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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...

Usenet - Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions - Updated August 14, 2007

9 Cal.Rpt.3d 142, A096451 (Cal. App. Crt., 1st App. Dist., October 15, 2003) reversed 40 Cal.4th 33, S 122953 (Cal. Sup. Ct., November 20, 2006)

Rejecting Zeran v. America Online, (4th Cir. 1997) and its progeny, an intermediate California Appellate court holds that the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") does not immunize a user of interactive computer services from a defamation claim arising out of her republication of statements authored by a third party, when the user knew or had reason to know of the falsity of those statements.  As a result, the Appellate Court reversed to much of the decision of the trial court below which had dismissed a defamation claim brought against defendant Ilena Rosenthal as a result of her republication in Usenet postings of a statement authored by a third party (defendant Timothy Bolen) which accused plaintiff Polevoy of criminal conduct.

The trial court had also rested its dismissal under California's Anti-SLAPP statute of plaintiffs' defamation claims on its determination that Polevoy lacked the requisite probability of success because, as a public figure, he could not prove that defendant Rosenthal acted with 'malice' when republishing Bolen's statements.  The Appellate court rejected this determination, holding that plaintiff may be able to establish that Rosenthal acted with the required malice, and therefore could proceed, notwithstanding Rosenthal's allegation that she had checked the veracity of the statements she was republishing with the alleged victim.  The Appellate Court held that such was insufficient to require dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, because of the alleged bias of both the victim and the original author of the posting against the plaintiff.

The Appellate Court did affirm the lower court's dismissal of defamation claims advanced by plaintiff Barrett, because the statements at issue were non-actionable opinion, as well as the trial court's decision to award Rosenthal attorney's fees expended in pursuing her Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss (though reducing the recoverable amounts to reflect the reversal of that court's decision as to the claims asserted by Polevoy).

This decision, if followed, could have important ramifications for internet service providers and others who regularly repost publications authored by third parties without reviewing their content.  Under the court's ruling, service providers can be liable for defamation as a result of their republication of such statements if they know or have reason to know of the falsity of those statements.  According to the court "distributor liability would [generally] not require a service provider to review communications in advance of posting them but only to act reasonably after being put on notice that the communication is defamatory."  As a result, once the service provider receives notice (from the allegedly defamed individual) of falsity, it must either undertake adequate steps to ascertain the veracity of the statement, remove it, or face potential liability.  This creates tremendous uncertainty as the court did not specify what such adequate steps would be.  Indeed, as noted above, in the case at bar, where plaintiff alleged he was defamed by a statement that he had engaged in criminal conduct, the court held that contacting the victim was not sufficient as a matter of law to warrant dismissal of plaintiff's suit because of the victim's purported bias against plaintiff Polevoy.  Subsequent developments in this case should be watched closely by those interested in this field.

189 F. Supp.2d 1051, 2002 U.S. Dist. Lexis 4166 (C. Dist. Cal., March 12, 2002), aff'd. in part, reversed in part, remanded by 357 F. 3d 1072 (9th Cir. 2004)

Court granted defendant America Online's motion for summary judgment, and dismissed copyright infringement claims advanced by plaintiff author as a result of the posting of his works by defendant Robertson on a Usenet newsgroup made available by AOL to its users and others, and stored for a period of 14 days on AOL's servers.  AOL's involvement in these infringing activities was passive - it did not post nor direct the posting of the infringing material to the Usenet newsgroup in question.  Rather, the claims against it were predicated on its agreement, via peering agreements, to store the content of the Usenet newsgroup to which this offending post was made on its servers, and to transmit that content to, and make it available for viewing by, others.

The court held that AOL could not be liable for direct copyright infringement, because such passive involvement in the infringing activity at issue was insufficient to sustain a direct copyright infringement claim.  The court similarly rejected plaintiff's claim that AOL was liable on a theory of vicarious copyright infringement, because it had neither the right and ability to supervise Robertson's infringing activity, nor a direct financial interest therein.  The court held that AOL's ability to block access (over its systems) to the infringing materials in question did not give it the requisite ability to control the infringing activity.  Rather, because AOL could not prevent Robertson from acting, it did not have the requisite ability to control the infringing activities necessary to make AOL vicariously liable for the acts of copyright infringement Robertson initiated.  Nor did AOL derive the necessary direct financial benefit from this infringing activity.  The court held that this required AOL to receive a substantial or significant benefit from the posting of the Usenet material in question, which the evidence showed it did not receive.

The court did, however, hold that issues of fact precluded it from determining whether AOL could be liable for the acts at issue on a theory of contributory infringement.  Under such a theory, "one who, with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another, may be liable as a 'contributory infringer.'"  Here the court held that issues of fact existed as to whether AOL was a contributory infringer, given the fact that plaintiff's attorneys had sent an e-mail to an AOL designated address that informed AOL of the infringing activity in question, after which AOL continued to allow the material in question to be posted on its servers, and made available to others.  The court held that issues of fact existed as to whether AOL, which it found had not received this e-mail, should nonetheless be charged with notice thereof given its designation of the e-mail address to which it was sent with the US Copyright Office.  In reaching this conclusion, the court held that "providing a service that allows for the automatic distribution of all Usenet postings, infringing and noninfringing, can constitute a material contribution [to the infringing activities and hence expose the ISP to liability for contributory infringement] when the ISP knows or should know of infringing activity on its system yet continues to aid in [its] accomplishment."

Nonetheless, the court dismissed this claim, holding that AOL was protected therefrom by operation of the safe harbor provisions of section 512(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  This section protects a qualifying internet service provider from liability for copyright infringement by reason of the intermediate and transient storage of digital material (such as e-mails) in the course of transmitting, routing or providing connections thereto.  The court held that AOL's practice of storing the Usenet postings in question on its servers for a period of 14 days was an intermediate and transient storage for the purpose of the DMCA, and that it met the other requirements of the DMCA necessary to obtain the protection of this provision.  The court accordingly dismissed plaintiff's claim for contributory copyright infringement against AOL.

357 F. 3d 1072 (9th Cir. 2004)

Affirming in part and reversing in part the court below, the Ninth Circuit grants so much of defendant America Online's motion for summary judgment which sought dismissal of claims of vicarious copyright infringement advanced by the plaintiff author.  These claims arose out of  the posting of plaintiff's works by defendant Robertson on a Usenet newsgroup made available by AOL to its users and others, and stored for a period of 14 days on AOL's servers.  AOL's involvement in these infringing activities was passive - it neither posted nor directed the posting of the infringing material to the Usenet newsgroup in question.  Rather, the claims against AOL were predicated on its commitment, via peering agreements, to store the content of the Usenet newsgroup to which this offending post was made on its servers, and to transmit that content to, and make it available for viewing by, others.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court's dismissal of plaintiff's vicarious copyright infringement claim, because plaintiff had failed to submit evidence that AOL "received a direct financial benefit from providing access to the infringing material" to its users.  Thus, "there [was] no evidence that indicate[d] that AOL customers either subscribed because of the availabil[ity of] infringing material or cancelled subscriptions because it was no longer available."

The Ninth Circuit also affirmed so much of the District Court's decision that denied AOL's motion to dismiss the contributory infringement claims plaintiff advanced.  "One who, with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another, may be liable as a 'contributory infringer.'"  Here the court held that issues of fact existed as to whether AOL had the requisite knowledge to be guilty of contributory infringement, given the fact that plaintiff's attorneys had sent an e-mail to an AOL designated DMCA notice address that informed AOL of the infringing activity in question, after which AOL continued to allow the material in question to be posted on its servers, and made available to others.  The court held that issues of fact existed as to whether AOL, which it found had not actually received this e-mail, should nonetheless be charged with notice thereof given its failure to continue to operate this e-mail address, which it had designated with the US Copyright Office as the address to which DMCA notices of copyright infringement were to be sent.    The Ninth Circuit held that this knowledge, coupled with AOL's storage of the infringing material on its servers, and provision of access thereto to AOL users, could render AOL liable for contributory copyright infringement.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court's determination that AOL was protected from this potential liability for contributory copyright infringement by operation of the safe harbor provisions of section 512(a) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  This section protects a qualifying internet service provider from liability for copyright infringement by reason of the intermediate and transient storage of digital material (such as e-mails) in the course of transmitting, routing or providing connections thereto.  The Ninth Circuit, affirming the District Court, held that AOL's practice of storing the Usenet postings in question on its servers for a period of 14 days constituted intermediate and transient storage in the course of transmitting or providing connection to digital material that qualified for protection if AOL met the requirements of the  safe harbor provisions of Section 512(a) of the DMCA.  However, reversing the District Court, the Ninth Circuit held that issues of fact existed as to whether AOL had reasonably implemented a polity to terminate repeat infringers, given, as stated above, that the AOL e-mail address to which DMCA notices of infringement were to be sent was not operational.  As implementation of such a policy was a prerequisite to entitlement to the protections of the DMCA, this branch of AOL's summary judgment motion was denied.

Finally, the District Court held that AOL could not be liable for direct copyright infringement, because AOL's passive involvement in the infringing activity at issue was insufficient to sustain a direct copyright infringement claim.  This claim was "abandoned" by Ellison on appeal.

Civ. No. 04-CV-3918 (E.D. Pa., March 10, 2006), affirmed -- F.3d – (3rd Cir., July 10, 2007).

District Court dismisses claims charging Google with direct copyright infringement as a result both of its archiving Usenet postings that contain excerpts of plaintiff’s copyrighted works, and its display of excerpts of plaintiff’s copyrighted website in search results.  The District Court holds that Google has not engaged in the requisite volitional conduct necessary to be held guilty of direct copyright infringement because such copying is a by-product of the automated operation of Google’s search engine and related technologies.  As such, Google’s acts are akin to a user’s use of its ISP to transmit infringing material to a third party, which do not give rise to direct infringement claims against the ISP.  On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Parker’s direct infringement claims, on the grounds that Google’s archiving of infringing Usenet postings lacked the requisite “volitional conduct.”

Relying on Field v. Google, (D. Nevada 2006), the District Court also dismisses direct copyright infringement claims arising out of Google’s presentation to users of “archival” copies of plaintiff’s website in search results denominated “cache.”  The District Court holds that Section 512(b) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), applicable to copyright infringement claims arising out of “system caching,” bars such claims here.

The District Court also dismissed vicarious and contributory copyright infringement claims arising out of Google’s archiving of Usenet posts created by third parties that themselves allegedly infringe plaintiff’s copyright, both because Google lacks the requisite knowledge of such inadequately identified infringing activity, and because it does not derive sufficient direct financial benefit therefrom.  This decision too was affirmed by the Third Circuit on appeal.

The District Court further dismissed defamation, invasion of privacy and negligence claims advanced by plaintiff arising both out of Google’s archiving of Usenet posts authored by third parties that allegedly defamed plaintiff, as well as out of Google’s storage and display in its “cache” of a website that purportedly defamed plaintiff.  Such claims are barred by the immunity afforded Google by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), a decision affirmed on appeal.

Finally, the District Court dismissed Lanham Act claims brought against Google as a result of its alleged republication of a website operated by a third party titled “the Official Roy Gordon FAQ.”  The District Court held that the third party was not violating the Lanham Act both because it was not using a mark in commerce as it was not selling anything on its site, and because consumers were not likely to be confused as to the origin of the site, given the criticism of plaintiff found thereon.  The Lanham Act claims against Google also failed because it was not a “moving force” or “active participant” in the creation of this site, or the alleged use thereon of plaintiff’s ‘mark.’  The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Lanham Act claims because of the absence of a likelihood of consumer confusion.  The Court also affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s trade disparagement claims because the statements at issue on the third party website were not made in the context of commercial advertising.

It should be noted that the plaintiff appeared pro se.  In addition, the Third Circuit’s opinion was denoted “Not Precedential.”

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