It is another win for social media platforms in the realm of the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230. In a case of first impression within the Third Circuit, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Hepp v. Facebook ruled that social media platforms are immune under the Communications Decency Act for right of publicity violations under state law by users of such platforms.

Karen Hepp, a television news anchor for FOX 29 News, filed a complaint against several social media platforms, including Facebook, Imgur, Reddit, and Giphy (collectively, “social media defendants”), alleging that the social media defendants violated Pennsylvania’s right of publicity statute and Hepp’s common law right of publicity, based on such defendants’ “unlawful use of her image.”

Two years before filing her complaint, Hepp discovered that a photograph of her was taken without her consent by a security camera in a New York City convenience store. The photograph was subsequently used in online advertisements for erectile dysfunction and dating websites. For example, Hepp’s photograph was featured: (a) on Imgur under the heading “milf,” and (b) on a Reddit post titled “Amazing” in the subgroup r/obsf (“older but still $#^able”). Hepp alleged that, as a public figure, she suffered harm from the unauthorized publication of her image on the platforms hosted by the social media defendants, but she did not allege that such defendants created, authored, or directly published the photograph at issue.


Continue Reading District Court in 3rd Circuit Sides with 9th Circuit: §230 Protects Social Platforms from State Law Intellectual Property Claims

A federal district court in California has added to the small body of case law addressing whether it’s permissible for one party to use another party’s trademark as a hashtag. The court held that, for several reasons, the 9th Circuit’s nominative fair use analysis did not cover one company’s use of another company’s trademarks as

As consumers increasingly communicate and interact through social media platforms, courts have had to grapple with how to apply existing laws to new ways of communicating, as well as disseminating and using content. Sometimes, however, traditional legal standards apply to these new platforms in a straightforward manner. At least, that is what the court found in Dancel v. Groupon, Inc., a putative class action against Groupon, Inc., alleging that Groupon’s use of images originally posted on the social media site Instagram violated users’ rights under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA).

Groupon, a website that offers consumers deals on goods and services, built a widget intended to provide its users a window into businesses for which Groupon offered deals. The widget used Instagram’s API to find photos that Instagram users had taken at particular locations, and then displayed those images under the deals offered on Groupon’s own website.  When a visitor to the Groupon page hovered his or her mouse over the Instagram images, the Groupon user could see the username of the person who posted the photo on Instagram and an associated caption, if there was one.

Dancel, who maintains an Instagram account with the username “meowchristine,” took a selfie of herself and her boyfriend in front of a restaurant and posted it on Instagram with a tag noting the name of the restaurant. Groupon later displayed this photograph, among others, in connection with its deal for the same restaurant.
Continue Reading What’s in a (User)Name?