New Media and Technology Law Blog

New York Court Finds Warhol Series to be Fair Use of Prince Photograph

Earlier this month, in The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith, No. 17-cv-2532 (S.D.N.Y. July 1, 2019), a New York district court granted the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ (“AWF”) motion for summary judgment that Warhol’s series of screen prints and silkscreen paintings (the “Prince Series”) did not infringe the plaintiff Lynn Goldsmith’s (“Goldsmith”) original 1981 photograph of the musician Prince, ruling that the Warhol works were transformative and qualified as fair use. Continue Reading

Web Scraping Decisions Consider Contract Cause of Action

Two recent web scraping disputes highlight some important issues regarding whether a website owner may successfully allege a breach of contract action against a commercial party that has scraped website content contrary to “clickwrap” and “browsewrap” website terms of use.

In Southwest Airlines Co. v. Roundpipe, LLC, No. 18-0033 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 22, 2019), a Texas district court declined to dismiss Southwest Airlines Co.’s (“Southwest”) breach of contract claim against an entity that scraped airfare data from Southwest’s site in violation of the website terms of use. Southwest brought multiple claims against Roundpipe, LLC (“Roundpipe”) after it discovered that Roundpipe had created a website, SWMonkey.com, that, using scraping, sent consumers notifications if their Southwest ticket prices decreased after purchase (which would presumably allow them to exchange the original ticket for a lower-priced ticket).

Southwest’s website terms prohibited scraping or the use of any automated tools to access its fares or other content. Soon after the launch of SWMonkey, Southwest sent a cease and desist letter stating that Roundpipe was obtaining Southwest’s data in violation of the website terms, among other reasons, and demanded that the site be taken down.  After negotiations and additional correspondence from Southwest, Roundpipe shut down the website and disabled its scraping and fare tracking functionality. Continue Reading

Locksmiths Locked Out: Court Affirms Immunity for Use of Tools That Portray Third-Party Content Pictorially or as an Aggregate Metric

In the past few months, there have been a number of notable decisions affirming broad immunity under the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. §230(c), for online providers that host third party content. The beat goes on, as in late May, a Utah district court ruled that the Tor Browser, which allows for anonymous communications and transactions on the internet, was protected by CDA Section 230 for a website’s sale of illegal substances to a minor on the dark web via the Tor Browser.

More recently, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by multiple locksmith companies (the “plaintiffs”) against the operators of the major search engines (the “defendants” or “providers”) for allegedly publishing the content of fraudulent locksmiths’ websites and translating street-address and area-code information on those websites into map pinpoints that were displayed in response to user search requests. (Marshall’s Locksmith Service v. Google LLC, No. 18-7018 (D.C. Cir. June 7, 2019)). According to the plaintiffs, by burying legitimate locksmiths listings (with actual, local physical locations) beneath so-called “scam” listings from locksmith call centers that act as lead generators for subcontractors, who may or may not be fully trained, plaintiffs’ legitimate businesses suffered market harm and were forced to pay for additional advertising. (Beyond this case, the issue of false local business listings appearing in Google Maps remains an ongoing concern, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal yesterday). Continue Reading

Browsewrap Terms Enforced Due to Customer Knowledge of Existence of Terms

Last month, a California district court granted a web-based service’s motion to compel arbitration of a putative class action brought by a user whose personal information was allegedly accessed in a massive 2016 data breach that involved 339 million user accounts. (Gutierrez v. FriendFinder Networks Inc., No. 18-05918 (N.D. Cal. May 3, 2019)). While the opinion noted that courts in the Ninth Circuit are traditionally “reluctant to enforce browsewrap agreements against individual consumers,” the outcome of the case suggests that enforcement of website terms is not just a straight up-or-down analysis of the method used to present the terms to the user but may involve tangential, yet important interactions between the user and the site outside the initial registration process.  Continue Reading

Fourth Amendment Appeal before Georgia Supreme Court over Airbag Crash Data Could Have Implications for Autonomous Cars and Related Technologies

Today, the Georgia Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in an appeal brought by a defendant convicted of vehicular homicide and other charges related to a fatal car crash. (Mobley v. State, No. S18C1546).  The defendant is appealing the lower court’s order that denied his motion to suppress evidence that was downloaded and obtained from the car’s airbag control module by the police without a search warrant at the scene of the accident (note: a search warrant was obtained for the physical device the next day). Thus, the principal issue in the appeal is whether a search warrant was required to retrieve the data from the vehicle’s airbag control module. Continue Reading

The Tor Browser Afforded CDA Immunity for Dark Web Transactions

The District of Utah ruled in late May that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230 (“CDA”) shields The Tor Project, Inc. (“Tor”), the organization responsible for maintaining the Tor Browser, from claims for strict product liability, negligence, abnormally dangerous activity, and civil conspiracy.

The claims were asserted against Tor following an incident where a minor died after taking illegal narcotics purchased from a site on the “dark web” on the Tor Network. (Seaver v. Estate of Cazes, No. 18-00712 (D. Utah May 20, 2019)). The parents of the child sued, among others, Tor as the service provider through which the teenager was able to order the drug on the dark web. Tor argued that the claims against it should be barred by CDA immunity and the district court agreed. Continue Reading

On the Mark: Understanding the Supreme Court’s Latest Decision Regarding the Treatment of Trademark Licenses in Chapter 11

On May 20, 2019, in Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC, 587 U.S. ___ (2019), the Supreme Court resolved an area of ongoing concern for parties to trademark licenses. The court addressed a circuit split on whether a trademark licensee may continue to use a trademark for the term of the license, after the license has been rejected in bankruptcy.  In Mission, the debtor-licensor rejected a trademark license agreement and sought to terminate the licensee’s right to use the debtor’s trademark. This decision has important ramifications to parties to trademark licenses. Continue Reading

Get All of Your Bots in a Row: 2018 California Bot Disclosure Law Comes Online Soon

During the 2016 election, certain Russian operatives used fake social media profiles to influence voters and also created bot accounts to add likes to and share posts across the internet.  And more recently, in January 2019, the New York Attorney General and Office of the Florida Attorney General announced settlements with certain entities that sold fake social media engagement, such as followers, likes and views.  Moreover, many of the social media platforms have had recent purges of millions of fake accounts.  Thus, it’s clear that bots and automated activity on social media platforms has been on everyone’s radar…including state legislators’ too.

Indeed, California passed a chatbot disclosure law (SB-1001) last September that makes it unlawful for persons to mislead users about their artificial bot identity in certain circumstances, and it is only now coming into effect on July 1st.  In essence, the purpose of law was to inform users when they are interacting with a virtual assistant or chatbot or automated social media account so that users could change their behavior or expectations accordingly.  Entities that may interact online or via mobile applications with their customers regarding commercial transactions via a chatbot on their own website or automated account on another platform should certainly take note of the new California law’s disclosure requirements. Continue Reading

Quantum Computing in the News

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured a substantial article on the growth of quantum computing, and the risks and opportunities it presents. It is a thoughtful article, and a must-read for people interested in the area.  We have been working with clients in the area, and identified it as an area of increasing importance in our blog’s 2017 and 2018 year-end reflections on what’s ahead. Much work is being done as we speak to both advance quantum computing and to deal with the challenges it presents to the existing information system infrastructure. (For more information on the race to build a quantum computer and post-quantum cryptography, see the NIST Quantum Revolution page). We will continue to keep readers apprised of significant new developments as they occur.

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