Academic Literature Recap, Q4 2011

By Eric Goldman

I’m mired in grading heck, slogging my way through 146 exams. As a result, blogging has taken a back seat. I have several key items to blog, including the UMG v. Shelter Capital and Ascentive v. Opinion Corp. rulings. I’ll get to these and other topics soon.

In the interim, just in time for the holidays, let me call your attention to some recent academic articles that caught my eye this quarter. They may be worth checking out during your holidays. Happy reading!

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Bevin Ashenmiller and Catherine Shelley Norman, Measuring the Impact of Anti-SLAPP Legislation on Monitoring and Enforcement, The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy: Vol. 11: Iss. 1 (Topics), Article 67 (2011). The abstract:

We examine changes in environmental monitoring and enforcement activity in the presence of state legislation prohibiting Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP laws). Using data on the Clean Air Act from the Environmental Protection Agency’s ECHO database, we find evidence that state inspections increase by almost 50% after a state passes anti-SLAPP legislation. In addition, we find strong evidence that the ratio of findings of noncompliance to inspections more than doubles in the presence of anti-SLAPP legislation.

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danah boyd, Eszter Hargittai, Jason Schultz & John Palfrey, Why parents help their children lie to Facebook about age: Unintended consequences of the ‘Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act’, First Monday, Volume 16, Number 11 – 7 November 2011. The abstract:

Facebook, like many communication services and social media sites, uses its Terms of Service (ToS) to forbid children under the age of 13 from creating an account. Such prohibitions are not uncommon in response to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which seeks to empower parents by requiring commercial Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13. Given economic costs, social concerns, and technical issues, most general–purpose sites opt to restrict underage access through their ToS. Yet in spite of such restrictions, research suggests that millions of underage users circumvent this rule and sign up for accounts on Facebook. Given strong evidence of parental concern about children’s online activity, this raises questions of whether or not parents understand ToS restrictions for children, how they view children’s practices of circumventing age restrictions, and how they feel about children’s access being regulated. In this paper, we provide survey data that show that many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site’s restrictions and that they are often complicit in helping their children join the site. Our data suggest that, by creating a context in which companies choose to restrict access to children, COPPA inadvertently undermines parents’ ability to make choices and protect their children’s data. Our data have significant implications for policy–makers, particularly in light of ongoing discussions surrounding COPPA and other age–based privacy laws.

This article stirred up a fair amount of discussion. See, e.g., the CNET coverage.

Some notes about this article:

* no one looks good here: not the kids, parents, Facebook or Congress.

– Parents teach children how to lie to get what they want online

– Gilmore’s law that the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. COPPA has been a success at getting websites to shun kids 12 and under, but it’s been a complete failure at protecting kids online.

– all of the lying kids are presumptively engaged in criminal activity

* when kids are asked to represent themselves as older than they actually are, do they inadvertently put themselves in more adult situations than they can handle? See my post on mistake of age defenses.

* the policy implications of this report cut in both directions. Pro-regulation: the only way to keep kids off Facebook is to do mandatory age authentication that parents can’t game; or do comprehensive privacy regulation. Anti-regulation: COPPA was a bust, so we should repeal it or structurally modify it.

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Felix T. Wu, Collateral Censorship and the Limits of Intermediary Immunity, 87 Notre Dame L. Rev. 101 (2011). We don’t have too many law professor papers really grokking 47 USC 230, which makes this paper instantly noteworthy. Felix presented this paper at our 47 USC 230 fiesta earlier this year. His conclusion:

Intermediary immunity can and should play an important role in protecting speech on the Internet. Immunity prevents the application of laws targeted at original speakers to intermediaries that lack the incentives of original speakers to speak. Immunity can thus be used to avoid the collateral censorship of lawful, socially desirable speech that poses a real or perceived risk of liability to intermediaries. At the same time, immunity can and should be limited. When intermediaries are actually original speakers, and have the incentives of original speakers, immunity is no longer appropriate. Similarly, immunity as to causes of action that are specifically targeted at intermediaries inappropriately prejudges the reasonableness of such liability.

Even ardent supporters of intermediary immunity would be well-served to recognize its limits. When immunity becomes unbounded, it begins to seem increasingly unfair, stimulating calls to cut back on the immunity, or even eliminate it entirely. The framework developed here demonstrates how, without any need to amend current law, we can limit the immunity, while still serving its core purposes.

James Grimmelmann’s comments about the paper.

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Sandra L. Rierson, The Myth and Reality of Dilution, 2012 Duke Law & Tech. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2012). From the introduction:

This Article advances three claims. First, statutory dilution erroneously assumes that the source-identifying function of a trademark is a rivalrous good and one that is dissipated by use. This assumption lacks empirical support, and is assuredly not categorically true despite the contrary principle that underlies the federal dilution statute. If marks are nonrivalrous, as they often are, no cause of action for dilution should exist.

Second, even were particular marks indeed rivalrous, the social and transaction costs imposed by the federal dilution statute would still outweigh the supposed harm to trademark holders. Dilution claims inflict profound anticompetitive burdens, preclude beneficial comparative advertising, and entrench dominant (often oligopolist) firms at the expense of market entrants. Dilution has serious non-economic costs as well and prohibits protected First Amendment speech without justification. For these reasons and others, the federal dilution statute imposes substantially more harm than it (allegedly) prevents.

Finally, the true foundation for the federal dilution statute lies not in alleged economic harms, but rather results from an entirely misplaced fiction of corporate personality. We do not require trademark holders to prove actual economic injury in the context of a dilution claim because, in truth, there is none. Instead, we have granted the holders of famous trademarks the equivalent of a “moral” right to these marks: an extension of the rights granted to a creator of an expressive work in the copyright context. Trademark owners feel vested in their brands, many of which are deliberately anthropomorphized, and the dilution statute reifies and protects these rights as a matter of federal law.

Stacey Dogan’s cogent critique of the article. You may recall that in 2007, SCU convened a major academic conference on trademark dilution.

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Lydia Pallas Loren, Deterring Abuse of the Copyright Takedown Regime by Taking Misrepresentation Claims Seriously, 46 Wake Forest L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2011). A nice in-depth look into one of my favorite topics, 17 USC 512(f), by one of my favorite authors. The conclusion:

The takedown provisions of the Copyright Act are a powerful tool that copyright owners may use to obtain prompt removal of infringing material from the Internet without judicial assessment of the assertion of infringement. Congress provided a mechanism to deter abuse of this extrajudicial enforcement mechanism in the form of a new cause of action for material misrepresentation. Courts should interpret the requirements for prevailing on a claim of misrepresentation with an eye toward fulfilling Congressional intent. This means using a standard that would hold copyright owners liable not only when they had actual knowledge that the material targeted for takedown was not infringing, but also when the copyright owner should have known if it acted with reasonable care or diligence that the material was lawful. It also means interpreting the injury requirement broadly and awarding attorney’s fees to prevailing plaintiffs. Taking the claims of misrepresentation seriously will shape the behavior of copyright owners who seek removal of material through takedown notices.

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