Last year, this blog raised concerns regarding the TCCWNA, its growing popularity with plaintiffs’ lawyers and the implications for online retailers. At a high level, the TCCWNA is a New Jersey consumer protection law that focuses on contractual terms (including online terms of service) governing transactions between sellers/service providers and New Jersey consumers. It prohibits sellers/service providers from including certain common provisions in their contracts with New Jersey consumers, and provides aggrieved New Jersey consumers with the right to recover from the seller/service provider a civil penalty of not less than $100 per violation. The TCCWNA applies even if the relevant contractual terms are expressly governed by the laws of a state other than New Jersey. Continue Reading E-tailers Rejoice as Decisions Limit Lawsuits in Federal Court for Alleged Violations of New Jersey’s Controversial Consumer Protection Law
One year since agreeing with the European Commission to remove hate speech within 24 hours of receiving a complaint about it, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube are removing flagged content an average of 59% of the time, the EC reports.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a catering company violated the National Labor Relations Act when it fired an employee for posting to Facebook a profane rant about his supervisor in response to that supervisor admonishing him for “chitchatting” days before the employee and his coworkers were holding a vote to unionize.
The value of the digital currency Ether could surpass Bitcoin’s value by 2018, some experts say.
The Washington Post takes a look at how the NBA is doing a particularly good job of leveraging social media and technology in general to market itself to younger fans and international consumers.
A judge in Israel ruled in favor of a landlord who took down a rental ad based on his belief that a couple wanted to rent his apartment after they sent him a text message containing festive emoji and otherwise expressing interest in the rental. The landlord brought a lawsuit against the couple for backing out on the deal, and the court held the emoji in the couple’s text “convey[ed] great optimism.” The court further determined that, although the message “did not constitute a binding contract between the parties, [it] naturally led to the Plaintiff’s great reliance on the defendants’ desire to rent his apartment.” For a survey of U.S. courts’ treatment of emoji entered into evidence, read this post on Socially Aware.
The owner of a recipe site is suing the Food Network for copyright infringement, alleging that a video the network posted on its Facebook page ripped off her how-to video for snow globe cupcakes.
Twitter’s popularity with journalists has made it a prime target for media manipulators, The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo reports. As a result, Manjoo claims, the microblogging platform played a key role in many of the past year’s biggest misinformation campaigns.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University claims that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account’s blocking of some Twitter users violates the First Amendment because it suppresses speech in a public forum protected by the Constitution.
Pop singer Taylor Swift, who pulled her back catalogue of music from free streaming services in 2014 saying the services don’t fairly compensate music creators, has now made her entire catalogue of music accessible via Spotify, Google Play and Amazon Music.
To encourage young people in swing constituencies to vote for Labour in the UK’s general election, some Tinder users turned their profiles over to a bot that sent other Tinder users between the ages of 18 and 25 automated messages asking if they were voting and focusing on key topics that would interest young voters.
With over one billion websites on the Internet, and 211 million items of online content created every minute, it should come as no surprise that content curation is one of the hottest trends in the Internet industry. We are overwhelmed with online content, and we increasingly rely on others to separate good content from bad content so we can make more efficient use of our time spent surfing the web.
Consistent with this trend, many websites that host user-generated content are now focused on filtering out content that is awful, duplicative, off-topic or otherwise of little interest to site visitors. And these sites are often finding that humans—typically passionate volunteers from these sites’ user communities—do a better job than algorithms in sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Of course, any website that deals with user-generated content needs to worry about potential copyright liability arising from such content. We’ve discussed in past Socially Aware blog posts the critical importance of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to the success of YouTube, Facebook and other online sites that host user-generated content. By providing online service providers with immunity from monetary damages in connection with the hosting of content at the direction of users, Section 512(c) has fueled the growth of the U.S. Internet industry. Continue Reading Could the Use of Online Volunteers and Moderators Increase Your Company’s Copyright Liability Exposure?
Facebook’s four-year battle on behalf of its users, seeking to quash 381 warrants obtained by the New York County District Attorney’s Office, has come to a close. The decision of the New York Court of Appeals—which is New York’s highest court—leaves Facebook users exposed to wide-ranging and largely unchecked inquiries by New York criminal prosecutors into their Facebook accounts.
The story begins in July 2013, when the New York Supreme Court—which is the trial court in New York—issued 381 warrants arising out of the district attorney’s (DA) application for warrants under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). The DA was investigating an alleged Social Security Disability fraud scheme.
The DA’s request was extraordinarily broad. The warrants functionally amounted to a request for 381 users’ entire Facebook histories. The warrants compelled Facebook to produce not only any and all text, photos or videos a user had shared with his or her limited universe of friends, but also any private messages exchanged between the user and another individual (who could have been a spouse, doctor, religious figure or attorney) as well as information the user had chosen to no longer share with anyone, such as a previous email address, a deleted friend or a hidden post, and information the user had never intended to share with anyone, such as his or her searches and location.
The warrants also compelled Facebook to produce content shared by users who were not named in the 381 warrants, and may not even have known anyone named in the 381 warrants, but who had the misfortune of posting on the timelines of those users uploading photos of those users, or simply belonging to any one of the groups with which a named user was affiliated. At least several of the affected users were high school students who were highly unlikely to have been involved in a Social Security Disability fraud scheme. The issuing court also expressly prohibited Facebook from disclosing the existence or execution of the warrants.
While Facebook receives many such requests from law enforcement each year and often provides information in response, Facebook strongly objected to the wide-ranging requests in this case.
Facebook moved to quash the warrants on the ground that they were overly broad, but the New York Supreme Court denied the motion, finding that Facebook did not have standing to assert any privacy or Fourth Amendment rights on behalf of its users. Facebook also challenged the nondisclosure provisions of the warrants, but again the court sided with the DA, reasoning that disclosure of the warrants could jeopardize the DA’s ongoing investigation.
The intermediate appellate court dismissed Facebook’s appeal. The court explained that the orders from the lower court denying Facebook’s motion to quash were unappealable because, under New York law, there is no authority permitting review of interlocutory orders issued in criminal proceedings.
Facebook took the fight all the way to the New York Court of Appeals. Facebook argued that an order denying a motion to quash an SCA warrant should be treated like an appealable order denying a motion to quash a subpoena, rather than like an unappealable order denying a motion to quash a traditional warrant. While a traditional search warrant authorizes law enforcement officials to enter, search and seize property, an SCA warrant, like a subpoena, requires the target of the warrant to compile and turn over its own digital data.
On April 4, 2017, Facebook lost that fight when New York’s highest court ruled that it does not have authority to hear appeals from motions to quash search warrants issued under the SCA.
In a 5-1 decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that, despite the similarities between the manner of responding to SCA warrants and the manner of responding to subpoenas, an SCA warrant is a warrant, not a subpoena. As with traditional warrants, SCA warrants are only issued in criminal proceedings to a government entity that has supported its request for a warrant with probable cause. The court explained that the difference between execution of traditional warrants and SCA warrants is due to “the nature of the material sought”—it “ensures efficiency and minimizes intrusion” for a service provider to search and compile its own digital information rather than for law enforcement to conduct the search. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the order denying Facebook’s motion to quash was not appealable.
Further, the Court of Appeals suggested that Facebook may not have had a right to bring a motion to quash in the first place. For purposes of this case, the Court of Appeals assumed, without deciding, that a motion to quash an SCA warrant was proper. However, the court noted that the SCA discusses warrants, subpoenas and court orders requiring disclosure of information separately, and only expressly provides for a motion to quash court orders.
The Court of Appeals did express some sympathy for Facebook’s concerns regarding the privacy of its users. At the outset, the court stated that “[t]his case undoubtedly implicates novel and important substantive issues regarding the constitutional rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizures,” and that it was “tempting for the court to address those issues.” The court also noted that “Facebook’s concerns, as a third party, about overbroad SCA warrants may not be baseless.”
Notwithstanding its expressed concerns, and over a strenuous dissent from Judge Wilson, the New York Court of Appeals has provided criminal prosecutors wide-ranging investigative powers without providing Internet service providers an ability to obtain appellate review. With New York’s high court having spoken, the online industry’s focus is likely to shift toward a legislative fix that will promote users’ privacy interests and limit overreaching SCA warrants.
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For other Socially Aware posts addressing user data and the Stored Communications Act, please see the following: Google Ordered to Comply with Warrant for Foreign-Stored User Data; Second Circuit: Email Stored Outside the U.S. Might Be Beyond Government’s Reach; and We’ve Come for Your Tweets: Twitter to Appeal Denial of Its Motion To Quash District Attorney’s Subpoena.
A nice overview of the rules on researching jurors’ social media accounts in various jurisdictions from Law.com.
The importance of appearing at the top of Google search results, especially on mobile devices, is driving retailers to spend more and more on the search engine’s product listing ads, which include not just text but also the photos of products.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed a mobile robot that 3D-printed a building that is 50-feet-wide in 14 hours.
In the second half of 2016, Facebook received 9% more global government requests for users’ account data and—largely because users had stopped posting images of the 2015 Paris terrorist attack victims’ remains, which was against French law—28% fewer global government requests to remove content that violates local law.
After Kashmiris posted photos and videos depicting alleged military abuse in the days following a violence-plagued local election, authorities in the Indian-controlled region banned 22 social media sites, claiming it was necessary to restore order.
At the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, Wales, this summer, British police will pilot a new automated facial recognition (AFR) system to scan the faces of attendees and compare them to a police “persons of interest” database.
To show concerned citizens—and criminals—that they mean business, police in an Alabama city are live-broadcasting arrests on Twitter.
The data collected by the physical-activity-tracking device worn by a Connecticut murder victim contradicts the timeline of events given by her husband, a suspect.
One of the Kardashians is being sued by a photo agency for allegedly copying a copyrighted photo of her and posting it to her Instagram account.
And on the subject of user-generated content, owners of video content that is posted by users to Facebook without authorization can now claim ad earnings for the infringing content and set automated rules that will determine when infringing content should be blocked.
The editor of the MIT Technology Review provided interesting insights to Chatbots Magazine regarding the future and current state of artificial intelligence.
Police in Silicon Valley arrested a man for allegedly knocking down a 300-pound security robot while he was intoxicated.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered in BWP Media USA, Inc. v. T&S Software Associates, Inc. whether volitional conduct is required to establish a claim for direct copyright infringement against an Internet service provider (“ISP”). The defendant ISP, T&S Software Associates (“T&S”), hosted a website that included a public forum called “HairTalk” where users could post content about hair, beauty, and celebrities.
HairTalk users posted photographs of Ke$ha, Julianne Hough, and Ashlee Simpson that were owned by the plaintiffs, BWP Media USA and National Photo Group (“BWP”), without BWP’s authorization. The plaintiffs sued T&S for direct and secondary copyright infringement based on the users’ posts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of T&S as to both direct and secondary infringement and BWP appealed the judgment as to the direct infringement claim. Continue Reading 5th Circuit: ISP Not Liable for Infringement Due to Lack of Volitional Conduct, Despite Ineligibility for DMCA Safe Harbor
The April 19 ruling—from Magistrate Judge Beeler in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—is the latest sign that DOJ is continuing to rely on the Stored Communication Act (SCA) to seek overseas account data even after the Department’s high profile defeat in the Second Circuit’s ruling in the Microsoft case.
And the opinion suggests that DOJ’s litigation strategy may be working.
The dispute arose after DOJ obtained a search warrant last year under the SCA directing Google to provide information related to specified Google user accounts. Google withheld some of the requested information and challenged the request. Google explained that it relies on algorithms to move user data around the world automatically to aid in network efficiency. Invoking the Second Circuit’s Microsoft ruling, which rejected DOJ’s efforts to obtain content stored on Microsoft servers in Ireland, Google argued that some of the requested data was stored exclusively overseas and therefore beyond the purview of an SCA warrant. Continue Reading Court Orders Google to Turn Over Foreign-Stored Data
One of the most significant legal concerns for Internet service providers is the risk of exposure to liability for the copyright infringements of their users. The concern is not unreasonable. Because Internet service providers can be held secondarily liable for the infringements of their users, and because this liability can come with statutory damages attached, the service provider’s potential economic exposure can be significant, especially for Internet service providers engaged in the transmission or hosting of user-generated content.
Moreover, the principle of joint and several liability may further increase this potential economic exposure for Internet service providers.
Under Section 504(c) of the Copyright Act, which permits a range of statutory damages for each infringed work, the principle of joint and several liability can make a defendant liable for multiple statutory damage awards for infringing a single work. The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Columbia Pictures Television v. Krypton Broadcasting of Birmingham, Inc. two decades ago illustrates the operation of this principle.
The defendants in Columbia Pictures were three television stations that had directly infringed upon plaintiff’s copyrights independently of each other. Consequently, the company that owned the three stations was secondarily liable for their infringement. Relying in part on legislative history, the court held that the plaintiff was entitled to separately calculated statutory awards against each of the three stations as they were separate infringers, and that, with respect to these awards, each of the three stations was jointly and severally liable with their common owner. Continue Reading Limiting Statutory Damages in Internet Copyright Cases
The latest issue of our Socially Aware newsletter is now available here.
In this edition, we explore the threat to U.S. jobs posed by rapid advances in emerging technologies; we examine a Federal Trade Commission report on how companies engaging in cross-device tracking can stay on the right side of the law; we take a look at a Second Circuit opinion that fleshes out the “repeat infringer” requirement online service providers must fulfill to qualify for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbors; we discuss a state court decision holding that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes Snapchat from liability for a car wreck that was allegedly caused by the app’s “speed filter” feature; we describe a recent decision by the District Court of the Hague confirming that an app provider could be subject to the privacy laws of a country in the European Union merely by making its app available on mobile phones in that country; and we review a federal district court order requiring Google to comply with search warrants for foreign stored user data.
All this—plus an infographic illustrating how emerging technology will threaten U.S. jobs.
Read our newsletter.
On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court held in Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands that design elements of cheerleading uniforms may be protected under the Copyright Act. The 6-2 decision, written by Justice Thomas, clarified the scope of protection afforded to clothing designs and, more broadly, designs on useful articles.
Varsity Brands, Inc.—the country’s largest cheerleading supplier—owns more than 200 copyright registrations for two-dimensional designs consisting of combinations of chevrons, stripes, and other colorful shapes for its cheerleading uniforms. At issue in this case were the five pictured designs.
Varsity Brands sued Star Athletica, LLC, an upstart competitor, for copyright infringement. The District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted Star Athletica’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the designs could not be conceptually or physically separated from the uniforms, and they were therefore ineligible for copyright protection. The Copyright Act makes “pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features” of the “design of a useful article” eligible for copyright protection as artistic works only if those features “can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.” The Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that the graphics were “separately identifiable” and “capable of existing independently” of the uniforms.
In affirming, the Supreme Court laid out a two-part test for when a feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection: When the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article; and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. “To be clear, the only feature of the cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright in this case is the two-dimensional work of art,” the Court explained. “Respondents have no right to prohibit any person from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform of identical shape, cut, and dimensions to the ones on which the decorations in this case appear.” Continue Reading Supreme Court Rules Cheerleading Uniform Designs Are Copyrightable