Opining about online harassment is the new black. Media outlets – from the respectable to the tawdry – have rhapsodized about cyberbullying’s effect on society, and part of the conversation has focused on a 21st-century phenomenon – “the graphic meme.”
Some folks say memes are a matter of free speech; other people believe they’re noxious forms of cyberbullying. The war rages on – in perpetuity. But for those of you keeping score, Team Regulation recently won a courtroom battle.
Meme Leads To Lawsuit
These days, so-called “memes” are as ubiquitous as Starbucks cafes. Some are funny, some are try-hard, and some are just cruel. The unfortunate part of the “mean meme formula” is that innocent people are turned into “meme-lebrities” by no fault – or force – of their own. It can cause a lot of heartache and damaging consequences. Think about it: would you hire “Sc*mbag Steve”? (OK, OK – YOU would, but other people aren’t as generous.)
Boy and Family Sue Over A Meme
Recently, the parents of a boy with Down syndrome decided to fight back against the Meme Army. Apparently, a picture of their son made its way online, someone got a hold of it, and long story short, within days, the young man’s picture became the backbone of a viral meme. The mocking was ruthless and unrelenting. According to the boy’s parents, the constant barrage of jeering caused their son harm – so, they decided to be legal trailblazers and sued over the offense.
Court Sides With Plaintiff In Meme Lawsuit
When word of the lawsuit first hit, a lot of people assumed a judge would toss the case. But much to the surprise of the proverbial peanut gallery, a judge and jury sided with the boy, to the tune of $150,000.
When asked about the claim, the father explained, “We are in favor of the First Amendment. [But] This is just mean. This is just people being mean.”
Can You Successfully Sue Over A Meme That Features Your Picture?
Does this ruling mean that anyone who unwittingly becomes the central figure in a meme has grounds for a successful lawsuit? No, not really. Maybe, but not really. Like all lawsuits, this case turned on the details – details that happened to work for the plaintiff. That said, the ruling does clear a path for more “meme lawsuits.” People looking to pursue a similar claim should consult with an Internet law attorney.
Does this ruling mean that anyone can sue over a meme? No, not really. Maybe, but not really.
Torts that can, possibly, be used in a “meme lawsuit”:
- Publication of Private Facts / Information
- False Light
- Invasion of Privacy
- Copyright Infringement
- Unauthorized Use of Property
Talk About Your Meme Situation With An Internet Law Attorney
Please understand: there is no guarantee that any of the above torts will work. Viability is based on jurisdiction and case specifics. The best thing to do is talk to a lawyer. He or she will be able to determine the most effective course of action for your specific situation and if you have grounds to sue over a meme.
Interested in speaking to an Internet lawyer about a potential “meme lawsuit”? Contact Internet law attorney, Aaron Kelly.
The fit-filled Google MPAA feud mirrors that of the Hatfields and McCoys. And thanks to the now infamous “Sony hack,” stakes have been raised in the Online Copyright War.
Concerned about information revealed in the leaked Sony emails, Google decided to sue the already beleaguered state of Mississippi. Huh? What does Mississippi have to do with the MPAA-Google beef? Keep reading.
Round 734 of the Google MPAA Feud: The “Get Tough On Online Copyright” Email
A pesky little email, from of the inbox of MPAA general counsel Steven Fabrizio, sparked Google’s lawsuit against Mississippi. In the email, Fabrizio mentions the studio’s “get tough” plan to strong arm Google on the issue of online piracy – or as the MPAA calls the search company, “Goliath.”
An excerpt, from the email, for your gawking pleasure:
“Creating an environment to potentially increase the impact of the AG effort requires additional resources devoted to investigation and analysis of Goliath. This investigation and analysis would give the AGs a greater understanding of the problems created by Goliath (ammunition/evidence against Goliath), and the technical solutions for those problems.”
Google MPAA Feud: The Kernel of Animosity
What is the kernel of animosity between Google and the MPAA?
The discord boils down to this: the movie studios and their lobbyists want tech companies to do everything in their power to curtail online copyright infringement (i.e., piracy).
Google executives, on the other hand, don’t think it’s the company’s responsibility to thwart piracy. Plus, there’s a sentiment in the tech community that the MPAA’s requests amount to censorship. In fact, a Google attorney mentioned the big “C”:
“One disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part ‘to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists’ right to free expression. Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?”
MPAA Spin Masters
Skilled in the ways of Hollywood public relations, an MPAA spokesperson dodged Google’s “censorship” slight with a tried-and-tested, deflect-then-blame maneuver, countering:
“Google’s effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful. Freedom of speech should never be used as a shield for unlawful activities and the Internet is not a licence to steal. We will seek the assistance of any and all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, to protect the rights of all involved in creative activities.”
The Google MPAA feud won’t end until studio staffers cipher a new revenue model. Until then, the online piracy tug-of-war will continue.
Contact an Online Copyright Lawyer
Do you have an online copyright legal issue? Are you ready to speak with an Internet lawyer? If yes, get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law. A pioneer in the field of Internet law, we’ve successfully managed hundreds of copyright challenges for businesses and entrepreneurs. To learn more about our firm, start here.
Sure, your online copyright issues may not be as dramatic as the Google MPAA feud, but wouldn’t it be nice to get it resolved? Let’s start fixing today.
First, revenge porn hit the scene. Now, sextortion is also on the stroll. “Sextortion,” you ask? A hybrid crime of extortion and hacking, sextortionists use malware to gain control of web cams, and then take nude pictures and videos of victim’s without their knowledge or consent. After that, the perpetrator usually contacts the victim and demands money in exchange for not publishing the material. Unlike revenge porn, sextortion is illegal everywhere. If you get caught, you’re going to need superb lawyering to keep you out of jail.
Teenage Sextortionist Could Face Over A Year In Jail
Nineteen year old Jared James Abrahams of California recently found out the hard way that sextortion will land you in a heap of trouble with the law. After successfully using malware to commander the web cams of several women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, Abrahams amassed a library of unsolicited nudie media. He then contacted his victims and demanded “payment or else.” One of Abraham’s targets said he threatened to turn her “dream of being a model…into a port star.”
He Confessed Instead Of Going Through A Trial
But apparently Abrahams didn’t cover his tracks well enough and authorities smoked him out of his hole. Now he is facing time behind bars. And since Abrahams’ sextortion racket reached its tentacles into Ireland, Canada, Russia and Moldova, international suits may also arise – especially since EU online privacy laws are a lot more strict than U.S. online privacy laws.
Abrahams copped to the crime instead of enduring a trial. He “admitted to infecting people’s computers with malware” – a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He also conceded to “watching women change their clothes and using photographs against his victims.”
On March 19, 2014, Abrahams’ fate awaits him at his sentencing hearing. He could spend several years in the clink.
Sextortion Isn’t New, But Some Of The Methods Are
James Abrahams is not an anomaly. Sextortion is a prevalent pastime that has touched nearly every corner of the globe and every level of society. Though, it hasn’t always involved a digital component. For example:
- Several years ago, in Tanzania, authorities convicted a high school teacher who demanded sexual favors for grades.
- In 2010, a Canadian judge handed a government adjudicator an 18-month sentence for extorting sex from a refugee looking for asylum.
- Chinese Communist Party official Lei Zhengfu lost his job after a video called “Lei, the secretary who accepts sex bribes”went live on Sina Weibo, that country’s most popular social media site. And yes, as the title suggests, he was convicted for doling out government favors for sexual labors.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hacking- and social media-related sextortion scandals. To illustrate:
- Celebrity phone hacker, Christopher Chaney, got 10 years in federal prison for hacking the phones of Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson.
- A teenager in Wisconsin got a 15-year prison sentence for posing as a girl on Facebook, then using the account to convince boys to send him nude pics, which he then used to extort homosexual sex.
Judges Ban Together To Educate Law Enforcement and Lawmakers On Sextortion
Sextortion is so prevalent that the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), in conjunction with the Association of Women Judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippine Women Judges Association, and the Tanzania Women Judges Association launched a three-year program called, “Stopping the Abuse of Power through Sexual Exploitation: Naming, Shaming, and Ending Sextortion.” The Netherlandian government was kind enough to foot the bill for the cross-border legal awareness project.
Listen up tech industry people in Massachusetts! Your state government recently passed a new tax that directly affects your business. In order to fund statewide transportation upgrades, the standard 6.25% sales tax will now be required on most computer software services, including website development.
A cabal of tech industry and taxpayer associations has banded together to fight the tax, but lawmakers seem intent on sticking to their decision.
Why The New Massachusetts Technology Tax?
Why is Massachusetts adding a new tax? State representatives say it’s all about mending the ailing transportation system. And since transportation upgrades usually involve technological advancements, legislators buried the tax in a recent transportation bill – a statute most tech folks didn’t notice.
Lawmakers estimate the new tax will bring in $160 million in revenue for the state. Opponents to the tax think it will bring in $500 million – way more than the state needs for their stated goals.
Why Is The Massachusetts Technology Tax a Potential Nightmare For The Industry?
Opponents to the new levy have a simple yet powerful argument: a new tax threatens the state’s financial growth since technology is a booming sector of the economy. Moreover, anti-tax spokespeople point out that since the bill is so poorly written, more businesses will be subject to the tax than politicians think.
Is The New Technology Tax Effective Immediately?
The new tax is not en force yet, and a group of concerned and invested entities has joined forces to oppose the tax. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Massachusetts High Technology Council and other groups are working to have the tax added as a referendum on the 2014 ballot. Serious about their efforts, the group has hired a high-end public relations team to further their cause.
For their part, politicians say they will consider narrowing the scope of the tax if revenues exceed their $160 million estimates.
Just when Google thought their antitrust worries had washed away with a wave of other campaign-year flotsam, the Federal Trade Commission has fired up the bat signal and are summoning the proverbial “A Team.” Their focus, once again, seems to be on the Khal of Search, Google.
A new marketing czar is now at the helm of the FTC. Moreover, judging from early reports, it seems the commission is focusing on the logistics of Google’s ad exchange program, instead of organic SERP results, like last time. Could these two variables result in a bad outcome for Google this go round?
The Google Antitrust Legal War
Google is no stranger to the antitrust litigation ring. The first unfair competition arrow was shot from the SS FTC in 2007. Back then, the commission concerned themselves with the tech company’s acquisition of a large online advertising firm, DoubleClick. Agents reviewed the structure and practices of each entity to determine if a marriage of the two companies would end up creating an unfair mega-corp. In the end, officials decided Google could buy DoubleClick because the purchase was “unlikely to substantially lessen competition.” At that point, the antitrust investigations were suspended.
Things were quiet for several years. Then in 2012, the FTC started breathing down Google’s back again. This time, the commission examined whether or not Google was unfairly promoting their holdings in search results. The case was closely watched, and in the end, a deal was reached. Google essentially walked away with a slap on the wrist; but public reaction to the 2012 Google antitrust decision was mixed.
A New Google Antitrust Investigation for 2013?
Just when Google and legal watchers thought the Google antitrust wars were over, word hit the wires that the nation’s consumer watchdog was sniffing around the search giant’s territory once again. According to reports, representatives from the FTC have supposedly been talking to online marketing industry people about Google’s advertising program. Specifically, parties questioned said they were asked about:
- How Google provided and served ads on their websites;
- Google’s advertising bidding process;
- Whether or not Google was offering below market prices to advertisers who agreed not to use any other online ad network.
The rumblings have begun, but at the time of this writing, the Federal Trade Commission has yet to file the appropriate paperwork to move forward with yet another Google antitrust investigation.
What do you think? Should Google be censured for antitrust activity? Or, did the tech company just do a really good job at building a stronger, faster business model? Let us know on Twitter.
A new Arizona business law judgment should be viewed as a significant new chapter in the annals of interstate litigation.
What is the new Arizona business law? If you live in another state and want to enforce a judgment on someone in Arizona, make sure every administrative “T” is crossed and “I” is dotted in your jurisdiction. Why? Because recently an Arizona appeals bench ruled that in order to impose a ruling on an individual or business in the Grand Canyon State, all procedures in the originating state must be followed exactly.
Texas Plaintiff Wants To Enforce Summary Judgment In Arizona
Earlier in the year, Hillcrest Bank – a Texas-based business – brought a claim against Mr. Richard J. Sodja of Phoenix, AZ. Presumably, the latter had engaged in business with the former. The case went down in Texas and Hillcrest won, but the defendant never showed.
When someone in Texas wants to sue an entity in another state, it must go through the Texas Secretary of State who forwards a petition and citation to the appropriate party. As such, Hillcrest took their case to the appropriate party in order to inform Sodja in Arizona.
How The Texas Bank Served Notice To The Arizona Plaintiff
In the case of Hillcrest v. Sodja, the Texas Secretary of State sent the service notice to an Arizona address listed on Hillcrest’s petition. It was the address of Sodja’s out-of-home office. After the prescribed amount of time passed, and the Texas party hadn’t received an acknowledgement or response from Sodja, a judge granted a summary default ruling in favor of the bank. In order to get their bucks, after receiving the favorable judgment, Hillcrest filed a notice with the Maricopa Superior Court to enforce the ruling. At that time, Sodja moved to void the judgment, but the trial judge sided with the bank. After that, Sodja appealed.
Arizona Appeals Court Says “Sorry, But The Paperwork Was Incorrect, So Jurisdiction Is In Question.”
Unlike the trial court, however, the Arizona appeals court agreed with the defendant. Judge Margaret Downie penned the court’s opinion. In her decision she acknowledged, “The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution requires Arizona Courts to respect and enforce judgments rendered in court of their sister states.” But not required to if there is a question of jurisdiction in the original case.
The question of jurisdiction was an important one in Sodja’s case.
According to Texas law, “a statement of the name and address of the non-resident’s home or home office” must be included in a proper service notice. The problem for Hillcrest Bank is that the petition addressed to Sodja had to be sent to his home or home-office in order to be valid.
It wasn’t. It was sent to his out-of-home office on Camelback Road. Due to the incorrect address, technically speaking, Texas failed to assert proper jurisdiction over Sodja by denying proper due process. As such, Downie and the court reasoned that the motion to enforce the judgment against Sodja was invalid.
Speak With An Arizona Business Lawyer Today
The law is just as technical as it is analytical. That is why it is important to have an experienced lawyer handle matters, as not doing so could cost you more in the long run. If you have a business law matter dealing with Arizona courts, and are in need of an Arizona attorney, contact Kelly Warner Law.
You’re suing someone for defamation, but you only know your detractor’s screen-name. So, the burning question is: Can you serve notice online? In a word, yes. That said, before a court will issue permission to serve notice online, you’ll have to prove you attempted various other methods before resorting to the use of social media or other digital service options.
Precedence For Serving Notice Online
Earlier this year, a US court agreed to let the Federal Trade Commission serve a pair of potential scam artists in India. Specifically, the two gentlemen were served notice via email and Facebook.
The road to this outcome, however, was a long one.
Before attorneys for the FTC could secure the online service approval, they exhausted every other avenue. It took months.
In addition to searching high and low for ways to serve the suspects in person or via traditional postal services, plaintiffs in the case had to provide significant evidence that the proposed email and Facebook accounts were active and valid. After all, serving notice to the wrong digital account could be legally disastrous.
Data the plaintiffs provided to the courts in order to get the OK to serve notice online:
- The plaintiffs had the government names of their opponents;
- The names the plaintiffs had were the same used in the proposed email address and Facebook accounts;
- The uspects’ Facebook profiles made mention of the company being investigated by the FTC;
What If You Only Have The Person’s Screen Name? Can You Still Serve Notice Online?
The jury and judge are still out on whether or not it’s acceptable to serve an anonymous defendant via electronic means – specifically, via email or a social media account. One of the reasons the courts granted the FTC approval is because significant evidence existed that the people being sought were the people behind the proposed accounts for service. If the defendant has keen obfuscatory skills, though, it’s very tough to provide the level of evidence needed to secure an online service notice.
Is It Possible To Uncover The Name Of An Anonymous Defamer?
Before trying to serve notice online, it’s best to attempt to uncover the anonymous defamer via a court order. While convincing courts to grant an order or injunction to reveal the name of an individual posting online can be difficult, it can be done.
If you don’t have experience filing motions, it’s best to contact an online defamation lawyer to handle the process of getting a court order to either (a) unearth the name of an online poster or (b) remove the content from a search engine.
The nation’s consumer protection agency is actively enforcing their new Biz Opp rules. On October 31, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with other federal task forces, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Attorneys General in Arizona, Colorado, California and Indiana filed 108 new legal actions against Biz Opp companies that authorities allege are unfairly scamming would-be entrepreneurs.
Operation Lost Opportunity: The FTC’s Latest Crackdown On Biz Opps
With a 3-0-2 vote, the FTC put operation lost opportunity into action. Seventy civilian actions and 38 criminal actions were filed in the District Court for the Southern District of Florida against a slew of companies offering “be your own boss” prospects. Specifically, a group of companies that offer mystery shopping, credit card processing, website operation, and government insurance refund processing opportunities are being charged with violating various consumer protection rules.
|Authority||Operation Lost Opportunity Involvement|
|Department of Justice||22 actions filed|
|Attorneys General IN, CA, AZ, CO||Combined 20 actions filed|
|U.S. Postal Inspection Service||15 administrative actions filed|
|Working Group of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force||Coordination and 51 actions filed|
What Are The New Biz Opp Rules, Anyway?
The companies caught up in this imbroglio are primarily being accused of misrepresenting the amount of money potential buyers can make – a clear violation of Article 5 of the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. Several of the defendants also engaged in negative-option billing – a big FTC no-no, especially for Biz Opps. Noncompliance with the new 7-day disclosure statement rule seems to be another issue in this FTC sweep.
Perhaps the most egregious violations of the lot, though, were the double-blind enrollment schemes. Several companies caught up in this sting enrolled customers in two programs at once; when the client canceled their subscription, they’d still be charged the following month. When they inquired as to why they were still being charged, only then did they find out they were enrolled in both programs.
All of the above violations are mentioned in the new Biz Opp rules released by the FTC earlier this year. If you have not yet reviewed the updated statutes, be sure to catch up here.
Temporary Restraining Order Issued To Companies Being Investigated
In brief, a temporary restraining order is a legal action that constrains a party to refrain from a given activity or compels them to engage in an activity. In the context of litigation, temporary restraining orders are essentially stop-gap actions used in the period before an injunction hearing. TROs are decisions made by a single judge and cannot be overturned.
On October 31, 2012 a court issued TRO was executed; it halted activity, froze assets and put the targeted companies in a temporary receivership.
Need A Biz Opp Lawyer?
The FTC gave notice that they plan to pay close attention to Payday lending websites, Internet schemes, and EDU scams in the near future. So, if you’re an affiliate or online marketer being investigated by the FTC and you need of a lawyer, contact Kelly / Warner Law. We’re not just attorneys, but also affiliate marketers. We understand the business, in addition to the nuances of Internet marketing law and compliance.
Cyberbullying is most often associated with children. But many adults also suffer online harassment. Lesli Catsouras, 46, is one such adult, and she’s sharing her harrowing story in a new memoir entitled, “Forever Exposed.” A deeply personal tale, Catsouras’ book is about the cyberbullying she and her family experienced after her 18 year old daughter was killed in a car crash.
It all started on Halloween afternoon of 2006. After having lunch with her parents, Nikki grabbed the keys to her father’s porche, the one she was not supposed to drive, and escaped out the garage. Panicked, Nikki’s mother immediately called her father, who tried to warn the police, but it was too late.
Nikki lost her life after crashing into an unmanned toll booth. As you can imagine, it was an incredibly difficult time for the Catsouras family. All they wanted to do is grieve in peace and try to piece their life back together. But the opposite ended up happening.
Due to a leak by the California Highway Patrol, the pictures of Nikki’s death leaked onto the Internet. Within days, the Catsouras family was inundated with taunting emails. Many even included pictures of Nikki’s crash. When word got out that there were traces of cocaine in Nikki’s system at the time of the crash, things got even worse. She was labeled a spoiled brat who deserved what she got, and the family had to endure the nightmare – both online and off.
The cyberbullying was relentless. The disparaging messages came in day after day, week after week, month after month. And yes, those months turned into years. Can you imagine years of persistent cyberbullying? It got so bad that the youngest Catsouras, who is now 13, is still not allowed on the Internet.
The Catsouras’ bid to rid the Web of the gruesome photos has been long and challenging. According to Lesli, her family has spent several millions trying to remove the photos from the Internet…and years later, some images still linger in the ether.
If you or someone close to you is being cyberbullied, there are legal avenues available to fight back. You can file a defamation lawsuit or get a temporary restraining order, for example. Also, tons of online reputation services help those who are in need of “cleaning up” any unwanted information that has managed to find its way onto the Internet.
Cyberbullying is a terrible thing to suffer through. But don’t give up. There is help out there, the first step to rectifying the situation is picking up the phone or sending that initial email to someone who is experienced with the legalities of cyberbullying.
An aggressive new Internet law was introduced in North Carolina, making it a criminal offense for a student to release statements online with the intention of intimidating or tormenting school faculty.
In Minnesota, a U.S. District Court maintained that compelling students to hand over access to their social media accounts is a violation of their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments. The case involves a 12-yer-old girl who posted one comment about a school employee on Facebook at home, and followed it up with another. School officials promptly questioned the student, which resulted in disciplinary actions. She also had to provide access to her email accounts, which they searched.
Based on Tinker v. Des Moines and other precedents, the court maintained that school authorities could not punish statements made away from school, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment, unless they are genuine threats or intended to affect the school environment. They must also be so inflammatory that they pose a significant safety risk, or some other significant disruption, at the school.
Attorneys for the school indicated that the protection of out-of-school statements was unclear when the alleged violation took place. However, that was dismissed by the court, which stated that a general rule that schools had no right to regulate inappropriate speech that takes place out of school was well-established long ago.
In addition, Bradley Shear, an attorney and an authority on privacy laws related to social media, states that any public school requiring students to provide their social media user names, or allow access to digital content protected by their password, or who install third-party software, regardless of the motive, are clearly violating the First and Fourth Amendments.
In view of this, our courts may soon face more challenging cases related to off-campus speech. The main hurdle appears to be defining the “true threat” standard for online interactions.