room at the school she teaches at DIXIE Heights." Richie's responded to the post: “Why are all high school teachers freaks in the sack?” Jones brought claims of defamation, libel per se, false light, and intentional inflection of emotional distress. The district court rejected arguments that the claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230. A second trial resulted in a verdict for $38,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Under the CDA, Richie and Dirty World were neither creators nor developers of the challenged content. Jones’s tort claims are grounded on the statements of another content provider, but sought to impose liability on Dirty World and Richie as if they were the publishers or speakers of those statements. Section 230(c)(1) bars those claims. View "Jones v. Dirty World Entm't" on Justia Law

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Grand Resort, which has operated in the Great Smoky Mountains since 1982, claims that TripAdvisor’s publication of a survey that concluded that Grand Resort was the dirtiest hotel in America caused irreparable damage to its business and that TripAdvisor used a flawed rating system that distorted actual performance and perspective. The district court dismissed, reasoning that the “dirtiest hotels” list is protected opinion; it reflects TripAdvisor’s users’ subjective opinions and is not capable of being defamatory. The court rejected a motion to amend to add claims of trade libel-injurious falsehood and tortious interference with prospective business relationships to the claims of false light-invasion of privacy and of defamation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that amendment of the complaint would be futile. View "Seaton v. TripAdvisor, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tragas bought information that is encoded in the magnetic strip on the back of credit and debit cards from overseas suppliers and re-sold the information to the Hunter brothers, who created “clone” gift and credit cards with which they purchased goods and bona fide gift cards. Tragas and the Hunters communicated online. Police discovered records of their conversations on the Hunters’ computer. Transcripts of the conversations were read at trial. Although the parties did not use names, a picture of Tragas appeared on the account and Tragas made purchases with card information exchanged during the conversations. Tragas purchased a house in Florida after a conversation about buying a house in Florida. As a result of the scheme, credit and debit card users and their financial institutions lost $2.18 million. Tragas was convicted of conspiracy to commit access device fraud offenses, 18 U.S.C. 1029(b); aiding and abetting unlawful activity under the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a); bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1344; and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and sentenced to 300 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions, rejecting claims that the prosecutor improperly read evidence aloud, that the court should have given the jury a specific unanimity instruction, that the Travel Act convictions were not supported by sufficient evidence, and that her Vienna Convention rights were violated. The court remanded the sentence; the court used an incorrect version of the Guidelines. View "United States v. Tragas" on Justia Law

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Customers who rent rooms from the online travel companies pay those companies a higher “retail” rate; the online travel companies pay the hotels an agreed-upon “wholesale” rate, plus any taxes applicable to the “wholesale” price. Ohio allows municipalities and townships to levy excise taxes on “transactions by which lodging by a hotel is or is to be furnished to transient guests.” Ohio Rev. Code 5739.08.The municipalities alleged that the online travel companies violated local tax laws by failing to pay the local occupancy tax on the revenue they collect in the form of the difference between the “wholesale” room rate and the higher “retail” rate charged by the online travel companies. In granting the travel companies’ motion to dismiss, the district court determined that the companies had no obligation under any of the ordinances, regulations, or resolutions to collect and remit guest taxes because the laws created tax-collection obligations only for “vendors,” “operators,” and “hotels.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The language of the laws is aimed expressly at taxing the cost of furnishing hotel lodging, and does not purport to tax the additional fees charged by the online travel companies. View "City of Columbus v. Hotels.com, L.P." on Justia Law

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Tangled in a prolonged legal dispute over visitation rights to see his daughter, Jeffries wrote a song, “Daughter’s Love,” which contains passages about relationships between fathers and daughters, but also includes complaints about his ex-wife, ranting gripes about lawyers and the legal system, and threats to kill the judge if he doesn’t “do the right thing” at an upcoming custody hearing. Jeffries created a video of himself performing the song on a guitar painted with an American flag and posted the music video on YouTube. He shared it with friends, family and the media. In the video, Jeffries says “This song’s for you, judge.” Agents charged Jeffries with violating a federal law that prohibits “transmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of another” 18 U.S.C. 875(c). A jury convicted Jeffries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. All that the First Amendment requires in the context of a section 875(c) prosecution is that the threat be real; there was sufficient evidence to convict. View "United States v. Jeffries" on Justia Law