As reported by The Independent in March, the first lawsuit against a Twitterer was brought against the notorious Courtney Love (left) by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir. Love posted Twitter updates calling the designer, among other things, a liar and drug user. Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996, Love and not Twitter is responsible for the publication of libellous and private material. To counteract the immunity from liability afforded publishers, the president of the Media Bloggers Association, Robert Cox, has collaborated with Media Professional Insurance to establish a new insurance plan for bloggers to protect themselves in the event of a lawsuit.
But it is not only the world of libel, nor just the liability of independent bloggers that is at issue. At the beginning of this month, St. Louis Cardinals (a Major League Baseball team) manager Tony La Russa filed the first claim brought against Twitter in the Superior Court of California. The complaint states that Twitter is responsible for trade mark infringement, misappropriation of image and likeness and invasion of privacy by publishing the Twitter content of an impersonator of La Russa. As far as the AmeriKat is aware, the post of Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone stating that Twitter has not settled the case means that the two parties will be proceeding to trial. If they do, the court will be asked to decide whether section 230 of the CDA is also applicable in cases of trade mark infringement. In the AmeriKat’s opinion, however, La Russa’s lawyers dressed up a defamation suit in the clothes of a trade mark claim to fall outside of section 230; she believes that the Court will be wise to such tactics.
In a recent case this month, Barnes v Yahoo!, Orgeon’s 9th Circuit has attempted to redress this imbalance by holding that, where an ISP has undertaken to remove infringing content and does not, it may not be able to bar a claim for promissory estoppel against them by virtue of section 230. Despite this case, the AmeriKat feels that it is inadequate for claimants to have to rely on a contractual claim when an actionable tort has been committed against them. The AmeriKat believes that with the comparative effortlessness, speed, and general brevity of these types of internet publications, the ease to which someone’s reputation is libelled or intellectual property infringed has surely increased. Since under section 230 a claimant, without the ability to sue the publishing website, is potentially left without adequate redress for a tort committed against it, the AmeriKat feels that the US needs to redress this current imbalance in the law.
Before her nomination to the bench by former President George H W Bush, Sotomayor was a partner at New York firm Pavia & Harcourt, specializing mainly in trade mark matters. For four years Sotomayor represented significant brands, such as Fendi, against producers of counterfeit goods and ran stringent anti-counterfeiting programmes to protect their brands. Responding to a 1986 event called the “Fendi Crush”, where to celebrate their success against counterfeits thousands of fake Fendi accessories were destroyed, Sotomayor stated that in representing brands the “aim is much like a drug operation. We attempt to go after suppliers and secure information that leads back to the manufacturers.” Besides obtaining several ex parte injunctions against counterfeit suppliers on behalf of Fendi every month, Sotomayor also established a group of prominent trade mark lawyers in New York City to lobby for changes in anti-counterfeiting laws. In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 1992, Sotomayor stated that “In the next five or 10 years, trade mark owners will become more concentrated on changing state laws, changing penalties. They will rely more on local police to make arrests. A real threat of jail does have an impact.”
Unfortunately, it is Sotomayor’s subsequently reversed decision in Tasini v The New York Times 972 F.Supp. 804 (SDNY 1997) which is the most well known of all her intellectual property decisions. In this case, freelance journalists brought a claim against the Times alleging copyright infringement arising from the republication of their articles on electronic databases such as LexisNexis. The authors contended that their original licence granted to the Times was for publication in print form and therefore did not include electronic publication. Sotomayor was tasked in interpreting section 201(c) of the Copyright Act which deals the rights of owners of collective works, i.e. whether the Times as a collective works owner could reuse the journalists’ works absent any express authorization. In her liberal interpretation of this section, Sotomayor held that the Times had the right to reprint the journalists’ works, even if their initial licence did not include electronic reproduction. However, the Supreme Court reversed Sotomayor’s decision by 7-2. Justice Ginsburg gave the majority speech ruling that the Times republication of the journalists’ individual articles without the context of the entire newspaper in which the articles were first printed was an infringement and thus required the journalists’ consent and compensation.
Where the AmeriKat has failed to predict Sotomayor’s attitude towards patent claims, she is eager to hear your views. To help you along your way, the AmeriKat suggests you look Sotomayor’s responses to the required Senate Committee of the Judiciary questionnaire.