Articles Posted in Internet Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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Bartholomew publishes Christian ministry music and is a volunteer national spokesperson and the opening act for "Mission: PreBorn" concerts. Bartholomew wrote a pro-life song, “What Was Your Name,” produced a video for the song, and created an account with YouTube, agreeing to be bound by its terms of service. Bartholomew uploaded the video to YouTube, which assigned a URL so that it could be viewed on the internet. Bartholomew publicly shared the URL. By the time YouTube removed it, she claims, the video had been viewed over 30,000 times. The URL for Bartholomew’s video opened an internet page with the image of a distressed face and a statement: This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.’ The screen did not refer to Bartholomew. It contained a hyperlink to a list of examples and tips, YouTube’s “Community Guideline Tips.” Bartholomew sued, claiming that the statement and the Guidelines harmed her reputation (libel per quod). The court of appeal affirmed dismissal, reasoning that, given the breadth of YouTube’s terms of service, and even taking into consideration Bartholomew’s profession, the statement cannot be deemed to subject her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or [cause her] to be shunned or avoided” or tend to “injure [her] in [her] occupation.” View "Bartholomew v. YouTube, LLC" on Justia Law

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Between 1996-1999, Skulason was convicted of three misdemeanors involving the operation of a vehicle. In 2000, she applied for a real estate salesperson’s license. The Bureau of Real Estate initiated an administrative proceeding by filing a statement listing Skulason’s three convictions and alleging that they “constitute[d] cause for denial of [Skulason’s] application,” Gov. Code, 11504. The proceeding settled in 2004. Skulason admitted the allegations; the Board agreed to issue a restricted license. The settlement did not require the parties to maintain its confidentiality. In 2010, Skulason obtained an unrestricted license. Three years later, she obtained court dismissals of her three misdemeanor convictions. The Bureau maintains a public website that contains information about real estate licensees, including Skulason. It identifies her license number, its unrestricted status, the dates of issuance and expiration, and actions the Bureau has taken involving her license. Under the heading “Disciplinary or Formal Action Documents,” is a link to the case number of the administrative proceeding that resulted in Skulason’s 2004 restricted license. The court of appeal reversed an order that the Bureau remove the information. The Board has no mandatory duty to remove from its website publicly available information about a licensee’s convictions, including convictions that are eventually dismissed under Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.4a. View "Skulason v. California Bureau of Real Estate" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are Cross, also known as Mikel Knight, a country rap artist, and his businesses. Two vans, carrying independent contractors promoting Knight’s music, were involved in accidents that resulted in two deaths. “Families Against Mikel Knight,” apparently created by relatives of the accident victims, posted a Facebook page, which, plaintiffs claimed, incited violence and generated death threats against Knight. Plaintiffs sought to have the page removed. Facebook refused. Facebook filed a special motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ subsequent suit, which alleged breach of written contract; negligent misrepresentation; negligent interference with prospective economic relations; breach of Civil Code section 3344; violation of common law right of publicity; and unlawful and unfair business practices. The trial court held that the complaint was based on protected activity, that plaintiffs could not prevail on the first three causes of action, and granted the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) motion as to them but denied the motion as to the three other causes of action. The court of appeal ruled in favor of Facebook and ordered that the complaint be stricken, noting that Facebook derived no benefit from any use of Knight’s name or likeness. View "Cross v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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FilmOn filed suit against DoubleVerify for trade libel, slander, and other business-related torts, alleging DoubleVerify falsely classified FilmOn's websites under the categories "Copyright Infringement-File Sharing" and "Adult Content" in confidential reports to certain clients that subsequently cancelled advertising agreements with FilmOn. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of DoubleVerify's motion to strike pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute. The court held that the trial court properly found DoubleVerify engaged in conduct in furtherance of its constitutional right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest. View "FilmOn.com v. DoubleVerify, Inc." on Justia Law

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ZL provides email archiving, eDiscovery, and compliance support to businesses nationwide. Glassdoor operates a website on which people may anonymously express opinions regarding employers. Individuals representing themselves as current or former ZL employees posted anonymous reviews on Glassdoor‘s website criticizing ZL‘s management and work environment. ZL filed a complaint against those individuals, naming them as Doe defendants and alleging libel per se (Civil Code 45) and online impersonation (Penal Code 528.5) to the extent any of them was not a ZL employee. ZL served a subpoena on Glassdoor, requesting identification and contact information for defendants. Glassdoor objected, arguing: violation of the First Amendment and California Constitution privacy rights; the posted statements were “protected opinion, patently hyperbolic, not harmful to reputation,” or uncontested statements of fact; Glassdoor‘s reputation would be harmed by disclosure; and, ZL was obligated to make a prima facie showing the statements were libelous before it could compel disclosure. The court denied ZL’s motion to compel. More than a year later, the court dismissed the action because of ZL‘s failure to serve the defendants. The court of appeal reversed. While an author‘s decision to remain anonymous is protected by the Constitution, a reasonable fact finder could conclude all of the reviews contained statements that declared or implied provably false assertions of fact, providing a legally sufficient basis for a defamation cause of action. View "ZL Technologies v. Doe" on Justia Law

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After a Machine Zone (MZ) employee posted a review on Glassdoor's website disclosing confidential information regarding MZ's RTPlatform technology, MZ filed suit against the employee for violation of a nondisclosure agreement signed by all MZ employees. When Glassdoor refused to identify the employee, MZ moved for an order compelling disclosure, which the trial court granted. Glassdoor petitioned for a writ directing the trial court to set aside its order. The court concluded that Glassdoor has standing to assert the employee's interest in maintaining his anonymity as against MZ's efforts to compel Glassdoor to identify him. The court concluded that MZ failed to make a prima facie showing that the employee's statements disclosed confidential information in violation of the nondisclosure agreement, and granted the requested relief. In this case, MZ denied the accuracy of the employee's report without identifying any real confidential information it might be understood to have disclosed. View "Glassdoor, Inc. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Attorney Hassell obtained a judgment holding Bird liable for defamation and requiring her to remove defamatory reviews she posted about Hassell on Yelp.com. The judgment contained an order requiring Yelp to remove Bird’s defamatory reviews from its site. Yelp, who was not a party in the defamation action, moved to vacate the judgment. The court of appeal affirmed denial of that motion, but remanded. The court concluded that Yelp is not “aggrieved” by the defamation judgment against Bird, but is “aggrieved” by the removal order; Yelp’s motion to vacate was not cognizable under Code of Civil Procedure section 6632; Yelp has standing to challenge the validity of the removal order as an “aggrieved party,” having brought a nonstatutory motion to vacate; Yelp’s due process rights were not violated by its lack of prior notice and a hearing on the removal order request; the removal order does not violate Yelp’s First Amendment rights to the extent that it requires Yelp to remove Bird’s defamatory reviews; to the extent it purports to cover statements other than Bird’s defamatory reviews, the removal order is an overbroad unconstitutional prior restraint on speech; and Yelp’s immunity from suit under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, does not extend to the removal order. View "Hassell v. Bird" on Justia Law

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California’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003 (OPPA), under the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et. seq.), addresses the obligations of an operator of a commercial Web site or online service regarding the posting of a privacy policy on the Internet. The state sought damages and injunctive relief under OPPA, alleging that Delta’s Fly Delta mobile application violated the privacy policy requirements. The trial court dismissed, finding the suit expressly preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (49 U.S.C. 41713 (b)(1)). The court of appeal affirmed. To compel Delta to comply with the OPPA would effectively interfere with the airline’s “selection and design” of its mobile application, a marketing mechanism “appropriate to the furnishing of air transportation service,” for which state enforcement has been held to be expressly preempted. View "Harris v. Delta Air Lines" on Justia Law