Companies that offer services, whether online or offline, to consumers on a subscription or other automatic renewal basis should be aware that such offers are heavily regulated at both the federal and state levels. A recent amendment to Section 17602 of California’s Business and Professions Code provides a good opportunity for businesses that make subscription offers to review their practices. As of July 1, 2018, the obligations under California law will expand in two ways that may require businesses to update those practices.

The first change relates to the information that businesses must provide to consumers regarding the terms of a subscription offer. The current law already requires a business to provide certain information about the renewal process—such as the amount of the recurring charges, the length of the renewal period, and the cancellation policy—both before the consumer accepts the agreement, and afterwards in an acknowledgement. The amendment provides that, as of July 1, 2018, if the offer includes any free trial or gift component, the information provided to consumers must also include a “clear and conspicuous explanation of the price that will be charged after the trial ends or the manner in which the subscription or purchasing agreement pricing will change upon conclusion of the trial.” Continue Reading Amended California Law Expands Requirements for Consumer Subscriptions

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

Following a recent U.S. district court’s ruling, foreign companies operating cloud-based services may find themselves subject to federal long-arm jurisdiction under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 4(k)(2), even if they have no physical presence in the United States. In reaching its decision, the court noted that the question was ripe for consideration by the court of appeals; thus, it remains to be seen whether the decision will stand if appealed.

In Plixer International, Inc. v. Scrutinizer GMHB, the District Court of Maine ruled that, while jurisdiction would not exist under Maine’s long-arm statute, the court had specific personal jurisdiction over a German company under federal long-arm statute. Rule 4(k)(2), the federal long-arm statute, provides that serving a summons or filing a waiver of service establishes personal jurisdiction over a defendant if the defendant is not subject to jurisdiction in any state’s courts of general jurisdiction as long as exercising jurisdiction is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws.

Continue Reading Foreign Cloud-Based Service Providers May Be Subject to Personal Jurisdiction in the United States

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?

E-mails. Text messages. Instant messages. Social media. The digital age has given birth to powerful new ways to communicate that have transformed how we live and conduct business. But the proliferation of communication options has come with increased exposure to claims in litigation of withholding, hiding, destroying and losing evidence.

A reminder of the increasing danger of the digital age in discovery recently arose in the New York state attorney general’s investigation of ExxonMobil’s research into the causes and effects of climate change.

After receiving documents from Exxon pursuant to a subpoena, the state attorney general informed a New York court that it had discovered that former Exxon CEO and Chairman Rex Wayne Tillerson had used an alias email address on the Exxon system under the pseudonym “Wayne Tracker” from at least 2008 through 2015. Continue Reading Digital Age Expands Communication but Creates Discovery, Litigation Pitfalls

A defamation suit brought by one reality television star against another—and naming Discovery Communications as a defendant—could determine to what extent (if any) media companies may be held responsible for what their talent posts on social media.

In a move characterized as setting legal precedent, UK lawyers served an injunction against “persons unknown” via an email account linked to someone who was posting allegedly defamatory “fake news” stories on social media.

European regulators fined Google $2.7 billion for violating antitrust law by allegedly tailoring algorithms for product-related queries to promote its own comparison shopping service. If the search company doesn’t change how its search engine works in the EU in the next few months, it risks fines of up to 5% of its parent company Alphabet Inc.’s daily revenue.

A newly formed trade group, called the Influencer Marketing Council, is representing social influencers in discussions with regulators and Internet platforms, and is leading an effort to outline best practices for complying with the FTC’s endorsement guidelines.

Pinterest’s commercial progress has reportedly been hampered by several factors, including the format of its advertisements, which must mimic user posts—something that requires brands to design content specifically for the platform.

Members of law enforcement have expressed concerns regarding the safety risks posed by a Snapchat update that lets users see the exact location of their Snapchat “friends.” An article on The Verge has some useful tips on how to use the function, which is called Snap Map, and how to turn it off.

Because the First Amendment limits the ability of the U.S. government to regulate search companies’ and social media platforms’ policies and guidelines, companies like Google and Twitter might eventually be de facto regulated even within the United States by foreign nations whose governments are entitled to regulate what happens on the Internet in order to protect their citizens according to their own laws.

Several A-list musicians have stepped away from social media at least partly because their incredible popularity has made them an attractive target for trolls.

Here are tips on how to limit online service providers from collecting information about you in using social media and surfing the web.

ARKANSASLast 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 Suits in Federal Court for Alleged Violations of N.J.’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.

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?