Posts Tagged ‘Communications Decency Act’

Claim: link on our name pointing elsewhere infringes trademark

Attorney John Dozier has already made a couple of memorable appearances in this space, first when he asserted in a cease and desist letter that it would violate copyright law for his target to post the text of that cease and desist letter in part or in full on the web, and shortly thereafter when one of the clients of his Dozier Internet Law firm, an outfit known as Inventor-Net, purported to “strictly prohibit any links and or other unauthorized references to our web site without our permission”; Dozier’s own site had a user agreement which purported to ban linking to the site, using the firm’s name “in any manner” without permission, or even looking at the site’s source code.

Now the Virginia-based attorney is attracting attention with a new legal battle against Ronald J. Riley, a Michigan inventor and patent-law activist who has harshly criticized Dozier (and many others) in online posts and comments. Among other tactics, Riley has set up “sucks” websites that vilify Dozier and his law firm and turn up in search results on Dozier’s name. Dozier’s lawsuit against Riley invokes not defamation law, as might have been expected, but trademark law, and its most curious provision is #25, which complains that it is a trademark violation for Riley’s site to base a hyperlink on the phrase “Dozier Internet Law” and have it lead to Riley’s own attacks on the Dozier firm rather than to the Dozier firm’s site. Of course it’s long been common in online commentary to link on someone’s name and have the link point somewhere scathingly critical of them (e.g., “Erin Brockovich“). Dozier claims, perhaps implausibly, that potential clients will suffer confusion between Riley’s services and his own.

Paul Alan Levy at Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog writes (Oct. 2):

Although Dozier filed his lawsuit, he does not seem to have served it on Riley. Instead, he has used the making of a claim for trademark infringement to warn the hosts of Riley’s web site that if they do not take the web site down they risk a further display of Dozier’s wrath, directed at them. See here, here, and here. And his invocation of trademark law was very crafty, because although the Communications Decency Act immunizes ISP’s from liability for most claims based on the content of web sites that they host, that immunity does not extend to trademark claims.

Public Citizen has now sued for a declaratory judgment that Riley is not liable to Dozier on trademark grounds. The conflict has even aroused sympathy for Riley on TechDirt, among whose editors he had been anything but popular before.

Doe v. MySpace lawsuit dismissal affirmed

In May 2006, 14-year-old Texas girl “Julie Doe” listed herself as 18 on her MySpace profile (so she could circumvent the site’s child safety features) and snuck out of her house to surreptitiously meet with a boy she met on MySpace the previous month. Unfortunately for her, the boy was also lying; Pete Solis was not a high-school athlete, but a 19-year-old that (allegedly) raped her. (Solis claims the sex was consensual and that he didn’t know about the illegal age difference, though knowledge ususally isn’t a defense in statutory rape cases.)

The family blamed MySpace and sued in multiple jurisdictions, omitting Solis from the most recent iteration of the suit. The suit was dismissed under the website hosting immunity protections of the Communications Decency Act; and Friday, the dismissal was affirmed by a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit (via Childs). We covered the suit in detail in 2006; for that, and other MySpace litigation, see our MySpace tag.

In April, Solis pleaded guilty to reduced charges of felony injury to a child, and will serve 90 days over the course of five years, and will register as a sex offender. (Jen Biundo, “Buda teen gets 90 days in jail, seven years on sex offender list”, The Free Press (Buda), April 23). His attorney? Adam Reposa, known for other reasons. One presume’s Solis’s even more ludicrous lawsuit against MySpace has met a similar fate.

Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation

Daniel Solove’s solution to the potential problem of damning information on the Internet is to open up the libel laws and to remove the Communications Decency Act safe-harbor for site owners. As Amber Taylor points out in a provocative review, one could take this chain more seriously if Solove more directly considered the real-world consequences of such a rule, and the amount of true speech it would shut down because of the potential legal expense of defending speech in the absence of bright-line rules. Eric Turkewitz’s review finds his blogger identity trumping his plaintiffs’ attorney identity to also oppose the expanded litigation that Solove proposes. David Giacalone is more favorable, though also unwilling to endorse Solove’s policy prescriptions.