Another Tough People Search Ruling–Spindler v. Seamless
Seamless offers a customer lead tool that displays the prospect’s personal information behind a subscription paywall with try-before-you-buy options. The plaintiff sued Seamless for violations of California’s publicity rights statute and related claims. The court denies Seamless’ motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff argues that CDA immunity does not apply, “because Seamless actively created the profiles and advertising webpages giving rise to this suit.” The Court agrees…Here, Defendant is not alleged to have merely hosted user-created contact. Rather, it is alleged to have “actively collected personal information about Plaintiff from various sources, created profiles incorporating Plaintiff’s personal information, and incorporated those profiles into an advertising flow that begins by encouraging users to search for potential sales contacts and ends by signing users up for a subscription service.” For this reason, the undersigned agrees with the other district courts that have rejected CDA immunity for analogous services at the pleadings stage [cites to Kellman and Bonilla]
Publicity Rights Claim
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s name or likeness appearing in a string of search results on the same page as a paywall option does not create an unlawful advertisement. In opposition, Plaintiff argues that Defendant’s “limitation would exclude most modern advertising, the vast majority of which is delivered by search engines like Google in response to user searches for topics of interest, just as Seamless delivered its advertisement in response to a search for Mr. Spindler.” The Court agrees. Moreover, the fact that some trial users are using free credit to view personal information does not change that calculus, because ultimately Seamless is displaying Plaintiff’s information to sell paid subscriptions…
the fact that the contact information is the product being sold—rather than a separate product—does not necessarily mean this is not a valid right of publicity claim
Regarding public interest/incidental use: “Seamless’s website is not a free directory of “encyclopedic” knowledge, but rather provides information only if there is a commercial transaction.” (Not sure why that matters).
The website allows users to search for names in the database, but then seeks to charge once a user has exhausted their free credits. Therefore, the speech is commercial speech, which necessarily makes it a matter of private interest rather than public interest
The syllogism that commercial speech automatically is a matter of private interest is obviously wrong.
Ugh, these people search rulings suck.
Case citation: Spindler v. Seamless Contacts, Inc., 2022 WL 16985678 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 24, 2022). The complaint.
UPDATE: For more of the same, see Hoffower v. Seamless Contacts, Inc., 2022 WL 17128949 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 22, 2022). For example, the court says “immunity under the CDA applies to websites that are a passive conduit for information posted by others.” Ugh.
Prior blog posts on Yearbook and Related Cases
- Another Tough Ruling for People Search Databases–Camacho v. Control Group Media
- Three More Yearbook/People Database Cases Signal Trouble for Defendants
- Background Reports Protected by Section 230–Dennis v. MyLife
- Yearbook Defendants Lose Two More Section 230 Rulings
- Yearbook Database Cases Are Vexing the Courts–Sessa v. Ancestry
- Court Casts Doubt on the Legality of the Data Brokerage Industry–Brooks v. Thomson Reuters
- Section 230 Doesn’t Protect Yearbook Website’s Ads–Knapke v. Classmates
- Section 230 Covers Republication of Old Yearbooks–Callahan v. Ancestry
- Section 230 Doesn’t Protect Advertising “Background Reports” on People–Lukis v. Whitepages