Perfect 10 v. CCBill Update: Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Rehearing

By Eric Goldman

The Ninth Circuit has denied an en banc rehearing in Perfect 10 v. CCBill. In doing so, the court amended its opinion to reinforce that it really, really meant that 47 USC 230 preempts all state IP laws, including state trademark laws. The full text of the opinion/amendment:

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On slip opinion page 3577, line 33, after “federal intellectual property.” insert the following footnote:

In its petition for rehearing, Perfect 10 claims that our decision on this point conflicts with Universal Communication Systems, Inc. v. Lycos, Inc., 478 F.3d 413 (1st Cir. 2007). But neither party in that case raised the question of whether state law counts as “intellectual property” for purposes of § 230 and the court seems to simply have assumed that it does. We thus create no conflict with Universal Communication.

We note that Universal Communication demonstrates the difficulties inherent in allowing state laws to count as intellectual property for CDA purposes. In that case, the district court struggled with the question of whether the “trademark dilution” claim brought under Florida Law counted as intellectual property for purposes of the CDA, and concluded that it was more like a defamation claim than a trademark claim. Id. at 423 n.7. Rather than decide how to draw the line between defamation and trademark, the First Circuit held that “because of the serious First Amendment issues that would be raised” if Lycos were found liable, defendant had not violated the Florida statute. Id. at 423.

The First Circuit was able to sidestep the question of what counted as intellectual property on First Amendment grounds. But we cannot do so here. States have any number of laws that could be characterized as intellectual property laws: trademark, unfair competition, dilution, right of publicity and trade defamation, to name just a few. Because such laws vary widely from state to state, no litigant will know if he is entitled to immunity for a state claim until a court decides the legal issue. And, of course, defendants that are otherwise entitled to CDA immunity will usually be subject to the law of numerous states. An entity otherwise entitled to § 230 immunity would thus be forced to bear the costs of litigation under a wide variety of state statutes that could arguably be classified as “intellectual property.” As a practical matter, inclusion of rights protected by state law within the “intellectual property” exemption would fatally undermine the broad grant of immunity provided by the CDA.

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