47 USC 230 Day at the Technology & Marketing Law Blog

By Eric Goldman

Today is 47 USC 230 Day at the Technology & Marketing Law Blog as we catch up on a hat trick of recent 47 USC 230 opinions.

1) Gregerson v. Vilana Financial, Inc., 2008 WL 451060 (D. Minn. Feb. 15, 2008)

The defendants repeatedly infringed plaintiff’s photos. After the defendants did not pay up in response to a demand letter, the plaintiff posted some griping material to his website and included a section inviting comments about the defendants. Third parties subsequently posted potentially defamatory comments. In a rather perfunctory and typical analysis, the court says that per 47 USC 230 the plaintiff isn’t liable for these third party comments, even if the plaintiff received notice about them.

Beyond the 230 discussion, the case touched on some other interesting issues:

A) The defendant’s principal claimed that he had a conversation with a guy in a public sauna who recreated the photos and then granted legitimate licenses to the defendants. Unfortunately, alibis based on business deals arranged with strangers in public saunas are always a tough sale for judges.

B) The plaintiff’s demand letter quoted his standard license fee for the photos but, as a penalty, demanded 3X that amount and said the settlement price would increase 10X if the plaintiff wasn’t paid in 2 weeks. This type of escalating demands is fairly typical with freelancers, who often overestimate the value of their work both in the market and to particular defendants. The court scoffs at the 10X demand, rejecting its legitimacy as a measure of copyright damages, and instead awards the plaintiff its license fee without any gross-ups. I hope this opinion encourages freelancer photographers to make settlement demands based on a realistic assessment of damages, not based on fantastic artificially inflated license fees.

C) The plaintiff gets damages under 17 USC 1202 because the defendants cropped some copyright management information from the photos. This is one of very few plaintiff wins under 1202.

2) Global Royalties, Ltd. v. Xcentric Ventures, LLC, 2008 WL 565102 (D. Ariz. Feb. 28, 2008)

I previously blogged on this case here. As I noted then, Ripoff Report got a defamation claim dismissed (with leave to amend) per 47 USC 230 even though the original poster had repudiated the post and requested its removal. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint, but the court rejects it again, concluding that the poster’s request to remove his posting doesn’t change the 230 analysis: “liability based on an author’s notice, workable or not, is without statutory support and is contrary to well-settled precedent that the CDA is a complete bar to suit against a website operator for its “exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions—such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content” [cite to Zeran].”

The court also rejects the plaintiff’s arguments that (1) the Ripoff Report should drop out of 230 coverage because it allegedly runs an extortion racket, (2) Ripoff Report’s supplying of category tags matters, and (3) the Roommates.com case has any bearing on this case (the Ninth Circuit opinion was vacated with the en banc hearing, so there’s nothing precedential at the moment). The court also refused to stay the case pending the en banc opinion.

3) John Doe Anti-Terrorism Officer v. City of New York, No. 06-cv-13738 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2008) [hat tip Jeff Neuburger]

The plaintiff is an Arab-American police officer in the NYPD. He is suing the NYPD and Tefft for racial discrimination principally based on invective-filled emails sent by Tefft, who was a third party contractor (an antiterrorism consultant) to the NYPD. Tefft defends on 47 USC 230 because he claims he simply forwarded third party content (such as articles) in his emails. However, Tefft also added his own commentary to that third party content, such as introductory statements to the articles, and the court rightly says that 230 doesn’t provide any protection for the material added by Tefft.

The court goes on to say that Tefft can’t qualify as a “user” of an ICS, a determination that the court apparently didn’t research very well because the caselaw has repeatedly reached the opposite conclusion.