Twitter Sued in Australia for Defamation

25 05 2012
In a case of mistaken identity, a Melbourne man is suing Twitter for publishing tweets about him that were untrue. According to The Age,

Joshua Meggitt, the Melbourne man wrongly named by writer and TV identity Marieke Hardy as the author of a hate blog dedicated to her, is now suing Twitter Inc itself.

Mr Meggitt’s lawyer, Stuart Gibson, served a legal notice yesterday on the San Francisco-based social media giant, a company valued last year at $US7 billion ($A6.5 billion), as the publisher of a tweet by Hardy last November.

Her tweet read: ”I name and shame my ‘anonymous’ internet bully. Liberating business! Join me,” with a link to her blog, where she incorrectly named Mr. Meggitt as the author of ”ranting, hateful” articles about her.

This wasn’t a fleeting celebrity tweet. It appeared on Twitter’s homepage and was copied by some of Hardy’s 60,897 followers and other Twitter users taking part at the time in a worldwide online anti-abuse campaign. (Meggit reached a confidential settlement with Hardy after the incident — reportedly for $15,000.)

Now he wants damages from Twitter. ”Twitter are a publisher, and at law anyone involved in the publication can be sued,” Meggit’s lawyer Gibson said. ”We’re suing for the retweets and the original tweet — and many of the retweets and comments are far worse.”

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Reputation Management Lawsuit Is Shot Down–Bernard v. Donat

24 05 2012

By Eric Goldman

Bernard v. Donat, 2012 WL 525533 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2011). The Justia page.

Donald Ray Bernard is an energy consultant, big game hunt tour operator, former lawyer and former law professor. His LinkedIn page. His Google search results look like the kind of search results I see when someone uses a reputation management service; I find SEOed vanity search results are often linked to a litigious hypersensitivity about reputation (see, e.g., the litigation fusillade from Bev Stayart). Unfortunately, like far too many lawyer-plaintiffs/law professor-plaintiffs, the judge has to teach him what the law actually says.

Bernard alleges that Donat went on an online rampage against Bernard’s veracity and former legal practice, including an attack blog, posts at Complaintsboard and PissedConsumer, attack emails and postings to Scribd. Bernard sued Donat for Lanham Act false advertising, defamation and tortious interference. In this ruling, Judge Whyte dismisses the Lanham Act false advertising claim as unmeritorious (with leave to amend), which (if Bernard can’t successfully replead) will result in the state law claims going to state court.

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Quick take: For-profit college, former employee square off in Wikipedia defamation case

24 05 2012

Given the size and scale of its database, it’s remarkable we don’t see more US defamation lawsuits filed (rather than just threatened) over Wikipedia entries. It’s even more remarkable when you consider Wikipedia’s unique editorial practices, such as allowing anyone to edit and not having a paid editorial staff. So the case of Pitale v. Holstine, which pits a company that runs for-profit vocational colleges against a former employee, is unusual.

We’ve seen a few defamation lawsuits over Wikipedia entries, such as those from celebrities (Fuzzy Zoeller, Ron Livingston) and sue-the-world attempts (e.g., Bauer v. Wikimedia). Most of those don’t appear to have gone very far. Indeed, this opinion seems to be the first one in Westlaw’s database to discuss the substance of a defamation claim for Wikipedia edits. The only other similar one I found: Park West Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman, 2009 WL 5151315 (E.D. Mich. December 17, 2009), which allowed the plaintiff to discover who edited the entries in question. Despite its comparative novelty, this opinion reads like a normal defamation opinion. As I’ll explain in a moment, perhaps it shouldn’t.

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The content in this post was found at http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/03/for-profit-college-former-employee-square-off-in-wikipedia-defamation-case/ and was not authored by the moderators of freeforafee.com. Clicking the title link will take you to the source of the post.



Another Newspaper Isn’t Liable for User Website Comments Per 47 USC 230–Spreadbury v. Bitterroot Library

24 05 2012

By Eric Goldman

Spreadbury v. Bitterroot Public Library, 2012 WL 734163 (D. Montana March 6, 2012). Magistrate’s Findings and Recommendations from November 2011. The Justia page.

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Emailing the URL of an Allegedly Defamatory Post Immunized by 47 USC 230–Shrader v. Biddinger

24 05 2012

By Eric Goldman

Shrader v. Biddinger, 2012 WL 976032 (D. Colo. February 17, 2012). That ruling is the magistrate’s report. The judge adopted the magistrate report verbatim last week. The initial complaint. This case also produced an interesting 10th Circuit ruling on jurisdiction: Shrader v. Biddinger, 2011 WL 678386 (10th Cir. Feb. 28, 2011).

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New York High Court Splits on Applicability of Communications Decency Act Section 230 to Online Forum Operator

21 05 2012

A divided New York Court of Appeals ruled on June 14, 2011, that an online forum administrator’s additions to an allegedly defamatory post by a user are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Shiamili v. The Real Estate Group of New York, Inc., No. 105, (N.Y. June 14, 2011). This is the first ruling by New York’s highest court on the scope of CDA Section 230, it was noted in both the majority opinion and the dissent.

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Service Provider’s Intent in Removing Positive Reviews Irrelevant in Assessing Availability of CDA Section 230 Protection

21 05 2012

A lawsuit against consumer review site Yelp! has yielded an opinion that demonstrates the breadth of the protection afforded interactive service providers under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124082 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 26, 2011), a group of putative class action plaintiffs filed an action against the site under Section 17200 of the California Business and Professions Code, claiming that the site manipulated its consumer review functionality to extort advertising revenues from the plaintiff businesses. . . .

In an opinion rendered last spring, Judge Marilyn Patel rejected most of the business owners’ claims of “implied extortion” that were based upon allegations that Yelp! manipulated reviews in order to coerce businesses into purchasing advertising on the site, but granted leave to amend the complaint. Levitt v. Yelp! Inc, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99372 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 22, 2011). A Third Amended Complaint was filed and Yelp! renewed its motion to dismiss. Judge Edward Chen, now assigned to the case, concluded that the Third Amended Complaint failed to cure the pleading and substantive defects identified by Judge Patel and finally dismissed the complaint without leave to amend.

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A Twitter Exception for Defamation?

19 05 2012

[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]

. . . . My read of the situation is that it’s too early to tell whether courts are more apt to view statements online (and on Twitter) as more likely to be opinion than fact. Courtney Love’s lawyers telegraphed that they would rely on a defense along these lines, but the case never went to trial so a court hasn’t squarely addressed the question and addressed some of the surrounding issues. (As reported by Eriq Gardner, the court tentatively dismissed Love’s defense: “Judge Rejects Courtney Love’s Defamation Theories in Twitter Lawsuit.”) For other cases relying on this theory in the context of online posts, in addition to Sandals Resorts, see DiMeo v. Max and Finkel v. Dauber.

One question this raises, is: what perspective does the court use when it evaluates context and makes the determination of whether something is hyperbole or would reasonably be viewed as a statement of fact?

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Attempted Trademark Workaround to 47 USC 230 Immunity Fails Badly—Ascentive v. PissedConsumer [Catch-Up Post]

16 01 2012

By Eric Goldman

[This is one of the top dozen or so most important Internet law opinions of 2011, but unfortunately it came out just as I was going into my exam-grading exile and I had to put blogging it on hold. Even over a month later, it’s still worth your careful review.]

Ascentive, LLC v. Opinion Corp., 2011 WL 6181452 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2011). A prior blog post on a different Ascentive lawsuit, Ascentive v. Google.

In my Regulation of Reputational Information paper, I explain how vendors are misusing intellectual property to control consumer perceptions of their businesses. One example is Medical Justice, which tried to use copyright law to work around 47 USC 230 and suppress unwanted reviews. Fortunately, Medical Justice has abandoned that effort.

Other vendors try to use trademark law to work around 47 USC 230. By definition, consumers must reference a vendor’s brand in order to review it, and trademark’s doctrinal plasticity means that such references arguably support a prima facie trademark claim. (I explain that issue more in my Online Word of Mouth paper). As a result, we’ve seen a number of vendors dabble with trademark claims against consumer reviews. For two examples, see Lifestyle Lift v. RealSelf and Eppley v. Iacovelli. (For more on the noteworthy litigiousness of doctors against consumer reviews, see this post).

In this case, the plaintiffs used trademark law to make a no-holds-barred assault on the 47 USC 230 immunity’s applicability to consumer reviews. Their arguments go nowhere. I hope this emphatic ruling will discourage other plaintiffs from trying to use trademark law to work around 230.

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TheDirty Denied 47 USC 230 Immunity–Jones v. Dirty World

12 01 2012

By Eric Goldman

Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, LLC, 2:09-cv-00219-WOB (E.D. Ky. Jan. 10, 2012). Prior blog post on this case.

A Kentucky federal judge rejected 47 USC 230 immunity for thedirty.com for third-party content. It’s entirely clear that if the jury finds the user posts defamatory or a privacy invasion, this judge will let thedirty be liable for third-party content. That’s exactly what 47 USC 230 was designed to prevent, making this a troubling and probably lawless ruling. Critics of 47 USC 230 will likely rejoice about this opinion because it represents the biggest incursion to 47 USC 230’s immunity we’ve seen to date. Yet, for that reason, I wonder if this ruling will survive an appeal, which thedirty has already promised.

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