To those unfamiliar with Virginia or federal law, it may seem logical to notice a defendant of a lawsuit by email or through social networking sites. It is hard to imagine a more efficient way to put a defendant on actual notice. However, perhaps engrained in traditions, the law has been slow to adopt this online service, often requiring that a Complaint be hand delivered, left at someone’s front door, or in some states, mailed by certified mail. The Alexandria U.S. District Court, however, has recently approved of legal service of a Complaint by Facebook, LinkedIn and Email. The holding was limited but precedential nonetheless.
Websites such as www.yelp.com and www.angieslist.com have been a breeding ground for novel legal issues. The sites are created for the very purpose of voicing concerns or praising services and encourage first amendment rights to free speech. However, one false post can cause a business an infinite amount of reputational harm and potentially ruin them. Legal scholars have been following case law on the topic closely to see how the courts deal with the legal implications of posting complaints online.
A recent case in Fairfax County Circuit Court, which was closely followed by media sources including the Washington Post, presented an interesting situation. The dispute arose when a Fairfax homeowner, disappointed in the work of her contractor, logged onto www.yelp.com and listed her disappointments with her contractor, ending with “Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.” The online comments from homeowner continued on multiple sites and the contractor, in response, posted his own comments online about the homeowner.
In a recent decision, the Virginia Court of Appeals (the “Court”) has ruled that Yelp, the popular business review website, must disclose information about seven users who posted critical reviews of a carpet cleaning business.
In Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., No. 0116-13-4 (Jan. 7, 2014), Yelp appealed an order from the Circuit Court for the City of Alexandria, which had held Yelp in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena duces tecum served upon it by Hadeed. Yelp’s main argument on appeal revolved around the First Amendment’s protection to speak anonymously. The Court upheld the contempt order, and dealt a blow to the anonymity of online speech in the Commonwealth.
Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated portions of the FCC's net neutrality mandate, holding that the Commission did not have statutory authority to regulate broadband providers by prohibiting them from blocking or prioritizing Internet traffic. Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission, No. 11-1355 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 14, 2014). The decision is the latest in the net neutrality debate which has been waging for several years and is a blow to major net neutrality advocates such as eBay and Amazon.
In keeping with the National Labor Relations Board’s continuing efforts to target social media policies that violate the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB reached a settlement last month with the Koch-owned company, Georgia-Pacific. The settlement required Georgia-Pacific to repeal its social media policy and to revise its acceptable use, code of conduct, intellectual property, and outside requests for information policies, to ensure that their rules do not prohibit employees from sharing terms and conditions of employment, such as wages and hours of work. The initial Charge was filed on July 31, 2012, by the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. Georgia-Pacific’s social media policy allegedly warned employees that “[e]ven if your social media conduct is outside of the workplace and/or non-work related, it must not reflect negatively on GP’s reputation, its products or its brands.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the highest state court in New York which affirmed a New York law requiring online retailers, such as Amazon and Overstock.com, to collect sales tax from New York customers even though these "etailers" do not have a physical presence in the state. The decision handed down earlier this year by the New York Court of Appeals contradicts rulings in several other states which have struck down these so-called "Amazon Laws" (See Illinois Supreme Court Ruling Invalidates "Amazon" Sales Tax Law).
Scholars estimate that SCOTUS grants certiorari in less than .04% of its received petitions for certiorari1 so why did the Court recently grant certiorari to a case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (the “Ninth Circuit”) which dismissed a copyright infringement claim as time barred when the facts showed that the plaintiff knew of the claim more than 10 years before filing it? The Ninth Circuit’s analysis appears straight forward but the interest may be generated from the Ninth Circuit’s concurring opinion which requested a change in the law. As outlined below, there is a split in authority on whether a statute of limitations defense (a bright-line 3 year limit from when the claim accrues) or the doctrine of laches (an equitable defense where the Court considers delay, reasonableness, and prejudice) applies. Without a clear answer on which analysis is applied, Plaintiffs face dangerous consequences in determining when they must file a copyright infringement claim.
In Breaking Glass Pictures v. Does 1-99, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that individual participants in "peer-to-peer" file sharing protocol could not be joined as defendants in the same suit for copyright infringement. No. 1:13 CV 0083, 2013 WL 5720139 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 4, 2013). The plaintiff brought a series of eight other nearly identical suits in the Northern District of Ohio, alleging copyright infringement of a motion picture entitled "6 Degrees of Hell."
In Performance Marketing Association, Inc. v. Hamer, Docket No. 114496 (Oct. 18, 2013), the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated a state law that was designed to impose taxes on Internet retailers, such as Amazon and Overstock, that otherwise were not subject to state sales tax. These laws are commonly referred to as "Amazon" laws after the online retail giant. This Illinois ruling is notable in that it conflicts with prior case law regarding whether or not Internet retailers are subject to state sales and use taxes.