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Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
Unauthorized internet reseller of plaintiff’s products is not guilty of trademark infringement, and does not cause actionable initial interest confusion, by using plaintiff’s trademarks in meta tags of website at which plaintiff’s and its competitors’ products are sold, and in...

Patentwizard, Inc., et al. v. Kinko's Inc.

163 F. Supp. 2d 1069 (D.S.D., September 27, 2001)

Court holds that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") bars plaintiffs from pursuing claims against Kinko's arising out of allegedly defamatory statements an unaffiliated third party made in an Internet chat room from a computer rented to him by Kinko's.  The CDA prevented plaintiffs from pursuing claims that Kinko's aided and abetted both the third party's defamation of, and interference with plaintiffs' prospective business relationships by making the offending statements, as well as claims that Kinko's negligently failed to keep appropriate records of the use of its rented computers, and destroyed evidence of the same.

Plaintiffs hosted an Internet chat session about a new software product they were marketing.  Plaintiffs claimed that an anonymous Internet user named "Jimmy" made a series of defamatory statements in the chat session, which interfered with plaintiffs' ability to market its products to other session participants.  Plaintiffs contend that "Jimmy" made his statements from a computer rented to him by Kinko's, which was connected to the Internet.  Plaintiffs also claimed that Kinko's did not maintain records which would permit "Jimmy" to be identified.

Plaintiffs sued Kinko's, charging that it aided and abetted both "Jimmy's" defamation of plaintiffs, as well as his interference with plaintiffs' prospective business relationships.  Plaintiffs also claimed that Kinko's negligently failed to keep proper records of the use of its rented computers, and destroyed evidence concerning the same.

Kinko's moved to dismiss the complaint, holding it was immunized from the claims asserted therein by Section 230 of the CDA.  The court agreed, and dismissed the complaint.

Section 230 of the CDA states in pertinent part:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

The parties agreed both that Kinko's was a provider of "interactive computer services" within the meaning of the Act, and that the content at issue was provided by Jimmy - 'another information content provider.'  Holding Section 230 barred plaintiffs from proceeding with their claims against Kinko's, the court stated:

In enacting §230, Congress meant to insulate distributors as well as publishers from liability for defamation.  The Complaint seeks to treat Kinko's as a publisher in two ways.  First, it seeks to treat Kinko's as a distributor by imposing liability upon Kinko's for its conduct in disseminating Jimmy's statements.  This is itself prohibited by §230.  Second, the Complaint seeks to place Kinko's in Jimmy's shoes, by holding Kinko's responsible for alleged defamatory matter that was published by Jimmy.  As the Fourth Circuit noted in Zeran, the plain language of §230 "creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service."  Id. at 330.  That federal immunity extends to Kinko's, and bars the plaintiffs' claims in this case.

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