Author Archives: Evan Brown (@internetcases)

Facebook and iOS game developer’s browsewrap terms of service were not enforceable

Plaintiffs sued defendant game developer in court alleging defendant’s game (Available on Facebook and via an iOS app) constituted illegal gambling in violation of Washington state law, and that they should get back the money they spent on virtual chips bought in-game.

Defendant moved to compel arbitration. The court denied the motion. It held that the game did not present its terms of service in a manner that would place users on notice of the provisions. Since the plaintiffs never effectively agreed to resolve their claims through arbitration, it was proper to allow the case to stay in court.

The court noted a number of problems with the game’s “browsewrap” agreement.

When a user would first access the Facebook app, the “App Terms” link on the initial pop-up window was located far below the “Continue” button in small grey text. The court found that the pop-up window’s main purpose was to gain permission for data sharing between Facebook and defendant, and was not a point traditionally associated with binding terms unrelated to the data sharing itself.

When a user would first download the iPhone app, the app page contained a link to the “License Agreement” that could only be viewed after significant scrolling. Compounding the problem was the fact that a user could download the app directly from the search results list within the App Store without ever accessing the particular app page. So neither the initial link on Facebook or on the mobile app was coupled with a notification informing a user that downloading or playing defendant’s game created a binding agreement.

The hyperlinks within the game itself also did not put a user on inquiry notice.

On Facebook, the “Terms of Use” hyperlink was located at the very bottom of the gameplay screen in small font next to several other links, and was not visible unless a user would scroll down.

On the mobile app, the link to the Terms of Use was located within a settings menu that a player might never have even needed to access. Furthermore, links that were available only via the settings menu were not “temporally coupled” with a discrete act of manifesting assent, such as downloading an app or making a purchase, and were thus less likely to put a reasonable user on inquiry notice.

Benson v. Double Down Interactive, LLC, 2018 WL 5921062 (W.D.Wa. Nov. 13, 2018)

See also:

Court labels copyright plaintiff as a troll and shuts down efforts to ID anonymous infringer

When a copyright plaintiff does not know who a particular alleged infringer is, it must first send a subpoena to the ISP assigned the IP address used to commit the alleged infringement. But the rules of procedure do not allow the sending of subpoenas until after the 26(f) conference – a meeting between the plaintiff and defendant (or their lawyers) to discuss the case. A plaintiff cannot have a 26(f) conference if the defendant has not been served with the complaint, and the complaint cannot be served unless the defendant’s identity is known.

So you can see the conundrum. To break out of this not-knowing, plaintiffs in situations like this will ask the court’s help through a motion for leave to take early discovery. That way the plaintiff can learn who the defendant is, serve the complaint, and move the case forward.

In the recent case of Strike 3 Holdings v. Doe, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia put a stop to the efforts of a plaintiff that it called a copyright troll right to its face (or at least right in the text of the opinion). The court denied Strike 3’s motion for leave to take early discovery to learn the identity of an unknown BitTorrent user accused of downloading pornography.

The court held that the plaintiff’s request was not specific enough, and the privacy interests of the unknown defendant, together with the social harm of being wrongfully accused of obtaining “particularly prurient pornography” were not outweighed by the trollish plaintiff’s need for the information.

Key to the court’s ruling was the idea that a subpoena in circumstances like this must be able to actually identify a defendant who could be sued. The court noted, however, that

Strike 3 could not withstand a 12(b)(6) motion in this case without resorting to far more intensive discovery machinations sufficiently establishing defendant did the infringing—examining physical evidence (at least the computers, smartphones, and tablets of anyone in the owner’s house, as well as any neighbor or houseguest who shared the Internet), and perhaps even interrogatories, document requests, or depositions. Strike 3’s requested subpoena thus will not—and may never—identify a defendant who could be sued.

The opinion is an entertaining read and conveys the judge’s clear frustration with copyright troll plaintiffs. Below are some of the more memorable quips.

Regarding the flaws of using IP addresses to identify people:

[Plaintiff’s] method [of identifying infringers] is famously flawed: virtual private networks and onion routing spoof IP addresses (for good and ill); routers and other devices are unsecured; malware cracks passwords and opens backdoors; multiple people (family, roommates, guests, neighbors, etc.) share the same IP address; a geolocation service might randomly assign addresses to some general location if it cannot more specifically identify another.

Regarding the public shame of being accused of infringing porn:

… But in many cases, the method is enough to force the Internet service provider (ISP) to unmask the IP address’s subscriber. And once the ISP outs the subscriber, permitting them to be served as the defendant, any future Google search of their name will turn-up associations with the websites Vixen, Blacked, Tushy, and Blacked Raw. The first two are awkward enough, but the latter two cater to even more singular tastes.

How trolls are quick to flee:

Indeed, the copyright troll’s success rate comes not from the Copyright Act, but from the law of large numbers. … These serial litigants drop cases at the first sign of resistance, preying on low-hanging fruit and staying one step ahead of any coordinated defense. They don’t seem to care about whether defendant actually did the infringing, or about developing the law. If a Billy Goat Gruff moves to confront a copyright troll in court, the troll cuts and runs back under its bridge. Perhaps the trolls fear a court disrupting their rinse-wash-and-repeat approach: file a deluge of complaints; ask the court to compel disclosure of the account holders; settle as many claims as possible; abandon the rest.

It’s pretty much extortion:

Armed with hundreds of cut-and-pasted complaints and boilerplate discovery motions, Strike 3 floods this courthouse (and others around the country) with lawsuits smacking of extortion. It treats this Court not as a citadel of justice, but as an ATM. Its feigned desire for legal process masks what it really seeks: for the Court to oversee a high-tech shakedown. This Court declines.

The court’s decision to deny discovery is anything but the rubber stamp approach so many judges in these kinds of cases over the past several years have been accused of employing.

Strike 3 Holdings v. Doe, 2018 WL 6027046 (D.D.C. November 16, 2018)

Web scraping case fails under Dastar

Plaintiff sued defendant claiming that defendant wrongfully scraped sales listings from plaintiff’s website and copied those listings on defendant’s own website. It brought the following claims:

  • Violation of the Copyright Act’s prohibitions against distributing false copyright management information (“CMI”) (17 U.S.C. §1202(a)), and removing or altering CMI (Id., §1202(b)); and
  • Violation of the Lanham Act for reverse passing off and false endorsement.

Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court granted the motion.

CMI claim

The court dismissed the claim asserting distribution of false CMI because plaintiff alleged that the false CMI was a blanket copyright notice found on defendant’s website’s terms of use, and not on the pages where the copied content was displayed.

It also dismissed plaintiff’s claim for removal of CMI because it found that the allegations concerning the CMI allegedly removed – a copyright notice found at the bottom of the pages of plaintiff’s website – covered the pages of the website itself, not the particular listings that were allegedly copied without the CMI. It held that:

To violate the DMCA, the false CMI must be “conveyed in connection” with the work. General copyright notices are not “conveyed” with the work, and thus do not violate the DMCA. [See GC2 Inc. v. Int’l Game Tech. PLC, 255 F. Supp. 3d 812, 821 (N.D. Ill. 2017)] (“Courts, however, have generally required more than a boilerplate terms of use notice near a copyrighted work in order to find a party liable for distributing false CMI”); Pers. Keepsakes, Inc. v. Personalizationmall.com, Inc., 2012 WL 414803, at *7 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 8, 2012) (“[A]s a matter of law, if a general copyright notice appears on an entirely different webpage than the work at issue, then that CMI is not ‘conveyed’ with the work and no claim will lie under the DMCA.”)

Lanham Act claim

On the Lanham Act claim, the court found that plaintiff failed to allege that it had a protectible mark that was being used in a manner that was likely to cause confusion among consumers.

The court also applied the 2003 Supreme Court case of Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003) to find that plaintiff’s Lanham Act claim failed. In Dastar, the Supreme Court concluded that “false designation of origin” as it is used in the Lanham Act attaches to the producer of tangible goods that are offered for sale, and not to the author of any idea, concept, or communication embodied in those goods. In this case, the defendant created the final product (website listings), albeit using the plaintiff’s content (just like in Dastar). Because plaintiff was not the source of the product (the duplicated listings), it did not have a claim under the Lanham Act.

Alan Ross Machinery Corp. v. Machinio Corporation, 2018 WL 6018603 (N.D.Ill. November 16, 2018)

Suit under DMCA for concealing copyright management information failed because plaintiff did not properly allege defendants’ intent

Plaintiff sued defendants under the provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) (17 U.S.C. § 1202(a)) that, among other things, prohibits a person from knowingly and with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement, provide copyright management information that is false.

Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion, and plaintiff sought review with the Second Circuit. On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal.

It noted that in order to plead a violation of Section 1202(a), a plaintiff must plausibly allege that a defendant knowingly provided false copyright information and that the defendant did so with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement. This is a double scienter requirement.

In this case, the court found that plaintiff’s DMCA claim merely alleged that one of the defendants was identified on a disputed work (a book) as its author, and that she was listed in the notice of copyright as its owner, which plaintiff alleges is false.

The court held that these facts did not amount to a plausible allegation that defendants knew that such copyright information was false, or that it even was false. Moreover, plaintiff had failed to adequately plead that defendants intended to conceal valid copyright management information.

Krechmer v. Tantaros, 2018 WL 4044048 (2nd Cir. August 24, 2018)

Is an online marketplace liable for injuries caused by defective products?

The recent case of Eberhart v. Amazon.com, Inc. discussed the question of whether a man could recover from Amazon for severe injuries to his thumb he suffered when the glass of a coffee maker he purchased on Amazon shattered. The court held that Amazon was not liable.

No strict liability

In most states, when a product injures someone, that injured party can seek to hold anyone within the distribution chain “strictly liable” for the injuries. That means that the party is potentially liable regardless of whether it sold the product directly to the consumer, and regardless of whether the injury was foreseeable or was caused because of a lack of due care.

The court concluded that Amazon was not within the coffeemaker’s chain of distribution such that Amazon could be considered a “distributor” subject to strict liability. Amazon never took title to the coffee maker. Moreover, Amazon was better characterized as a provider of services. And finally, many other courts that had considered the question had concluded that Amazon was not strictly liable for defective products sold on its marketplace.

No negligence, breach of warranty or misrepresentation

Plaintiff’s other legal theories against Amazon failed as well. As for his negligence claims, the court held Amazon owed no duty to plaintiff because Amazon did not manufacture, sell, or otherwise distribute the allegedly defective coffeemaker to him. And as for claims sounding in breach of express warranty and misrepresentation, the court held that because Amazon did not make any statement about the coffeemaker (the seller generated that content), it could not be held liable.

Eberhart v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2018 WL 4080348 (S.D.N.Y., August 27, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

Police not required to publicly disclose how they monitor social media accounts in investigations

In the same week that news has broken about how Amazon is assisting police departments with facial recognition technology, here is a decision from a Pennsylvania court that held police do not have to turn over details to the public about how they monitor social media accounts in investigations.

The ACLU sought a copy under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law of the policies and procedures of the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) for personnel when using social media monitoring software. The PSP produced a redacted copy, and after the ACLU challenged the redaction, the state’s Office of Open Records ordered the full document be provided. The PSP sought review in state court, and that court reversed the Office of Open Records order. The court found that disclosure of the record would be reasonably likely to threaten public safety or a public protection activity.

The court found in particular that disclosure would: (i) allow individuals to know when the PSP can monitor their activities using “open sources” and allow them to conceal their activities; (ii) expose the specific investigative method used; (iii) provide criminals with tactics the PSP uses when conducting undercover investigations; (iv) reveal how the PSP conducts its investigations; and (v) provide insight into how the PSP conducts an investigation and what sources and methods it would use. Additionally, the court credited the PSP’s affidavit which explained that disclosure would jeopardize the PSP’s ability to hire suitable candidates – troopers in particular – because disclosure would reveal the specific information that may be reviewed as part of a background check to determine whether candidates are suitable for employment.

Pennsylvania State Police v. American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, 2018 WL 2272597 (Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, May 18, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

Court takes into consideration defendant’s privacy in BitTorrent copyright infringement case

Frequent copyright plaintiff Strike 3 Holdings filed a motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota seeking an order allowing Strike 3 to send a subpoena to Comcast, to learn who owns the account used to allegedly infringe copyright. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure created a bootstrapping problem or, as the court called it, a Catch-22, for Strike 3 – it was not able to confer with the unknown Doe defendant as required by Rule 26(f) because it could not identify the defendant, but it could not identify defendant without discovery from Comcast.

The court granted Strike 3’s motion for leave to take early discovery, finding that good cause existed for granting the request, and noting:

  • Strike 3 had stated an actionable claim for copyright infringement,
  • The discovery request was specific,
  • There were no alternative means to ascertain defendant’s name and address,
  • Strike 3 had to know defendant’s name and address in order to serve the summons and complaint, and
  • Defendant’s expectation of privacy in his or her name and address was outweighed by Strike 3’s right to use the judicial process to pursue a plausible claim of copyright infringement.

On the last point, the court observed that the privacy interest was outweighed especially given that the court could craft a limited protective order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) to protect an innocent ISP subscriber and to account for the sensitive and personal nature of the subject matter of the lawsuit.

Strike 3 Holdings, LLC v. Doe, 2018 WL 2278110 (D.Minn. May 18, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

Online marketer’s misappropriation claims against publicly traded former suitor move forward

Plaintiff – a small online marketing company – sued a large, publicly-traded competitor for copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, deceptive and unfair practices, and breach of contract. The parties had previously signed a nondisclosure agreement and an agreement whereby plaintiff would provide defendant with access to plaintiff’s technology used to monitor the scope of companies’ online presence and the accuracy of information appearing in search engines. The parties had also engaged in discussions about defendant acquiring plaintiff. But after the negotiations broke off, plaintiff discovered that it appeared defendant had appropriated plaintiff’s technology (including copyright-protected materials) into defendant’s own product offerings.

The lower court entered a preliminary injunction against defendant, barring it from offering the allegedly infringing and misappropriating technology. Defendant sought review of the entry of preliminary injunction with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the order.

The appellate court rejected defendant’s argument that the lower court had not described specifically enough those trade secrets of plaintiff that defendant had allegedly misappropriated. It also rejected defendant’s arguments that plaintiff’s delay in bringing suit undermined its argument of irreparable harm, that plaintiff failed to show that it was likely to succeed on the merits of its underlying claims, and that the district court erred in weighing the balance of harm and in considering the impact on the public interest.

Advice Interactive Group, LLC v. Web.com Group, Inc., 2018 WL 2246603 (11th Cir., May 16, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

No fraud claim against VRBO over bogus listing because website terms did not guarantee prescreening

Plaintiff sued the website VRBO for fraud after he used the website to find a purported vacation rental property that he paid for and later learned to be nonexistent. He specifically claimed that the website’s “Basic Rental Guarantee” misled him into believing that VRBO pre-screened the listings that third parties post to the site. The lower court granted VRBO’s summary judgment motion. Plaintiff sought review with the First Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court affirmed summary judgment, finding the guarantee was not fraudulent.

The court found the Basic Rental Guarantee was not fraudulent for a number of reasons. The document simply established a process for obtaining a refund (of up to $1,000) that involved satisfying certain conditions (e.g., having paid using a certain method, being denied a refund by the property owner, and making a claim to VRBO within a certain time). The document gave no indication that VRBO conducted any pre-screening of listed properties, but instead the document mentioned investigation that would be conducted only in the event a claim of “Internet Fraud” (as VRBO defined it) was made. And VRBO’s terms and conditions expressly stated that VRBO had no duty to pre-screen content on the website, and also disclaimed liability arising from any inaccurate listings.

Finally, the court found that the guarantee did not, under a Massachusetts statute, constitute a representation or warranty about the accuracy of the listings. Among other things, the document clearly and conspicuously disclosed the nature and extent of the guarantee, its duration, and what the guarantor undertook to do.

Hiam v. Homeaway.com, 887 F.3d 542 (1st Cir., April 12, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.

No privacy violation for disclosing information otherwise available on member-only website

Plaintiff sued several defendants related to her past work as a government employee. She sought to amend her pleadings to add claims for violation of the Fourth Amendment and the federal Stored Communications Act. She claimed that defendants wrongfully disclosed private medical information about her. The court denied her motion to amend the pleadings to add the Fourth Amendment and Stored Communications Act claims because such amendments would have been futile.

Specifically, the court found there to be no violation because she had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the information allegedly disclosed. She had made that information available on a website. Though to view the information required signing up for an account, plaintiff had not set up the website to make the information available only to those she invited to view it. The court relied on several cases from earlier in the decade that addressed the issue of privacy of social media content, among them Rosario v. Clark Cty. Sch. Dist., 2013 WL 3679375 (D. Nev. July 3, 2013), which held that one has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her tweets, even if he or she had maintained a private account. In that case, the court held that even if the social media user maintained a private account, his tweets still amounted to the dissemination of information to the public.

Burke v. New Mexico, 2018 WL 2134030 (D.N.M. May 9, 2018)

About the Author: Evan Brown is a Chicago technology and intellectual property attorney. Call Evan at (630) 362-7237, send email to ebrown [at] internetcases.com, or follow him on Twitter @internetcases. Read Evan’s other blog, UDRP Tracker, for information about domain name disputes.