California Supreme Court Denies Review of Ruling Allowing Restaurant Owner’s False Advertising Claims to Proceed Against Yelp

24 11 2014

On November 12, 2014, the California Supreme Court denied review of the California Court of Appeals decision in Demetriades v. Yelp, Inc., 2014 WL 3661491 (Cal. App. July 24, 2014), which allowed a restaurant owner to proceed with false advertising and other claims against the consumer review site Yelp based upon Yelp’s marketing claims regarding the accuracy and efficacy of its automated “filter” that removes unreliable  or biased consumer reviews.

Companies, frustrated with their portrayal on online review sites, have mostly struck out when seeking to hold website operators liable for managing and displaying user-generated reviews.  However, the Demetriades case is one example where a court refused to dismiss claims against a consumer review site related to marketing representations. For a fuller treatment of the decision and a larger discussion of the interplay between marketing statements and immunity under CDA Section 230, see our prior post — Website Marketing Statements: The Achilles’Heel to CDA Protection?

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Are Parents Liable For Their Children’s Online Pranks?–Boston v. Athearn

18 11 2014

Dustin Athearn, who was 13, decided to “have some fun” at a “friend’s” expense. He did what any modern teenager does to poke fun at someone: he created a fake Facebook page in their name. Along with a friend Melissa, Dustin created an email address for his target, Alexandria Boston, and using this, created a Facebook account in Alexandria’s name.

He used a picture he took of Alex for the profile photo, but altered it using a “Fat Face” application.

The fake profile then issued friend requests to many classmates, who accepted. Dustin and Melissa also posted items to the account while posing as Alexandria. Some of the posts were graphically sexual, racist, or otherwise offensive (and false).

Alex suspected that Dustin was behind this based on the profile picture Dustin used. Alex, along with her parents, approached the school principal. The principal investigated and suspended Dustin and Melissa for two days for their actions. Dustin’s parents were also informed. The parents disciplined Dustin by “forbidding him for one week from seeing his friends after school,” but otherwise did not take any action. Significantly, they did not force Dustin to remove the Facebook page, which stayed up for almost a full year following the suspension. The page was finally taken down after the Bostons filed their lawsuit. Alex sued Dustin and his parents. In the lawsuit, Dustin’s parents were granted summary judgment.

Parental liability for Facebook use:

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Ripoff Report’s Latest Section 230 Win–Seldon v. Magedson

21 04 2014

It’s been a while since I blogged a Ripoff Report case. I’m sure you’ve missed hearing about them, but their litigation docket has calmed down somewhat since their heyday.

This pro se lawsuit, rehashing tired arguments that have failed repeatedly over the past decade, adds nothing to the canon. On the claim of defamation based on third party reports submitted to Ripoff Report, Seldon alleges:

that third parties submitted defamatory information about him to the website, and that Xcentric participated in the defamation by creating the file heading “philip-seldon | Ripoff Report | Complaints Reviews Scams Lawsuits Frauds Reported,” which introduced the defamatory statements.

Seldon further alleged:

ripoffreport.com has a staff of reviewers who intercept and review each and every report submitted to its website and decide whether or not to permit the report to be included on the website and whether or not to post the report as submitted or to modify it by redacting content or modifying the content which they do for numerous postings

 

These allegations make the judge’s job really easy. Citing Roommates.com for the defense (a surprisingly common phenomenon as I hope to report soon), the court says that screening content is immunized by Section 230. With respect to the other allegations, citing Carafano, the court concludes:

The fact that Xcentric facilitated defamation in some attenuated way by providing software that automatically published and filed a third party’s statements does not undercut Xcentric’s claim to immunity under the CDA.

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Case citation: Seldon v. Magedson, 2014 WL 1456316 (D. Ariz. April 15, 2014). The complaint.

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Wikipedia mounts courtroom defense for editor sued by politician

19 02 2014
Dimitris Loudris, a 23-year-old trainee lawyer from Athens, was sued for libel last year for writing about a Greek politician, Theodore Katsanevas. Last week, the judge overseeing the case issued an order that he remove the article from the site. That got the attention of the Wikimedia Foundation, which has now made a public vow to support Liourdis throughout the litigation.

“[T]he statements were and still are supported by reputable secondary sources,” wrote Wikimedia Foundation lawyer Michelle Paulson in a blog post published Friday. “The Greek Wikipedia community decided, through discussion, that they were appropriate for the article. Mr. Katsanevas has ignored these facts and is now using the legal system against those who do not share his financial means and influence.”

 

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The content in this post was found at http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/02/wikipedia-mounts-courtroom-defense-for-editor-sued-by-politician/ and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.



In Yelp review lawsuit, defamation is all around—so everyone loses

4 02 2014

A scathing Yelp review and accusatory reaction posts in the comments—Virginia homeowner Jane Perez and local contractor Chris Dietz were playing the online reputation game for keeps. Initially, Dietz’s work led to Perez’s review, which resulted in Dietz’s lawsuit for defamation. And as Ars previously reported, it was a complicated matter. In December 2012, a lower court ruled that Perez was required to edit her harsh comments on Yelp and Angie’s List against Dietz and his company, Dietz Development. But then Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a 21-page petition for review to the Supreme Court of Virginia later that month, and the highest state court overturned the injunction just two days later.

Now, a year later, the case finally played out in front of a jury trial. As The Washington Post reports, a Fairfax County jury took five days at trial and eight hours in deliberation to decide that, yes, Perez had defamed Dietz with her review. However, Dietz’s responses to the post in the comment thread defamed Perez as well. So accordingly, no one will receive damages.

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First Amendment Doesn’t Distinguish Between Bloggers and Press, Court Says

24 01 2014

In defamation cases, the First Amendment applies equally to bloggers, dead-tree journalists and anyone else who is speaking to the public, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

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Carpet Bombing: How One Business Is Trying to Get Rid of Bad Reviews

16 01 2014

DAVID STREITFELD

NYT Bits Blog
January 16, 2014

…..

Some shopkeepers and restaurant owners have been railing against Yelp since it began. They say customers try to blackmail them — “I want a free dessert or I’m going to post a negative review.” They mutter that Yelp shakes businesses down for advertising. There is no evidence this is true, and lawsuits alleging it have gone nowhere . . . .

Now a Virginia carpet and rug cleaner is mounting a different sort of challenge to Yelp.

Hadeed Carpet, a business in a Washington, D.C., suburb, had a bunch of negative reviews, the kind that would make any potential customer keep walking. . . .

Hadeed asserts that Bob G. and the rest likely do not exist; presumably they were created by competitors trying to bring Hadeed down. That would remove the reviews from the protection of the First Amendment and make them defamatory. So it filed suit against the anonymous reviewers, and sought to compel Yelp to turn over their real names.

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SPEECH Act Defendant Gets $48,000 In Attorneys’ Fees–Trout Point Lodge Ltd. v. Handshoe

19 12 2013

 

The SPEECH Act combats libel tourism, the process of trying to enforce an international defamation ruling in the United States if the ruling isn’t consistent with U.S. law. The leading SPEECH Act case is Trout Point Lodge Ltd. v. Handshoe. In that case, Nova Scotia residents got a defamation judgment in Nova Scotia against Handshoe, a Mississippi blogger. When the Nova Scotia plaintiffs tried to enforce the judgment in Mississippi, the case ran into the SPEECH Act roadblock. The Fifth Circuit dismissed the case because the defamation claims couldn’t succeed in the U.S.

. . .

As a result, Handshoe gets an attorneys’ fee award of $48,000 (reduced about $7,000 from the fee request, a pretty small haircut as those things go). Another reminder of the power of the SPEECH Act.

Case citation: Trout Point Lodge Ltd. v. Handshoe, 2013 WL 6524650 (S.D. Miss. Dec. 11, 2013)

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“Revenge porn” operator arrested, charged with ID theft

17 12 2013
Websites that post nude pictures of adults without their permission, commonly known as “revenge porn” sites, have recently drawn public scorn and a few lawsuits.Now, the owner of one revenge porn website is facing prison. Kevin Bollaert, a 27-year-old San Diego resident, was arrested today for running a website called ugotposted.com and has been charged with 31 counts of identity theft, extortion, and conspiracy. The suspect is being held in jail on $50,000 bail.

“This website published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris in a statement about today’s arrest. “Online predators that profit from the extortion of private photos will be investigated and prosecuted for this reprehensible and illegal internet activity.”

 

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The content in this post was found at http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/12/revenge-porn-operator-arrested-charged-with-id-theft/ and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.



Should TheDirty Website Be Liable For Encouraging Users To Gossip? (Forbes Cross-Post)

11 12 2013

A major Internet Law battle is brewing in the Sixth Circuit federal appellate court in Kentucky. Potentially at stake is the future of the Web 2.0 ecosystem and user-generated content–which is why many of the Internet’s biggest and high-profile companies have rushed to the aid of a gossip website that many people find reprehensible.

Case Background

The facts in this case are stranger than fiction, which makes this case an Internet Law classic. The lawsuit is against a website, TheDirty.com, run by Nik Lamas-Richie (f/k/a Hooman Abedi Karamian). TheDirty allows users to submit gossip, which is often about young women and often mean-spirited and misogynistic. Richie selects some user posts, typically adds brief remarks (a sentence or two of snark), and then posts the selected submissions to his website. Due to its large readership and good Google indexing, being featured on TheDirty has the potential to be life-altering.

The plaintiff is Sarah Jones, a former teacher and NFL cheerleader (she was a “Ben-gal”). Jones was featured on TheDirty twice, including allegations that she had a sexually-transmitted disease and had sex with an entire pro football team. Initially she sued the wrong website, TheDirt, and won a multi-million dollar but worthless default judgment. Correcting the error, she subsequently sued TheDirty for defamation.

Normally, lawsuits like Jones’ are preempted by a federal law, 47 USC 230 (Section 230), that says websites aren’t liable for third party content. Section 230 has been referenced in hundreds of cases, most of which have cleanly and unambiguously applied the law to protect websites from liability–even if they exercise editorial control, and even if they know the content could be defamatory. For more on why the Section 230 immunity has been so effective, see this essay.

Despite these legal precedents, in January 2012, the district court rejected TheDirty’s Section 230 defense in a slight and confusing opinion. This allowed the case to go to a jury trial. In the interim, Jones ran into serious legal trouble of her own because she had sex with one of her under-age students. In October 2012, she pleaded guilty to a felony. In a (romantic?) twist, in June 2013 she got engaged to the victim of her crime.

Despite Jones’ criminal behavior, in July 2013 the jury awarded Jones $338,000 in damages (a nice engagement present!). Jury instruction #3 said the jury should hold Richie responsible for users’ submissions–basically, the instruction told the jury to ignore Section 230. For more about the jury award, see TheDirty’s official statement in response to the jury award.

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