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.