Alleged Copyright Troll Sues Critics

March 4, 2013

By Jay Wolman

In a page out of Rakofsky vs. The Internet, it appears that one of the law firms and attorney groups frequently criticized as representing copyright trolls, Paul Duffy, John Steele, and Prenda Law, has gone on the offense against its critics.

More details here:

http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/prenda-law-john-steele-and-paul-duffy-file-suit-against-alan-cooper-his-lawyer-paul-goodfread-and-anonymous-john-does/

Here:

http://fightcopyrighttrolls.com/2013/03/04/copyright-trolls-prenda-law-paul-duffy-and-john-steele-commence-three-lawsuits-v-paul-godfread-alan-cooper-and-our-community/

and here:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130303/23353022182/prenda-law-sues-critics-defamation.shtml

copies of the complaints are linked by Jordan Rushie (1st Link). I have not read the entirety of the complaints, but I believe I saw quite a few protected statements that cannot form the basis of liability. Unclear what motivated the suits, but I have a feeling the Plaintiffs will come to regret them.

Editor’s note, the views in this post are those of Mr. Wolman. No other Satyriconistas have taken a public position on this dispute.


Illinois court rules anonymous comment allegations ‘sheer speculation’

November 2, 2012

A court in the Northern District of Illinois recently concluded that accusations that an internet service provider might have falsified an account in order to leave comments anonymously cannot survive a motion to dismiss.

In Hadley v. GateHouse Media Freeport Holdings, a county board member filed a complaint against the publisher of the Journal-Standard for allegedly defamatory remarks made in the comments on its website. 2012 WL 2866463 (N.D. Ill. 2012).  The plaintiff stated that under an article published by the Journal-Standard, a person using the name “Fuboy” posted the comment: “Hadley is a Sandusky waiting to be exposed. Check out the view he has of Empire from his front door.” Id.  The defendant cited to the Communications Decency Act, reasoning that because it is an internet service provider, it is immune from liability for statements posted on its site that cannot be attributed to it. Id.

The plaintiff countered in his opposition, however, that it is possible that “Fuboy” was actually a creation of the defendant used as a proxy to convey the information anonymously.  Id.  The court rejected this argument, saying that, not only was this allegation not included in the complaint, but claiming this was “sheer speculation,” and the accusation was not enough to survive a motion to dismiss. Id.  For those reasons, the court dismissed the complaint against the Journal-Standard.

The decision is fairly short and to the point, leaving no room for speculation about why the plaintiff might have made this allegation in its opposition to the motion to dimiss.  But Hadley also failed to allege that the newspaper created the comments in his complaint, leading one to believe that the accusation was not grounded in any proof.  It seems that the plaintiff’s counsel were engaged in some creative lawyering in an attempt to work around 47 U.S.C. § 230.  Although no doubt publishers may have created screen names in an attempt to leave anonymous comments in the past, it is few and far between.  Additionally, such an accusation would need to be properly pleaded in the complaint.

This decision shows once again that Section 230 is a powerful tool for Internet service providers.


Couple receives largest internet libel award

May 7, 2012

A jury in Fort Worth, Texas awarded a husband and wife $13.78 million in a libel lawsuit after anonymous commenters started an online campaign designed to ruin their reputations. (Source). The judgment is the largest ever awarded in an internet libel case.

The plaintiffs—an attorney and a salon owner—had previously been the subject of a criminal trial after one of the defendants in the libel suit, a former client of the attorney, accused them of sexually assaulting her. A jury acquitted them in the criminal case, but the libel case arose after the accuser, her husband, and two of the couple’s employees took their campaign to the internet in a blast of anonymous comments and sites. As a result of the internet campaign, the couple relocated to another town. In all, the plaintiff attorneys compiled about 25,000 posts they deemed libelous. The trial included posts accusing the couple of murder, pedophilia, drug abuse, and other crimes.

Although this particular case presented an extreme instance where false speech greatly damaged one couple, the high amount of the award could mean that anonymous internet commenters might be more on guard, even if what they are saying is purely a matter of opinion or true.


Section 230 Amendment strips websites of immunity from anonymous commenters

April 1, 2012

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is not particularly known for his friendliness toward the First Amendment, is at it again.  As chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Lieberman urged Twitter to stop hosting pro-Taliban tweets last fall, in addition to persuading Internet companies to remove blog posts that promote terrorism.

It appears he’s now taking the idea one step further by proposing an amendment to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. (Source.) Section 230 (47 U.S.C. § 230) grants immunity to Internet Service Providers from being held liable for the comments of third parties to their websites. Basically, it’s what shields review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp from butthurt business owners holding them liable for disgruntled third parties’ reviews.  It is also what allows all of you to say whatever you want in the comments without The Legal Satyricon being taken to task for it (legally).

However, Lieberman’s proposed amendment would change that. The new language reads:

No A provider or user of an interactive computer service shall may be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Although Lieberman is touting this amendment as an anti-terrorist effort, this action will have a chilling effect on all forms of Internet speech. Service providers from Comcast to Consumerist may now be treated as publishers to content posted to their websites. This opens up the possibility that review sites and others that rely on third parties for content will be held responsible for those very same deranged, sub-literate contributions. Lieberman’s proposed amendment will have a chilling effect on free speech, as any site that does not want to drown in legal bills likely won’t accept anonymous comments.  If you’re a sissy with paper-thin skin or an obsession with “bullying,” rejoice, I suppose.

Long before the rise of the Internet, anonymous speech has provided an outlet for those who wanted to make their voices heard, but were unable to so for fear of retaliation. The issue of anonymous speech was discussed in great detail in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Committee, which involved a woman who handed out unsigned political leaflets that opposed a tax levy. The Supreme Court held that such speech was protected:

“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”

Needless to say, inhibiting anonymous speech is an attack on this right in gross.  It will be a grave day if this amendment succeeds.  Although anonymous speech on the Internet is not always the most intelligent, it still has its place in public discourse – for me to poop on.  Civil liberties should not be victims in the attempt to curb terrorism, yet we have already succumbed to the Scylla and Charybdis of the TSA and NSA in entrusting our rights to the benevolent government.  At this point, what’s one more right ceded to the security theater’s alphabet soup?

 


Blasting people on twitter – not cyberstalking!

December 16, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Pundits were concerned earlier this year when the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland brought a criminal action against William Lawrence Cassidy.  His alleged crime?  Posting 8,000 harassing twitter messages about Alyce Zeoli, a buddhist leader in Maryland.  The Court dismissed the Government’s case, as Cassidy’s anonymous speech addressed a topic accorded the highest constitutional protections: Religion.

Admittedly, some of the messages were witty.  Take this poetry, for instance:

Ya like haiku? Here’s one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop

Some were more esoteric, such as “A thousand voices call out to (Victim 1) and she cannot shut off the silent scream,” while others got to the point: “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”

The Court’s Order  is a solid win for the Defendant – and free speech.  Within it, the Court found that 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2) is unconstitutional as applied to the defendant.  Not only does the First Amendment kick ass, it’s now a tool, albeit a slow-working one, against the federal government’s overcriminalization of daily life.

I strongly encourage reading the whole Order, but most importantly, there’s this:

However, it is questionable whether the same interest exists in the context of the use of the Internet alleged in this case because harassing telephone calls “are targeted towards a particular victim and are received outside a public forum.” United States v. Bowker, 372 F.3d 365, 379 (6th Cir. 2004). Twitter and Blogs are today’s equivalent of a bulletin board that one is free to disregard, in contrast, for example, to e-mails or phone calls directed to a victim. See id. at 378 (contrasting why a federal telephone harassment statute serves a compelling governmental interest and a statute that made it a criminal offense for three or more persons to assemble on a sidewalk and to be “annoying” to a passerby did not serve a compelling governmental interest). (emphasis added)

H/T: EFF


The Aroma of Tacoma Smells Like a Can of STFU.

October 24, 2011

Back in 2009, Washington State Governor Christine Gregiore signed SB 5688, the so-called “Everything But Marriage” act. Source. Shortly thereafter, a group of concerned citizens calling themselves Protect Marriage Washington got enough signatures to place a referendum challenging the bill. Protecting marriage from what, exactly, remains a mystery but Imma call them “The Protectors” anyway. No word on if they have capes with an Xed-out picture of two guys holding hands. Anyway, shortly after Washington Secretary of State Gary Reed determined the signatures were valid, he received a public records request under Wash. Rev. Code §42.56.001 for the names and addresses of the 137,000 signatory Protectors. The Protectors didn’t like that one bit and asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent Secretary Reed from complying with the request. They are trying to say that disclosing their names and addresses violates the First Amendment because referendum petitions are political speech and the resulting harassment they would (allegedly) receive would stifle that speech. This case wound its way all the way to the Supreme Court. Here’s the Opinion: Doe v. Reed.

Boiled down, the Protector’s main gripe is that the government’s interest in preventing voter fraud and the integrity of the electoral process pales in comparison to the stifling of their first amendment rights because the public records request was made to harass them for their political views. The Big Dogs didn’t buy it. Justice Stevens’ concurrence sounded a little like “Why the hell are we even here?” so that was a treat.  But the Nine did recognize that disclosure requirements could stifle speech in some cases and even allowed for an exemption if there is a “reasonable probability that the disclosure would result in threats or harassment.” They didn’t address whether the request was unconstitutional as applied to this particular petition, so the parties got sent packing back to the District Court in Tacoma to figure it out. Both promptly filed motions for summary judgment. Source.

The Protectors tried to convince the Court that they should be afforded the disclosure exemption because their paltry 137,000 signers are a minority party akin to the NAACP in 1958 or the 60 member Socialist Party in 1976.  Really Protectors? Really? Anyway, Judge Settle disagrees. And even if the Protectors could be granted minority status, they still would have had to produce…uhm….oh yeah. Evidence. But, awshucks, they couldn’t come up with anything to show that they had experienced harassment, threats, or reprisals due to their involvement with the referendum. Oh-did I mention several of the Protectors posted YouTube videos, had television and radio interviews, stood on street corners with signs, testified before the Washington State Legislature, collected signatures in front of Wal Mart and Target, put signs in their front yards, had bumper stickers on their cars, and published articles about their anti-gay position? Yeah, they did that. But we need to protect their anonymity because they might be harassed because of this stupid petition.

Look, part of being a junk yard dog for the First Amendment means that sometimes I have to defend speech I find repulsive. For what it’s worth, I think the Protect Marriage folks are bunch of hate-spewing morons. They seek to stifle the speech of those opposing a view they willingly cram down our throats and then hide behind the very Amendment they kick in the nuts when it comes to other people’s naughty bits. BUT- If they could have come up with evidence showing a probability that they were being harassed, threatened, and harangued to the point they were fearful of expressing their view, I would argue in favor of exempting them from disclosure.  But the Protector’s evidence of harassment consists of testimony that shows a pastor got a call from a *gasp* transgender woman. The horror! Another Protector got flipped off one day *shudder*! One guy even got called a homophobic bigot. The shame! No one was fearful to testify in the case. No one is being clubbed. No one is being swept down the street by fire hoses. The worst they could show is that sometimes the Protectors are called “assholes” and told that their platform “is a bunch of shit”. Well, if the shoe fits, Cinderella…


Jessica Valenti doesn’t understand the Streisand Effect

July 1, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Imagine if there was an online database of killers, child abusers, bigots, rapists and liars – and they were all women.  Now there is!  Register-Her.com, a project started by Paul Elam, a men’s rights activist and contributor to The Spearhead, uses a wiki-style webpage to consolidate locally and nationally reported facts about women whose documented wrongs range from murder to false rape accusations. [Disclaimer: Like Elam, I also contribute to The Spearhead.]  This is SRS BUSINESS.

One of the first additions to the site as a “bigot” is feministing’s own Jessica Valenti.  Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”  Without dignifying Valenti’s oeuvre with my attention, this sounds accurate.

If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear it?  If Jessica Valenti didn’t shriek like a harpy about “misogyny,” would so many others know about Register-Her.com?  Rather than letting this roll off her back with the cool disposition of an empowered, independent blah blah blah… woman, she posted this YouTube (which, admittedly, I have not watched to completion).

Result: More people know about the site.  Also, male advocates are increasingly stepping out of anonymity, contrary to Valenti’s assertions.  Paul Elam’s real name is… Paul Elam!  My name and identity are well known, and I’m on the record opposing anonymity in advocating men’s issues and any other controversial position  — though I understand and respect why others employ it.  Crime & Federalism offers a counterpoint on the issue here.  I rather enjoy this and, as far as I know, the “basement-dwelling virgin” meme has never been attached to me.  In fact, the biggest critics of women I’ve met are people among the best looking and most successful with women that I know.  In contrast, the basement-confined and virginal types tend to supplicate women and resent men who are successful with women, turning on them for the smallest of reasons (like in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn — come on, “forced” oral sex wasn’t a red flag of falsity?).

Just like when Barbara Steisand’s shrill howls – and not even her singing – drew attention to photos of her Pacific mansion online, Jessica Valenti’s plaintive whines drive more eyes to the site.  If she had just shut up, the damage would have been limited mostly to the men who would have found the site anyway – preaching to the choir.  Realizing that the damage was done, Valenti is now trying to scrub the internet of any trace of her existence, seeking the anonymity she criticizes men for using to voice their opinions.  I hope Reputation Defender is still in business!

But enough about a bitter, angry shrew who has to live not only with herself, but also a younger, neckbeard beta husband.  The new site itself, Register-Her.com, is a more worthy topic of discussion.

Is it fair for Register-Her.com to exist?  The Atlantic tells us that it’s the “End of Men.”  Women already kvetch and attack men’s reputations on Don’t Date Him Girl.  There’s no need for free speech to be “fair,” since its mere availability levels the playing field.  This new website fills a void in beating back the myth of intrinsic female virtue, though.  I clicked around to see what the site was about and found that each article is a recitation of sourced, cited and publicly available information.  In some cases, the women profiled in the articles are described in their very own words.  While the site was designed to be provocative, it was not created with the intent to hurt those named within it for the sheer purpose of inflicting pain.  Plus, there are limitations of liability inherent in the site’s design and operation.  Section 230 protects the site’s owner from liability for content posted by others.  To the extent others’ content may wind up on the site, such as a mugshot or screen capture, they tend to be government works – which are not subject to copyright – or tiny snippets of news articles that are almost certain to constitute fair use — assuming the articles’ factual elements can even be copyrighted.

As for litigation that can be pursued against the site… what, exactly?  Where is the disclosure of public facts when all of the site’s information is available from other online sources?  What unreasonable attention has been brought to someone’s private life?  How is aggregation of the news shocking or extreme conduct — especially when Register-Her.com is a republication of what others have written?  I’m confident Elam has the compassion to remove an entry if there’s a good reason to do so, but it is unlikely that reason would be expressed via litigation with even a remote chance of success, even as a SLAPP suit.

I’ve no doubt that this is far from the end of whining and gnashing of teeth over Register-Her.com.  More will come as the site’s contents work their way up Google’s search algorithm.  All they will do, however, is make the site more well-read and well-known. (See also Juicycampus.com (RIP).)


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