The music industry came out on top in one of its first attempts to hold an internet service provider liable for its subscribers’ unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing.

The decision, handed down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a dispute between BMG Rights Management and Cox Communications, outlines the obligations an ISP must fulfill to receive safe harbor protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for a subscriber’s infringement. It also explains when an ISP can be held contributorily liable for its subscribers’ actions.

Read my full analysis here.

Following a recent decision from the Sixth Circuit, anonymous bloggers and other Internet users who post third-party copyrighted material without authorization have cause for concern. They may be unable to preserve their anonymity.

In Signature Management Team, LLC v. John Doe, the majority of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit established a new “presumption in favor of unmasking anonymous defendants when judgment has been entered for a plaintiff” in a copyright infringement case. This unmasking presumption is intended to protect the openness of judicial proceedings. Whether to unmask the defendant in such circumstances requires an examination of factors such as the plaintiff’s and public’s interest in knowing the defendant’s identity. Continue Reading Anonymous Internet Users Beware: New Presumption in Favor of Unmasking the Losing Anonymous Defendant

Happy 2018 to our readers! It has become a Socially Aware tradition to start the New Year with some predictions from our editors and contributors. With smart contracts on the horizon, the Internet of Things and cryptocurrencies in the spotlight, and a number of closely watched lawsuits moving toward resolution, 2018 promises to be an exciting year in the world of emerging technology and Internet law.

Here are some of our predictions regarding tech-related legal developments over the next twelve months. As always, the views expressed are not to be attributed to Morrison & Foerster or its clients.

From John Delaney, Co-Founder and Co-Editor, Socially Aware, and Partner at Morrison & Foerster:
Regarding Web Scraping

Web scraping is an increasingly common activity among businesses (by one estimate, web-scraping bots account for as much as 46% of Internet traffic), and is helping to fuel the “Big Data” revolution. Despite the growing popularity of web scraping, courts have been generally unsympathetic to web scrapers. Last August, however, web scrapers finally received a huge victory, as the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California enjoined LinkedIn from blocking hiQ Labs’ scraping of publicly available user profiles from the LinkedIn website in the hiQ Labs, Inc. v. LinkedIn Corp. litigation. The case is now on appeal to the Ninth Circuit; although my sense is that the Ninth Circuit will reject the broad scope and rationale of the lower court’s ruling, if the Ninth Circuit nevertheless ultimately sides with hiQ Labs, the web scraper, the decision could be a game changer, bringing online scraping out of the shadows and perhaps spurring more aggressive uses of scraping tools and scraped data. On the other hand, if the Ninth Circuit reverses, we may see companies reexamining and perhaps curtailing their scraping initiatives. Either way, 2018 promises to bring greater clarity to this murky area of the law.

Regarding the Growing Challenges for Social Media Platforms

2017 was a tough year for social media platforms. After years of positive press, immense consumer goodwill and a generally “hands off” attitude from regulators, last year saw a growing backlash against social media due to a number of reasons: the continued rise of trolling creating an ever-more toxic online environment; criticism of social media’s role in the dissemination of fake news; the growing concern over social media “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers”; and worries about the potential societal impact of social media’s algorithm-driven effectiveness in attracting and keeping a grip on our attention. Expect to see in 2018 further efforts by social media companies to get out ahead of most if not all of these issues, in the hopes of winning over critics and discouraging greater governmental regulation.

Regarding the DMCA Safe Harbor for Hosting of User-Generated Content

The backlash against social media noted in my prior item may also be reflected to some extent in several 2017 court decisions regarding the DMCA safe harbor shielding website operators and other online service providers from copyright damages in connection with user-generated content (and perhaps in the CDA Section 230 case law discussed by Aaron Rubin below). After nearly two decades of court decisions generally taking an ever more expansive approach to this particular DMCA safe harbor, the pendulum begun to swing in the other direction in 2016, and this trend picked up steam in 2017, culminating in the Ninth Circuit’s Mavrix decision, which found an social media platform provider’s use of volunteer curators to review user posts to deprive the provider of DMCA safe harbor protection. Expect to see the pendulum continue to swing in favor of copyright owners in DMCA safe harbor decisions over the coming year.

Regarding Smart Contracts

Expect to see broader, mainstream adoption of “smart contracts,” especially in the B2B context—and perhaps litigation over smart contracts in 2019 . . . .

From Aaron Rubin, Co-Editor, Socially Aware, and Partner at Morrison & Foerster:
Regarding the CDA Section 230 Safe Harbor

We noted previously that 2016 was a particularly rough year for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the immunity that the statute provides website operators against liability arising from third-party or user-generated content. Now that 2017 is in the rear view mirror, Section 230 is still standing but its future remains imperiled. We have seen evidence of Section 230’s resiliency in recent cases where courts rejected plaintiffs’ creative attempts to find chinks in the immunity’s armor by arguing, for example, that websites lose immunity when they use data analytics to direct users to content, or when they fail to warn users of potential dangers, or when they share ad revenue with content developers. Nonetheless, it is clear that the knives are still out for Section 230, including in Congress, where a number of bills are under consideration that would significantly limit the safe harbor in the name of combatting sex trafficking. I predict that 2018 will only see these efforts to rein in Section 230 increase. Continue Reading 2018: Predictions From Socially Aware’s Editors and Contributors

In the classic rock song “Light My Fire,” ‘60s icon and the Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison sang, “The time to hesitate is through.”

If your company operates a website or blog that hosts user-generated content, and has yet to register an agent for receipt of copyright infringement notices under the U.S. Copyright Office’s new agent designation system, it’s time to light a fire. Failure to do so could significantly increase your company’s copyright liability exposure in connection with such hosted content.

Here’s what you need to know:

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) Section 512(c) safe harbor, website operators and other online service providers that comply with the eligibility requirements are shielded from copyright damages in connection with their hosting of infringing content uploaded by service users.

This powerful safe harbor has played a major role in the success of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other U.S. social media and Internet sites. But it also protects brands that host on their websites text, photos and videos uploaded by their customers. Continue Reading If Your Company’s Website Hosts User-Generated Content, Stop and Read This Post!

We discussed last year the trend toward companies seeking to monetize user-generated content. A recent Central District of California decision in Greg Young Publishing, Inc. v. Zazzle, Inc. serves as an important reminder of the serious risks that can arise from seeking to commercially exploit such content.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) Section 512(c) safe harbor, online service providers that comply with the eligibility requirements are shielded from copyright damages in connection with their hosting of infringing content uploaded by service users. This powerful safe harbor has played a major role in the success of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other U.S. social media and Internet sites.

Continue Reading Zazzle Fizzles: Website Operator Denied Copyright Safe Harbor Protection for Its Sale of Physical Products Featuring User-Generated Images

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 the good from the bad so that 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 often find that humans—typically passionate volunteers from the sites’ user communities—are better than algorithms at sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Of course, any website that deals with user-generated content needs to consider 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 (the DMCA) to the success of YouTube, Facebook and other online platforms 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?

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a North Carolina law that the state has used to prosecute more than 1,000 sex offenders for posting on social media is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in what has become known as the  “dancing baby” case—a lawsuit brought by a woman who sued Universal Music Group for directing YouTube to take down a video of her toddler-age son dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” The high court’s decision leaves in place the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that copyright owners must consider the possibility of fair use before sending a DMCA takedown notice.

Queen Elizabeth II proposed to Parliament a law that would require social networking sites to honor Internet users’ requests to remove anything the users shared before turning 18. The European Union already requires search engines to abide by users’ requests to remove information as part of the “right to be forgotten,” but the information must fulfill several criteria to qualify for removal.

In an effort to minimize the extent to which social bots can manipulate public opinion, Germany plans to update its communication laws to require the operators of social media platforms to identify when posts were generated by social bots and not actual people. And, yes, the name in German for this labeling requirement is Kennzeichnungspflicht.

In other German social-media-news, police in that country raided the homes of 36 people accused of posting on social media hate speech that included threats and harassment based on race and sexual orientation, and left-wing and right-wing extremist content.

Making Texas one of 18 states to pass a bill on self-driving cars, Lone Star State governor Greg Abbott signed a bill confirming that car manufacturers may test autonomous vehicles on Texas roads and highways.

Bitcoin’s price might be surging, but it has yet to achieve widespread usage.

Motivated in part by her desire to avoid real-estate-agent fees, a London homeowner plans to sell her house by hosting a viewing on Facebook Live and receiving offers through Facebook Messenger.

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.

GettyImages-183313080With 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?

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.