Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, et al. v. Zell Miller, et al.
977 F.Supp.1228 (N.D. Ga., 1997)
Plaintiffs brought suit to challenge the constitutionality of a statute passed by the State of Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93.1) which, inter alia, makes it a crime for:
Plaintiffs objected to this statute because they believed it "impos[ed] unconstitutional content-based restrictions on their right to communicate anonymously and pseudonymously over the Internet ..." when, among other things, contacting home pages of others, participating in chat room conversations, or posting to various usenet groups. Such was arguably prohibited by the statute, which made it a crime to "falsely identify" oneself when transmitting electronic data.
Plaintiffs also objected to the scope of the statute's prohibition on the usage of trademarks and logos in non-commercial hyperlinks.
Agreeing with the plaintiffs, the court determined that the "plaintiffs are likely to prove that the statute imposes content-based restrictions which are not narrowly tailored to achieve the state's purported compelling interest ... [and] that the statute is overbroad and void for vagueness." Accordingly, the court enjoined Georgia from enforcing the statute.
The court held that the statute was not narrowly tailored to achieve defendants' purpose of fraud prevention. Said the court:
The court further held that the statute's prohibitions were overbroad. "The court concludes that the statute was not drafted with the precision necessary for laws regulating speech. On its fact, the Act prohibits such protected speech as the use of false identification to avoid social ostracism, to prevent discrimination and harassment, and to protect privacy, as well as the use of trade names or logos in non-commercial educational speech, news and commentary -- a prohibition with well-recognized first amendment problems." The court's conclusion was buttressed by numerous existing statutes which permitted the regulation of the very activities sought to be covered by the statute at issue, including improper fraudulent conduct, and trademark infringement.
Lastly, of particular interest is the court's determination that Georgia had articulated no compelling state interest that would justify the statute's restriction on the use of trademarks and logos in hyperlinks. Said the court:
Commentators have suggested that this passage of the Court's decision creates a First Amendment right to utilize the trademarks of another in non-commercial hyperlinks. The validity of this proposition is sure to be tested in subsequent court proceedings.