Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced Aaron’s Law in the House. A much anticipated bill, Aaron’s law aims to clarify the vagueness currently inherent in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Named after the late Aaron Swartz – the computer genius who took his own life earlier this year when faced with 35 years in prison for downloading a bunch of academic articles – the law would make it impossible for federal authorities to convict someone for minor violations, like breaching terms of service agreements or website notices.
Soon after Swartz’s tragic death, Lofgren announced plans for Aaron’s law on Reddit – the wildly popular news aggregator Aaron helped develop at the ripe old age of 14. Now, its officially been introduced in the House. Co-authored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) – who is expected to introduce a similar bill in the Senate – Aaron’s law specifically seeks to eliminate, as Lofgren put it, “the core flaw of the CFAA,” which is vagueness. It also eliminates the ability to charge someone multiple times for the same violation.
In 2011, federal authorities indicted Swartz for downloading a massive amount of data from MIT’s JSTOR academic articles database. A highly contested case, the government decided to follow through with a lawsuit against Aaron even though the university failed to press charges. Basically, the feds wanted to make an example out of Swartz – even though his actions did not cause any danger to national security, the school or any citizen. Moreover, government attorneys decided to pile on the charges, and as a result, if convicted – which looked to be inevitable – Aaron faced 35 years behind bars, again, for essentially being an extremely bright, overzealous student.
If passed into law, Aaron’s Law will not compromise national security, but it will ensure that citizens aren’t subjected to lifelong prison sentences for violating non-government-related digital notices and website terms of service agreements. And it is definitely a law that Kelly Warner backs.
Another online customer review lawsuit is making its way through the courts, which gives us another chance to review the basic requirements for winning an online trade libel case.
A Florida woman bought a hot tub, claimed it didn’t work, and ultimately posted a scathing review on Ripoff Report. In response, the hot tub company slapped the her with a defamation lawsuit.
Below, we’ll review the customer review lawsuit, and then discuss what differentiates an acceptable, but negative, online review and a defamatory one.
Ripoff Report Case Study: Customer v. Hot Tub Company
This Ripoff Report defamation story is similar to most: A disgruntled customer posts a bad online review after an unfortunate incident, and the targeted company fires back with a libel claim.
In this case, a woman (whom we’ll call “Jenny”), bought a hot tub. “The spa leaked the first time I used it,” she explained, “so [the hot tub company] had it repaired. But then it leaked again. My carpet stank from the water and I wanted a refund.”
The situation grew even more contentious when the spa company reminded Jenny of the “no return” policy, which limited her options to paying a 10% restocking fee or $800 for a new tub.
Eventually, Jenny’s credit card company reversed the charges. Regardless, she posted her version of hot-tub-gate on Ripoff Report, which butchered the spa company’s bottom line, so it sued Jenny for defamation.
Winning A Customer Review Lawsuit: Required Proof
It’s not easy for businesses to win defamation lawsuits over online reviews. Protecting free speech rights is a national solemnity. As such, slander and libel plaintiffs must present undeniable proof of the following:
- Falsity: Small mistakes don’t cut it. To win a defamation lawsuit, the problematic statement under review must be a demonstratively false statement of fact — and the plaintiff must prove its *untruthiness*.
- Harm: In most cases, businesses that file customer review lawsuits must demonstrate that the lie had a direct, financial impact on their bottom lines.
- Negligence: Proving harm and falsity still isn’t enough to win an online trade libel lawsuit. Plaintiffs must also convince a judge or jury that the plaintiff a) didn’t engage in enough fact checking before publishing or b) knew the statement was false but posted it anyway.
Before moving forward with an online review claim, really think about the situation. Can you prove all of the above? Or, did your adversary simply write a negative opinion? If it’s the latter, you may want to consider marketing options, to restore your reputation, instead of legal options.
Want to know if you could win a customer review lawsuit? Contact Kelly Warner Law.
Some defamation lawsuits are laugh-inducing; others fall into the “on-a-very-special-episode” category. And at times, a libel lawsuit surfaces that makes you cringe. Entertainment wrestler, turned Minnesota Governor, turned conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura’s lawsuit against Chris Kyle — a highly decorated Air, Sea and Land special ops (SEAL) solider — falls into the cringe-worthy camp.
Jesse Ventura Sued Chris Kyle
The story begins back in 2006. According to Kyle, he and Ventura met in a California bar where Ventura allegedly talked smack about the Navy SEALs. Being a proud SEAL himself, Kyle was not impressed with Ventura’s bluster, so he cold clocked the former Minnesota Governor.
Ventura adamantly denied the event. As such, when the story appeared in Kyle’s autobiography, Ventura filed a good ole fashioned defamation suit.
Litigation began, and then tragedy struck. Kyle was shot and killed by a returning solider with PTSD who he was helping readjust to civilian life.
Instead of dropping the suit, Ventura filed a motion to have Kyle’s wife added to the claim, so litigation could continue.
Enter the Rogue Environmentalist
Enter Leslie Davis – a notorious Minnesota environmentalist who hates Ventura the way die hard Yankee’s fans hate the Boston Red Socks. Davis’ disdain runs so deep he penned the not-so-best-selling book “Always Cheat: The Philosophy of Jesse Ventura.” His list of grievances against Ventura is long.
Now, it’s important to note that Davis has been a thorn in Ventura’s side for a long time. His devotion to pestering Ventura resulted in a 2003 restraining order for, according to court records, trying “to provoke [Ventura] by regularly engaging himself and calling respondent names [and] making obscene hand gestures to him.”
But hey, a little court order didn’t keep the Ventura detractor down for good.
When Davis heard about Ventura’s move to add Kyle’s wife as a defendant in the defamation suit, Davis formally requested to intervene in the case. This is where things get interesting from a defamation law standpoint.
Could Davis’ Intervening in the Ventura v. Kyle Defamation Lawsuit Help Mrs. Kyle?
Under United States law, third parties can request to intervene in cases if they can prove a vested interest in the outcome. In this instance, Davis believes Ventura lied in a November deposition related to the defamation suit, so he wants the transcript made public. Essentially, Davis is saying potential fallacies may be lurking in Ventura’s deposition, which will affect Davis’ own legal issues (and matters of public concern, namely, the environment) with Ventura. On this occasion, Davis is arguing that his past legal strife with Ventura qualifies him as an interested party. He is also making the stretch claim that Ventura’s alleged “lies” led to his election, which resulted in “great harm to the environment.”(#goodluckwiththat)
Environmental politics aside, Davis’ argument on that score is weak (it’s simply tough to imagine a judge agreeing that a sole individual’s election was the direct cause of “great harm to the environment”). But is the “restraining order” argument valid?
Davis is representing himself at the hearing, so we’ll have to wait and see how he frames his argument.
In the meantime, though, it’s safe to say that if Davis is granted the opportunity to intervene in the Ventura defamation lawsuit, information that could become public might significantly help Kyle’s widow. After all, what if Ventura did lie in the deposition? And considering that Davis has kept a very close watch on Jesse Ventura for years, who knows, maybe he would be able to prove the former governor wasn’t being truthful in his deposition. Theoretically, any proof of dishonesty on Ventura’s part could severely hurt his chances of winning – and help Mrs. Kyle put this additional nightmare behind her.
On this lazy Sunday, we’d thought we’d share an online defamation lawsuit gem from the “rile James Randi” file.
A psychic named Sally Morgan – whom, according to her lawyer, “performed in over 600 shows in more than 100 different theatres or venues to audiences stretching into the hundreds of thousands” – successfully sued publishers of the Daily Mail for defamation. They said she duped an audience into believing she had supernatural powers; she insisted her skills are legit and decided to sue for libel.
How Sally Morgan’s Psychic Defamation Case Began
Do you remember that Steve Martin movie, Leap of Faith, where he plays a healer? In the flick, he has a team of “spotters” who gather information about the hopeful masses at his revival-type gatherings. When the show starts, the helpers feed Martin all the information they gathered via a barely visible ear piece.
Well, the above scenario is what a pair of audience members describe as happening at popular clairvoyant Sally Morgan’s show in Dublin. Presumably in an attempt to discredit Morgan, they shared the sorted story on a radio program.
Having caught wind of the potential fake out in Dublin, Paul Zenon, a magician, included the pair’s anecdote in an article, which lambasted psychics, that he wrote for the Daily Mail. According to Morgan’s lawsuit, Zenon committed the ultimate civil wrong by calling psychics “charlatans” and accusing “Mrs. Morgan specifically of having used a hidden earpiece during her performance in order to receive instructions from her team which she then repeated on stage as if she had received them from the spirit world.”
Needless to say, Morgan was not impressed with Zenon’s piece. (Hey, if someone was trying to disparage your superpowers, you’d be ticked off, too.) After Morgan and the venue denied the accusations, and the Daily Mail refused to publish a retraction, the psychic hired Graham Atkins to litigate on her behalf, and then promptly filed a defamation lawsuit.
Morgan’s Powers Must Have Worked This Time – Because She Won! (Cue the James Randi Scream)
Either Mr. Atkins is a great lawyer, knows how to use “The Force,” or both. Because after what must have been some convincing litigating, abracadabra, Associated Newspapers was agreeing to pay ole’ Sally “substantial damages” for insinuating her psychic revivals were a scam. The Daily Mail even printed a robust apology:
“The Daily Mail withdraws the suggestion that Mrs. Morgan used a secret earpiece at her Dublin show in September 2011 to receive messages from off-stage, thereby cheating her audience, which it accepts is untrue.”
[Quizzical] Point ghost whisperers? (Regardless, we’re pretty sure there is at least one person considering using this case to support their own psychic defamation legal woes, Presley (a.k.a. Angel) – the 46-year-old Texas grannie whose visions resulted with a swat team swarming her neighbor’s farmhouse.)
Online gambling restrictions are set to change in a drastic way with the introduction of the Internet Gambling Regulation, Enforcement, and Consumer Protection Act of 2013. The proposed bill calls for the formation of an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight to regulate legalized online gambling across the country.
The History of Online Gambling
Online gambling has been around since home Internet use became en vogue. Digital casinos cropped up in 1995, and million of people across the U.S. have started using online casinos to gamble for years.
Profits enjoyed by the online gambling industry quickly ballooned after the introduction of the first online casino. Annual profits soared to $1 billion by 1997 and increased to $10.9 billion by 2007.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed to regulate the online gambling industry. The Act prohibits the sending of a bet or wager over the Internet. Companies that are caught receiving these types of payments from individuals are subject to legal action under the Act.
Current Online Gambling Laws
As noted above, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 makes it illegal for a company to collect bets or wagers from a person through the Internet. Banks are also forbidden to allow online transfers of money for the purposes of gambling.
However, the Act does allow states to mandate whether gambling online is prohibited. Some states allow residents to participate in online gambling, but there are states in which it is a crime to place a bet online. Punishments for online gambling vary widely. For example, the state of Washington considers online gambling to be a felony.
Sports betting in particular has been banned in many states. This specific type of online gambling is prohibited under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Reasons For the Banning of Online Gambling
While lots of people feel politicians’ online gambling bans are merit-less, there are cited purposes for Internet wagering. Many of these reasons stem from the supposed need to protect Americans from the risk of identity theft.
- Most of the online gambling companies that are currently in business have offshore headquarters that are run by unknown entities. Legislators worry that Americans are sending their money and personal information to unknown companies that may inappropriately use this information.
- There is no way for the age of a gambler to be verified when online gambling is allowed. Although age verification may be required in order for a person to enter a website, children have the ability to enter false information or use an adult’s personal information to gain access to gambling websites.
- Online gambling may be too accessible for people who suffer from a gambling addiction. People who have an addiction could run up credit cards and run into long-term financial problems when bets and wagers can be made from the comfort of home.
Upcoming Changes in Online Gambling Law
New legislation has been introduced that would lift many of the bans on online gambling. The Internet Gambling Regulation, Enforcement, and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 would legalize online gambling and form regulations that aim to protect consumers and companies that are involved in Internet gambling. Casino games including roulette and poker would be allowed under the Act.
States can opt out, if desired. However, a limited window of opportunity lasting 120 days would be extended to states. Any state that fails to respond within this period of time would automatically opt in. Tribes are also given this option.
Licensing requirements outlined in the act would offer protection against identity theft and other negative consequences of online gambling. Any balance that a player holds in an online account with an online gambling company would be protected in case the company files for bankruptcy in the future.
Players could face consequences for cheating. Fines and jail time may be ordered for anyone who is caught cheating when gambling online.
Legal online gambling options have already started to pop up. One online gambling website currently offers legal online gambling options to residents of the state of Nevada and New Jersey.
Airline Safety vs. Defamation. That’s the basic question the United States Supreme Court will soon ponder as they review the case of a pilot who sued his airline for telling the TSA he may be a threat.
The US Supreme Court is adding to its case load and will review a $1.24 million defamation judgment against a Wisconsin-based airline — Air Wisconsin — that reported one of its pilots as mentally unstable, which led to his arrest.
The Supreme Court granted the airline’s petition to present an appeal in their ongoing lawsuit with veteran pilot, William Hoeper. The Court stated it would limit review to whether “ATSA immunity may be denied without a determination that the air carrier’s disclosure was materially false.”
Hoeper’s problems started when Air Wisconsin decided to update their fleet. Unfortunately for Hoeper, he failed three tests on the new plane. After his fourth, unsuccessful test, Hoeper was scheduled on a flight home, from Virginia to Colorado. His manager, Patrick Doyle, testified that Hoeper became angry and had a scuffle with some employees while waiting for his flight after the failed fourth test.
Apparently, Doyle thought Hoeper would be an unruly passenger, because before Hoeper’s flight for Colorado took off, Doyle contacted Air Wisconsin and identified Hoeper as a potential threat to the Transportation Security Administration. The airline rep identified Hoeper as “a disgruntled employee” with potential “mental stability” issues. Doyle also revealed the “whereabouts of Hoeper’s firearm.” As a result, traffic controllers ordered the plane to return to its gate.
(Hold up. Firearm, you ask!? As a federal flight deck officer, deputized by the Transportation Safety Administration while working for Air Wisconsin Airlines, William Hoeper carried a firearm.)
After the scuttle, the TSA removed Mr. Hoeper from the plane, searched and questioned him, but never charged him.
“You Call The TSA on Me, I File A Defamation Lawsuit Against You!”
Unimpressed with the way the airline handled the situation, Hoeper filed a defamation lawsuit against the airline in his home state of Colorado. A jury sided with the pilot. They decided Mr. Doyle’s statements amounted to defamation because Doyle made statements to the TSA, “knowing that they were false, or so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard for the truth.”
Air Wisconsin argued the merits of the case. The airline evoked provisions in the Aviation Transportation Security Act, which allow folks to report potential security threats without fear of retribution.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and upheld the original verdict. The Court affirmed that Air Wisconsin did not deserve immunity under the Air Transportation Safety Act.
“Doyle could not form an opinion as to whether Hoeper was mentally unstable at the time that Doyle contacted TSA,” explained Justice Nancy Rice in her opinion. “In fact, Doyle admitted at trial that, based on the information he had when he contacted TSA, he could not determine if Hoeper was mentally unstable. He, therefore, made this statement with a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity,” she concluded.
The fate of this defamation case now lies in the hands of the Justices of the US Supreme Court.
A Brief History of Copyright Law
While the protection of physical property is as old as human history, protection of intellectual property — indeed, the very concept of such a thing — is a recent idea.
Copyrights didn’t exist in the days of Shakespeare, whose plays have come to us from pirated quartos published without permission. And after the development of the printing press, laws were passed granting exclusive rights to print books; but this form of protection applied to printers, rather than authors.
It was not until 1710, in the history of copyright law, that officials created the first statute to prohibit certain uses of another person’s intellectual property, the Statute of Anne. And over the next three centuries, copyright laws spread like wildfire across the globe.
In the 1900s, International copyright treaties went into force.
Today’s Confusing Digital Copyright Laws
Today, the very laws that were originally passed to protect infringement of intellectual property have become a source of confusion. Many folks find themselves under indictment for unwittingly violating them.
Some jurisdictions hold that making copies of copyrighted material for personal use does not constitute a violation. But new issues have popped up thanks to the Web, smartphones and other portable computer devices. For instance, many people assume that any photograph posted online is automatically in the public domain and, therefore, can be used by anyone for any purpose. But in fact, online photos may be covered by copyright law no matter where they’re posted. For that reason, double-check to make sure the rights for any images you want to use aren’t owned by someone else. It’s also a good idea to keep a file of license owners in the event an issue arises.
Contact A Digital Copyright Lawyer
As a general rule, unless you are the actual creator of an image, to play it safe, take the view that every image, article and video could be copyrighted.
That said, the U.S. courts have ruled that using low-quality thumbnail images does not constitute digital copyright infringement. Moreover, fair use standards exist.
Two men whom the New York Post labeled “Bag Men,” in a front-page photo shortly after April’s fatal Boston Marathon bomb attack, have sued the newspaper for libel.
The New York Post reported a few days after the bombing that Federal investigators were seeking 16-year-old Salaheddin Barhoum and 24-year-old Yassine Zaimi. The story ran just hours before the FBI released photos of the actual suspects. After the New York Post’s images had hit the Web, Barhoum and Zaimi went to the local police and pleaded their innocence. Law enforcement officials assured both they were not suspects in the case.
Barhoum and Zaimi had gone to the Boston Marathon as spectators. They left shortly after the winners crossed the finish line, which was about two hours before a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Like the rest of the world, Barhoum and Zaimi learned of the bombings on television.
The New York Post delivered a different impression. In its story on Thursday, April 18, the newspaper carried the “Bag Men” tagline to America. The article carefully stated that investigators “are circulating photos of two men spotted chatting near the finish line,” combined with a photo of Barhoum and Zaimi baring the tagline “Bag Men” — which packed an accusatory punch.
The civil lawsuit filed in Massachusetts seeks unspecified monetary damages and names the New York Post and five journalists as defendants. Barhoum and Zaimi accuse the newspaper of publishing “photographic images, together with false, inflammatory and libelous assertions concerning plaintiffs’ involvement in the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.” The complaint generally sticks to a straight up recitation of the facts in the case. The New York Post is described in the suit as “One of the most widely circulated and influential newspapers in the country”, and the suit states that they acted negligently in their reporting.
The plaintiffs were not bombing suspects and were not being sought by law enforcement. As such, legally speaking, the Post was skating on thin legal ground by moving forward with the story and picture — especially in light of an early warning to all the news media, by Federal authorities, to exercise caution in reporting about this very matter.
Hours after the Post published the photo and article on April 18th, the FBI released pictures of two other men later identified as brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whom were officially named as suspects in the bombing.
The two brothers were accused of having killed a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and engaging in a gun battle with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, that night. Tamerlan, 26, died in the fight, while Dzhokhar, 19, was arrested on April 19 after a day-long manhunt that locked down much of the Boston area.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now in a prison hospital west of Boston, awaiting trial on charges that carry the threat of the death penalty. And the New York Post, it appears, may be paying out big bucks for potentially crossing the defamation/false light line.
The “Internet Of Things”
What Exactly Is the “Internet of Things”? It involves a lot of things — especially when it comes to digital privacy. The Federal Trade Commission uses the term to refer to the web of available devices, such as smartphones and tablets, but also other Internet-enabled devices, like vehicles and household appliances, to interact with each other by using the Internet.
In today’s world, a growing number of devices can “plug you in.” You can get online videos straight from the Internet on many modern televisions. You can get traffic and weather information on a display in your car. Internet-enabled refrigerators can detect that the milk carton is almost empty and notify the user on his smartphone when he passes by a grocery store.
The fact that so much data could be shared by devices in the coming decades obviously has numerous digital privacy and security implications. It is certainly true that many Internet-enabled household appliances are still something that only technophiles are using for now. But if we examine a few products, we see that “high-tech” is becoming more mainstream as a result of wider availability and dropping prices. One example is IP-enabled home automation systems. 10 years ago, it was seen as something only Bill Gates would use. Fast forward to 2013 and solutions that allow someone to control the lights, unlock doors and change the thermostat from a smartphone can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.
Digital Privacy Implications
The goal of the FTC is to put forward policies that would define clear digital privacy rules for household appliances that use the Internet. Consumer groups believe that the proliferation of the “Internet of Things” could allow corporations to have access to an unprecedented amount of data on consumers. This raises concerns about what the data would be used for and who would have access to it. The digital privacy concern would be especially important if Internet-enabled medical devices become used by consumers around the nation.
Not everyone believes that digital privacy regulations should be drafted before Internet-enabled appliances become adopted by consumers. Some commentators believe that excessive regulation on new technologies would limit their progress and could deprive people of access to useful devices. Those who oppose immediate regulation say that while new inventions may carry risks, mistakes such as privacy threats can be corrected as these inventions get perfected.
Are you ready for some
football tank wars!? A game developer v. game developer lawsuit includes elements of online intellectual property and slander…kinda.
How This Game Developer Lawsuit Started
World of Tanks is a game developed by Wargaming.net. Project Tank (a.k.a., Tanks Ground War) is a game developed by China-based Gamebox. As you can probably surmise from their descriptive titles, both games deal with tanks. Apparently, though, Wargaming isn’t happy Gamebox developed a tank game too, so they’re suing for intellectual property infringement.
The Tank Game Developer Lawsuit Specifics
In their claim, Wargaming insists Project Tank is “disturbingly similar” to World of Tanks. The U.S.game developer avers Gamebox “copied the plot, theme, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, and character of World of Tanks, in addition to copying specific features, items, tanks, and artwork.”
As a result of the original game developer lawsuit, Facebook pulled Project Tank from its platform. As you’d imagine, the expulsion from the social-networking site was a blow to Gamebox’s bottom line.
Defendant’s Reaction & Counter Game Developer Lawsuit
When asked for comment about the game developer lawsuit, a representative from Gamebox explained the company’s position – and took the opportunity to snark on the big-box game development firm, Wargaming. Specifically, Gamebox opined, “we feel truly shocked and bullied by Wargaming, a giant company of the gaming industry who is apparently ‘threatened’ by a closed beta phase browser game aiming to provide a cheaper, fairer, and more accessible war game to players around the world.”
Unwilling to go quietly into that deep night, Gamebox opted to file a counter-claim. The Chinese developer is alleging “illicit competition and slander.”
What Are The Chances Of Gamebox Wining The Counter-Claim?
The illicit competition charge has some definite merit if argued well. Intellectual property infringement often turns on whether or not the alleged “theft” was of a mechanical or artistic nature. As such, in their claim, Gamebox deftly argued that any similarities between the two games are a mere result of both being video games about a similar theme. After all, a tank is a tank is a tank – the number of differing depictions of a tank are few and far between.
Another factor bolstering Gamebox’s case is Project Tank’s expulsion from Facebook. In order to win an intellectual property game developer lawsuit, it’s necessary to prove financial harm. Going on the available information, Project Tank’s makers should be able to present a very strong argument that getting kicked off Facebook hurt their business tremendously.
Their chances of winning the slander claim, however, are less auspicious. To put it simply, slander is spoken defamation and libel is written defamation. Now, there may be an element of this case that has not yet been made public, in which case Gamebox could have a strong slander case. But if we’re only looking at the facts currently available, there is a strong possibility a judge will toss the slander charge quicker than you can say “tank.”
Moreover, in most cases, accusations lodged in a formal lawsuit are considered privileged, and thus not actionable under available defamation statutes.