If you watched the first round of the NFL Draft, the big story was the sliding of Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil out of the top five to number 13. As the draft was unfolding, someone released a video of him smoking marijuana through a gas mask.  You can read the story here.  You can watch this interview right after he was picked.

To make matters worse, after he was picked, someone released text messages between Tunsil and one of the assistant coaches at Ole Miss where it looks like Ole Miss was paying Tunsil’s rent or his mother’s electric bill.  Read about it and see the texts here. Here is another interview where Tunsil admits the texts were his.

So, can Tunsil sue or is there a possible crime?

Yes and yes.

Assuming someone “hacked” his Twitter or Instagram account, even if Tunsil was somewhat lackadaisical about protecting it, and that this person did not have “authority” to access the account, then there is likely a violation of the Stored Communications Act.

The SCA makes it illegal for anyone to “intentionally access[] without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided or . . . intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility; and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorize access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system.” Accessing his Twitter or Instagram accounts without his permission would likely be a violation.

In addition to these statutes, there could be additional claims like RICO, breaches of contracts, fiduciary duty, wire fraud, trespassing, theft, extortion if there was money demanded in advance, and a number of other state law claims.

So, what are the criminal penalties?

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2701, “if the offense is committed for purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction or damage, or private commercial gain,” the criminal penalty for a first offense is a fine or imprisonment for not more than five years or both.

What about a civil lawsuit?

Tunsil could also sue the perpetrator.  Assuming he can establish there was no authority to access his accounts, the SCA provides that a plaintiff can recover:

damages in a civil action under this section the sum of the actual damages suffered by the plaintiff and any profits made by the violator as a result of the violation, but in no case shall a person entitled to recover receive less than the sum of $1,000. If the violation is willful or intentional, the court may assess punitive damages. In the case of a successful action to enforce liability under this section, the court may assess the costs of the action, together with reasonable attorney fees determined by the court.

18 U.S.C. § 2707.

To prove damages, I would have a composite of the mock drafts immediately prior to the release of the video to determine where Tunsil would have likely been drafted had the video not come out. Then, you take the difference between the guaranteed money that pick would have received and the money the 13th pick receives as your actual damages. Those damages could easily exceed $10 million.

Assuming the defendant wanted to purposefully hurt Tunsil, punitive damages would also be available.

What about Tunsil’s conduct?

Yes, Tunsil is shown smoking marijuana.  Yes, it appears he took benefits from Ole Miss in violation of the NCAA rules. If you are making a negligence claim, the plaintiff’s own negligence comes into play.

But, under the Stored Communications Act, his alleged bad acts don’t really come into play as far as liability.  A jury might consider his actions when deciding the causation. What really caused his damages? Was it the hacking by the defendant or Tunsil’s own bad acts?

Causation is usually a fact question in a civil trial, but would anyone really be surprised that an NFL prospect smoked marijuana at some point in his life? Tunsil says the video is old and his pre-draft drug tests all came up clean.

The video came out 13 minutes before the draft started. The argument is the slide in the draft only happened when the video came out. After all, even after he did these things (although no one knew), he was still considered a top five pick.

If there was a civil case, there could be a huge verdict, but then there is always the matter of collecting.

ADAAt the beginning of this year, we warned that there would be an uptick in American with Disabilities Act litigation related to website accessibility this year in a post entitled Does My Website Need to be ADA Compliant?  The answer then was “most likely yes.” Now, the adverse litigation results are start to come in.

According to this post from Syefarth Shaw’s Kristina Launey: “A First: California Court Rules Retailer’s Inaccessible Website Violates ADA“, a California court held recently that a retailer violated the act because it lacked access for the vision-impaired. This was a first in the nation determination regarding ADA applicability to a retail site.

The court granted a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on the application of the ADA because (1) there was “sufficient evidence that he was denied full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, privileges, and accommodations offered by defendant [via its website] because of his disability”; and (2) there was a sufficient nexus to defendant’s physical retail store and the website.

The statutory penalty was only $4,000 and there is an injunction in place to force the store to become compliant. The real pain to the defendant is coming because the store is liable for the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fee in an amount to be determined.

 

This should motivate you to look into whether you need to be compliant and whether you are. Go back and read ADA our post from January or fin additional information here.

 

GawkerA few days ago, a jury in Florida awarded Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea)  $140 million because Gawker posted a leaked sex video of the former wrestler. Rather than focus on the lurid details (which you can Google), let’s look at the law that led to the two-week trial.

To recap, Gawker allegedly received the video from an anonymous source. Other news outlets reported the existence of the tape. Gawker decided to publish the video in 2012 and had it on its site for six months.

What Issues Went to the Jury

The lengthy jury instructions indicate Bollea sued for (1) invasion of privacy; (2) violation of his right of publicity; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (4) a violation of Florida’s Security of Communications Act.  Gawker denied the allegations and contend their actions were protected by the First Amendment.

Florida law on invasion of privacy

A number of acts can constitute an invasion of privacy. The first claim was for invasion of privacy based upon the publication of private facts which requires: (1) the publication of truthful private information; (2) that a reasonable person would find highly offensive; and (3) that does not relate to a matter of legitimate public concern. The final element is why there was a lot of discussion about the “newsworthiness” of the video and the effort by Bollea to distinguish between his real self and the character that he plays as Hulk Hogan.

Bollea also sued for invasion of privacy based on intrusion upon seclusion which requires: (1) the wrongful intrusion through physical or electronic means; (2)  into a place in which Bollea had a reasonable expectation of privacy; (3) in such a manner as to outrage or cause mental suffering, shame or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities. Because of this claim, there was a lot of discussion about whether Bollea knew about videotaping.

Finally, there was a claim for invasion of privacy based on misappropriation of the right of publicity which requires: (1) the unauthorized use of the plaintiff’s name or likeness; (2) for a commercial or advertising gain.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This claim consists of: (1) extreme and outrageous conduct by the defendant; (2) that causes severe emotional distress; and (3) was engaged in either with an intent to cause severe emotional distress or a reckless disregard of the high probability that it would cause severe emotional distress.  Extreme and outrageous conduct is behavior which, under the circumstances, goes well beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.

Florida Security of Communications Act

This statutory claim requires: (1) the disclosure of oral communications; (2) in which the plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy; (3) by one who knows or has reason to know that the communications were recorded without plaintiff’s knowledge or consent.

The First Amendment

The court instructed the jury that the newsworthiness of the video was a defense to Bollea’s claim for publication of private facts and a First Amendment defense to each claim. The court explained: “A matter of public concern is one that can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community or that is subject to general interest and concern to the public. . . . The line between the right to privacy and the freedom of the press is drawn where the publication ceases to be the giving of information to which the public is entitled, and becomes a morbid and sensational prying into private lives for its own sake, with which a reasonable manner of the public, with decent standards, would say that he or she had no concern.”

Damages

As you know, the jury found in favor of Bollea.  The jury therefore had to assess damages. Bollea’s experts claimed the video raised the value of the website by $5 million to $15 million. Gawker retorted that it only added $11,000 in value because there were no advertisements next to the video.

The court instructed the jury to award “the amount of money that . . . will fairly and adequately compensate Plaintiff for the emotional distress he experienced as a consequence of the publication of the Video.”

On the misappropriation of the right of publicity, the court instructed the jury to award “an amount of money that . . . will fairly and adequately compensate Plaintiff for any economic damages relating to the publication of the Video.” 

The jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $55 million for economic damages and another $60 million in pain and suffering. The jury added another $25 million in punitive damages made up of $15 million against Gawker, $10 million against the founder of the site and $100,000 against one of the editors involved. Some media reports suggested Bollea only asked for $100 million in damages. There were reports that the jurors were disgusted by jokes made by Gawker employees at the time of publication and during depositions.

You can read another interesting take on the case here.

Gawker intends to appeal.

By now, you have probably read about how the FBI is asking Apple to create software that would help the FBI unlock the iPhone of one of the deceased San Bernadino attackers. You have probably heard the talking heads scream about the privacy vs. security policy debate, but what law is at play?

The All Writs Act

You may have even heard the government is relying upon the All Writs of Act which was passed in 1789. Three years of law school and sixteen years of practice and I had not heard of the All Writs Act at 28 . § 165U.S.C.  Surprisingly, it is very short:

(a) The Supreme Court and all courts established by Act of Congress may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.
(b) An alternative writ or rule nisi may be issued by a justice or judge of a court which has jurisdiction. 

The purpose of the law is to fill in the gaps to give courts the power to enforce their orders and subpoenas.  Obviously, the use of the All Writs Acts has to be “agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”

How We Got Here

On February 16, 2016, the government received an ex parte order (which means without having anyone from Apple or anyone else arguing against the request) requiring Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance to assist law enforcement agents in obtaining access to the data.” The order then lists what the court considers “reasonable technical assistance” including the oft-discussed decryption key that needs to be created to help unlock the phone. A copy of the order is here:  SB-Shooter-Order-Compelling-Apple-Asst-iPhone.

Apple’s Legal Argument

download (2)Apple primarily argues that Congress has already decided tech companies like Apple cannot be forced to provide access to encrypted devices. Apple’s brief is here. Specifically, Apple cites to the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act at 47 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.  CALEA, Apple argues,  specifically states that electronic communication service providers and mobile phone manufacturers cannot be forced to “implement any specific design of its equipment, facilities, services or system configuration” to unlock or decrypt phones.

Apple then argues that Congress has considered amendments to CALEA, but decided not to amend the 1994 law to require so-called back doors to encrypted devices or programs. According to the brief, “Congress, keenly aware of and focusing on the specific area of dispute here, thus opted not to provide authority to compel companies like Apple to assist law enforcement with respect to data stored on a smartphone the designed and manufactured.”

Case Law on the All Writs Act

The U.S. Supreme Court spelled out the test for whether the All Writs Act could be used in U.S. v. New York Telephone, 435 U.S. 159 (1977). In that case, the Court required the phone company to install a pin register device on two telephone lines.

The Court provided a three-part test:

(1) is the company so far removed from the controversey that its assistance could not be reasonably compelled?

(2) What is the burden on the company whose assistance is sought?

(3) Are there other alternatives?

In light of those factors, Apple argues:

(1) the company does not own or control or the phone or the data the government is seeking;

(2) It would be difficult for Apple to build the requested unlocking key and Apple does not want to for marketing and concerns about additional requests in the future.  Apple says it would take six to ten employees two to four weeks to develop it.

(3) The government made it more difficult when they changed the iCloud password and did not prove that the government exhausted all of the available digital forensics resources available to them.

Finally, Apple contends forcing them to create software would force them into compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment and would constitute an unlawful arbitrary action against Apple without due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The Department of Justice’s Response

FBI-1In its response, the Government tried to shift the focus back to the specific facts of this case and this one phone in light of the three-part test and away from a greater policy argument.

The government says that just because Congress did not make any changes to CALEA does not mean the All Writs Act does not apply to fill in the gap as it has been used a number of times to require companies to unlock phones and other devices.

Regarding the three factors from the New York Telephone case,

(1) Apple purposefully licensed the operating system in the phone that allowed for encryption, so Apple’s involvement is sufficient.  Involvement does not mean a company participated or even specifically knew there was criminal conduct. It only requires that Apple be “closely connected” to the crime.

(2) While the burden to create the software might be burdensome on a small company, the Government says it would not be unreasonable for Apple which encrypted the software in the first place.  The Government would compensate Apple and work to minimize the burden.

(3) The FBI says it cannot unlock the phone without Apple because Apple built the code to prevent any access. They claim the fact that Apple cannot access it without building something new proves Apple is necessary.

Apple can file a response on March 15 and the hearing is scheduled for March 22.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in a 8-1 decision yesterday that the “Improper Photography and Visual Recording Act” is facially unconstitutional.  The case involved a guy who allegedly took pictures of kids at a water park.  You can read more here.

Before you say, you are not a creepy person taking pictures of random kids and therefore don’t agree or don’t care, if you believe photography is art protected by the First Amendment, you should care.

The Facts of the Case

The law provides, in relevant part:

 A person commits an offense if the person:

 (1) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records . . . a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room: 

(A) without the other person’s consent; and

(B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

Ronald Thompson was charged with twenty-six counts. Each count of the indictment alleges that appellant, “with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of THE DEFENDANT, did by electronic means record another . . . at a location that was not a bathroom or private dressing room.”

We can all agree — creepy.

The Ruling

The first issue the court wrestled with was whether photography was conduct (subject to regulations) or speech protected by the First Amendment like other forms of art.  The court found that pictures, even bad ones, are expressive and therefore are subject to First Amendment scrutiny.   The court continued, “the process of creating the end product cannot reasonably be separated from the end product for First Amendment purposes” so the act of taking picture is also subject to First Amendment scrutiny.

The state reasoned, however, that the law regulates intent and therefore, even if considered speech, it can be regulated just like incitements to riot, threats or scams.  The court responded:

Sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment . . .  Of course, the statute at issue here does not require that the photographs or visual recordings be obscene, be child pornography, or even be depictions of nudity, nor does the statute require the intent to produce photographs or visual recordings of that nature. Banning otherwise protected expression on the basis that it produces sexual arousal or gratification is the regulation of protected thought, and such a regulation is outside the government’s power.

The court then found the law “penalizes only a subset of non-consensual image and video producing activity—that which is done with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire” meaning it was a content-based regulation.  As I can hopefully teach my Media Law students (hint for the test), when there is a content-based law, it is subject to a strict scrutiny analysis which means a regulation of expression may be upheld only if it is narrowly drawn to serve a compelling government interest.  A regulation is “narrowly drawn” if it uses the least restrictive means of achieving the government interest.

Like most other laws subject to a strict scrutiny test, this one failed, too.  It was not narrowly drawn.

The Takeaway

Although well-intentioned, the law simply covered too much.  This law would allow a police officer to ask every photographer taking pictures of people in the public what their intent was.  If I was taking pictures of my kids at the park, the police could ask me why.  If I am doing it to show how nice my city is, I am OK.  If I am doing it because I am creepy, it is against the law.

As the court noted:

The statutory provision at issue is extremely broad, applying to any non-consensual photograph, occurring anywhere, as long as the actor has an intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire. This statute could easily be applied to an entertainment reporter who takes a photograph of an attractive celebrity on a public street.

Having the police govern the intent of our photographs is not sustainable.

I am guessing our readers are not going to run out now and start taking creepy pictures because of this ruling.  But, it is comforting to know photographs are protected speech, the taking of photographs is subject to First Amendment analysis and the government does not have the right to ask me why I am taking pictures of people in public places.

With that said, we may not be thrilled this about this guy.  If he crosses the line, he could still get in trouble for child pornography, invasion of privacy, unauthorized use of likeness or other wrongs if he actually harmed any of the people he photographed or used them commercially.

Our Constitutional protections, however, often protect the people on the edges so the rest of us know we are secure.  Although the police may not be able to ask his intentions, if this guy is taping kids my kids at the park, I still can.

You can read the opinion here.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Aereo violates copyright law by retransmitting over-the-air programming without authorization.  This will shut down the controversial start-up or force them back to the drawing board to come up with a new system.  The sound you heard was a huge sigh of relief of all over-the-air networks, cable carriers and content creators because this would have caused everyone to re-evaluate how programming is broadcast, and more importantly, paid for.

For those not familiar with Aereo, it essentially allowed users to “rent” an antennae that would pick up a signal at a certain point.  Aereo would then take that over the air signal and send it to the user’s phone so they could stream the content from their phones.

The issue was whether this was a “public performance” of the copyrighted works.  Aereo said it was not because the users could receive the same content for free if they had antennas attached to their TV at home.  Aereo merely re-transmitted the same content to allows users to access it on their phone privately.

The networks sued Aereo almost as soon as it launched in 2012.  They argued the simultaneous broadcasts to thousands of paying customers represented an illegal retransmission of protected works — even if you called it renting an antenna.

Actually, everyone can give a sigh a relief.  Had Aereo won, the broadcast networks said they would stop providing content.  The cable companies pay the networks a lot of money to retransmit the over the air channels and this would have changed everything.

While this is a blow to Aereo and possibly innovation – at least through this specific model – the world as we knew it before Aero will continue.

 

I’ll admit, General Mills did not go that far.  What they did, according to The New York Times was notify customers that if they downloaded a coupon, joined a forum or entered a sweepstakes, the customer would waive their right to sue in court and would have to go through an online “informal negotiation” or arbitration.

Since the story broke, General Mills is trying to backtrack.  For example, General Mills admitted it would not apply if you interacted with the company on Facebook or simply purchased one of its products at a store, but that the company could enforce it if you interacted on the company’s website.

However, there was a pop-up notice on the company’s home page that “require[s] all disputes related to the purchase or use of any General Mills product or service to be resolved through binding arbitration.”  Consumer watchdogs were concerned General Mills was trying to escape all liability for mislabeling claims or damages related to product recalls just because you “liked” a Facebook page or purchased a product at your local grocery.

In two recent cases, the Supreme Court has held related clauses to be enforceable.  In June 2013, in American Express v. Italian College Restaurant, the Court enforced an arbitration clause between AmEx and the merchandisers.  Two years before that in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, the Court upheld a class action waiver.

Yet, there is still, and always will be, the issue of consent.  When I buy Lucky Charms for my kids (I know, Dad of the Year), I am not consenting to a long list of terms of conditions.  I am buying cereal.  A court would be hard-pressed to find I consented to a long list of terms and conditions on the General Mills website.  That would not be magically delicious in the least bit.

On the other hand, if I download a coupon, or enter a sweepstakes, I would not be surprised to have a pop-up that requires me to agree to terms and conditions no one reads. I might waive my rights to file a class action or a jury trial as it relates to that particular transaction.  In fact, I would not be surprised if this practice becomes more prevalent.

There may be some issues as to whether downloading a Cheerios coupon means I agreed to waive claims against Haagen Dazs in an unrelated transaction.

Despite the fact social media and the internet have made things a little more complicated and hard to keep up with, the basics of contract law still apply.  To bind a consumer, you need to show they consented to the terms which is why a click-wrap agreement is preferred over a browse-wrap agreement.  On top of that, especially when it comes to jury and class action waivers, you need to satisfy both procedural and substantive conscionability.

 

A frequent question we get is what can we do about the online posting about me?  Often times, the answer is not much.  Lawyers can only help when the online conduct crosses the line into a cognizable cause of action.  Figuring that out is the hard part.

The Threatening or Harassing Post

Is there an ex spewing hate against you on Facebook?  Is a disgruntled fan or customer telling the world what they would like to do you?  Many times, the First Amendment will protect their conduct.  Sometimes, however, the law can help.

Take for example, a “fan” of the New York Knicks who suggested the owner of the team needed to die with posts that included naked pictures of the poster with a gun.  The police arrested him.

Sports often bring out the worst.  I’ve seen some of it with my own sports teams with the Michael Sam story and the question of whether the Houston Texans will use the first pick on Johnny Football.

Most fan rants are protected by the First Amendment, but threats of immenint harm or immediate calls to illegal actions are not.   Jack Greiner of the Graydon Head Out of the Box Blog blog breaks down the law on threats versus free speech in this case here.  The oversimplification is that if a reasonable person would believe the speaker has an intent to cause actual harm, then it can become a threat and not mere protected speech.   Moreover, when the target of the threat is a sport figure or politician, it may not be realistic to think the person would actually act it out, but there are enough crazy people out there for law enforcement to take a close look at some of these cases.

In addition to threats, may states, like Texas, have online harassment laws.  Perhaps, your ex knows better than to make a physical threat, but continuously harasses you. In Texas, a person commits an offense if the person “uses the name or persona of another person to create a web page on or to post one or more messages on a commercial social networking site: (1) without obtaining the other person’s consent; and (2) with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person.”

It is also crime to: “send[] an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person: (1) without obtaining the other person’s consent; (2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and (3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.”

Revenge Porn

The American Bar Association recently wrote an excellent article on revenge porn you can read here. For the uninitiated, revenge porn is when the ex publishes what were supposed to be private nude pictures for the world to see often including full names, addresses, phone numbers and links to social media profiles. There is a whole cottage industry bubbling up of websites who encourage posters to provide this information.

As a victim, you can bring civil claims like invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and copyright claims if you took a selfie because the copyright usually belongs to the photographer and not the subject. But, these claims are expensive to bring and there are no guaranties because a lot of people blame the victim for having nude pictures in the first place.

Meanwhile, it is hard to sue the websites where these pictures are downloaded because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives immunity to websites based on claims related to user generated content.

California passed a law last month that seeks to punish “Any person who photographs or records by any means the image of the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person, under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private, and the person subsequently distributes the image taken, with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the depicted person suffers serious emotional distress.”

Professor Goldman on his Technology and Marketing Law Blog points out the faults of the law which include: (i) it does not apply to selfies; (ii) it does not apply to redistribution or websites which could have Section 230 issues; and (iii) the difficulty in proving beyond a reasonable doubt the parties’ expectations of privacy or the intent of the accused.

While there are some class action lawsuits against some of the sites that encourage this behavior that we will keep an eye on, one of the best weapons may be to shine the light on the scum who engage in revenge porn using the same social media tools and the let the markets take care of the websites.

Civil Claims

Most of the examples so far deal with criminal complaints.  To do that, you need to get the D.A.’s attention.  What about a civil lawsuit?  What can you do if the police or the D.A. won’t act?

You can follow the lead of a woman who is suing Sprint for invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and identity theft after a Sprint employee posted explicit pictures of the customer who turned in a phone for an upgrade.  You can read more about the case here.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress can be a tough case to prove and the invasion of privacy of laws differ in each state.

Parents are also taking to the civil courts to address cyberbullying.

Related Posts

For tips on handling consumer reviews, go here and here.

Everyone supports the prevention of sexual predators texting illicit material to people under 17.  Everyone knows that revenge porn is a scourge on public decency.  But, can the law do anything about it?  Should it?

Texas Throws Out Law Banning Explicit Online Communications With Minors.

Yesterday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (our highest court that hears criminal cases) reversed the conviction of a 53-year-old man who was charged with the third degree felony of communicating in a sexually explicit manner with a person whom he believed to be a minor with an intent to arouse or gratify his sexual desire.  You can read about the case here and read the court’s decision here.

The overturned law, Texas Penal Code 33.021(b)(1) states:

A person who is 17 years of age or older commits an offense if, with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, the person, over the Internet, by electronic mail or text message or other electronic message service or system, or through a commercial online service, intentionally:

(1) communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor; or

(2) distributes sexually explicit material to a minor.

To be clear, you cannot solicit a minor for sex (conduct), but sending indecent, but not obscene materials (protected speech) is not illegal.  The court said criminal laws “may protect children from suspected sexual predators before they ever express any intent to commit illegal sexual acts, but it prohibits the dissemination of a vast array of constitutionally protected speech and materials.”  The court also noted there are several other statutes that criminalize other inappropriate conduct with minors.

For the constitutional lawyers out there, the court determined the  “sexually explicit communications” provision is facially unconstitutional because it is content-based speech regulation that could not withstand the strict scrutiny analysis.  Under that test, there needs to be a compelling state interest and the restriction on speech must be narrowly tailored.

While there is a compelling state interest to protect minors from sexual predators, the law covers merely indecent speech which is constitutionally protected.  In light of the many other laws that protect children (solicitation, child pornography, obscenity, harassment), the court said the restriction was too broad.

Subsection (b) covers a whole cornucopia of “titillating talk” or “dirty talk.” But it also includes sexually explicit literature such as “Lolita,” “50 Shades of Grey,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” and Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida.” It includes sexually explicit television shows, movies, and performances such as “The Tudors,” “Rome,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Basic Instinct,” Janet Jackson’s “Wardrobe Malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl, and Miley Cyrus’s “twerking”* during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. It includes sexually explicit art such as “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” “Venus De Milo,” “the Naked Maja,” or Japanese Shunga. Communications and materials that, in some manner, “relate to” sexual conduct comprise much of the art, literature, and entertainment of the world from the time of the Greek myths extolling Zeus’s sexual prowess, through the ribald plays of the Renaissance, to today’s Hollywood movies and cable TV shows.

*I will leave it for someone else to determine whether this is the first reference to “twerking” to make it into case law — a sign that the fad needs to go.

The prosecutors say they may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Revenge Porn – a perplexing topic for legislators

The American Bar Association recently wrote an excellent article on revenge porn you can read here.  For the uninitiated, revenge porn is when the ex publishes what were supposed to be private nude pictures for the world to see often including full names, addresses, phone numbers and links to social media profiles.  There is a whole cottage industry bubbling up of websites who encourage posters to provide this information.

As a victim, you can bring civil claims like invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and copyright claims if you took a selfie because the copyright usually belongs to the photographer and not the subject.  But, these claims are expensive to bring and there are no guaranties because a lot of people blame the victim for having nude pictures in the first place.

Meanwhile, it is hard to sue the websites where these pictures are downloaded because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives immunity to websites based on claims related to user generated content.

California passed a law last month that seeks to punish “Any person who photographs or records by any means the image of the intimate body part or parts of another identifiable person, under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private, and the person subsequently distributes the image taken, with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the depicted person suffers serious emotional distress.

Professor Goldman on his Technology and Marketing Law Blog points out the faults of the law which include: (i) it does not apply to selfies; (ii) it does not apply to redistribution or websites which could have Section 230 issues; and (iii) the difficulty in proving beyond a reasonable doubt the parties’ expectations of privacy or the intent of the accused.

While having the intent to cause severe emotional distress may avoid First Amendment scrutiny, over broad laws would cover the publishing of Anthony Weiner’s infamous photos. Here is a Wired article by Sarah Jeong arguing that criminal laws may not be the answer.

While there are some class action lawsuits against some of the sites that encourage this behavior that we will keep an eye on, one of the best weapons may be to shine the light on the scum who engage in revenge porn using the same social media tools and the let the markets take care of the websites.

UPDATE – NOVEMBER 1 – Ask a question and the Internet answers.  Professor Goldman directed me to one of his earlier tweets:

 

I don’t often make predictions on legal outcomes, so when I do and I get it right, it’s worth sharing.  In May, we talked about whether “liking” a candidate would constitute protected speech under the First Amendment.  A district judge in Virginia ruled it was not.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed in Bland v. Roberts.

In that case, a jailer in Virginia liked his boss’s opposition during a campaign for sheriff. The incumbent won and the plaintiff was fired. The sheriff said it was for competency issues, but the plaintiff said retaliation was the motivating factor for the termination.

I wrote back then that “it seems like a slam dunk case for our fired jailer,” before describing the district court’s dismissal based on the judge’s opinion that “liking” something on Facebook did not amount to a “substantive statement” worthy of protection.  Both the lunacy of the idea of liking a candidate on Facebook not being considered “substantive” enough to warrant protection and the questions asked during the appeal according to this Bloomberg report, I wrote, “I would put my money on a reversal.”

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner! 

Reversing, the Fourth Circuit compared liking on Facebook to putting a campaign sign in your yard.  “On the most basic level, clicking on the ‘like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the User ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement.”

It is not likely your “like” will get you fired and set up a Supreme Court case. The lesson, however, is to be careful of making employment decisions based on what you see on Facebook.  The issue is more problematic for public employers, but as we have discussed before even non-union private employers need to make sure their social media policies and employment decisions do not upset the NLRB. ”Liking” a complaint from a co-worker about working conditions cannot be the basis of a termination.  In some states, it is illegal to fire someone for engaging in protected speech.  ”Liking” Coke when you work at Pepsi in an at will state, like Texas, can still probably get you fired.