This month, an Illinois district court considered another in the series of web scraping disputes that have been working their way through our courts.  In this dispute, CouponCabin, Inc. v. PriceTrace, LLC, No. 18-7525 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 11, 2019), CouponCabin alleged that a competitor, PriceTrace, scraped coupon codes from CouponCabin’s website without authorization and displayed them on its own website.

After discovering PriceTrace’s scraping activities, CouponCabin sent PriceTrace a cease and desist letter demanding that PriceTrace stop scraping data from CouponCabin’s website.  CouponCabin alleged that PriceTrace continued to access and scrape data from CouponCabin’s website even after the C&D letter was sent. As a result, CouponCabin brought several causes of action against PriceTrace, including claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), tortious interference and breach of contract.

The court found that CouponCabin’s C&D letter had revoked PriceTrace’s access to its site and that PriceTrace’s alleged continued access to the website plausibly stated a violation of the CFAA’s “unauthorized access” provision (18 U.S.C. §1030(a)(2)(C)).  Ultimately, however, the court dismissed the CFAA claims with leave to amend, due to plaintiff’s failure to plead the requisite amount of damage or loss as required to maintain a civil action under the CFAA.

“CouponCabin is simply alleging that PriceTrace was able to circumvent CouponCabin’s website security, with no allegation that such evasion impairs or harm the website. Absent allegation of impairment, CouponCabin has merely alleged that PriceTrace accessed CouponCabin’s website without authorization.”

In Starke v. SquareTrade, Inc., No. 17-2474, 2019 WL 149628 (2d Cir. Jan. 10, 2019), the Second Circuit affirmed a ruling that denied a web service’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that the user did not have reasonable notice of the arbitration provision contained in the terms and conditions that were communicated via a hyperlink in a post-sale email.

File this latest opinion declining to enforce a service’s terms under Crowded Interface, Unclear Prompts and Muddled Process.

While the court recognized that a party has a duty to read a contract, it stressed that this does not morph into a duty to “ferret out contract provisions when they are contained in inconspicuous hyperlinks,” particularly where, as in this case, the user was presented with multiple documents, each containing different sets of terms. This dispute was reminiscent of a Second Circuit case we wrote about in 2012, where the court held that a buy now-agree later process did not provide sufficient notice to consumers of an arbitration provision contained in the post-sale terms.

A D.C. district court ruled that an eBay user did not assent to a later-added arbitration clause to the user agreement by virtue of a provision that stated eBay could amend the agreement at any time, as the user may not have received sufficient notice of the amendment. (Daniel v. eBay, Inc., No. 15-1294 (D.D.C. July 26, 2018)). Notably, the court declined to find adequate notice sufficient to demonstrate an agreement to arbitrate merely based on the fact that the amended user agreements were posted on eBay’s website (at least under Utah, Louisiana or Texas law). This case is interesting as many websites and services have added mandatory arbitration clauses to their terms in recent years, yet may have a stable of legacy users that agreed to a prior set of terms that did not contain such a provision.

A California district court issued an important opinion in a dispute between a ticket sales platform and a ticket broker that employed automated bots to purchase tickets in bulk. (Ticketmaster L.L.C. v. Prestige Entertainment, Inc., No. 17-07232 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2018)). For those of us who have been following the evolution of the law around the use of automation to scrape websites, this case is interesting. The decision interprets some of the major Ninth Circuit decisions of recent memory on liability for web scraping.  Indeed, two weeks ago, we wrote about a case in which the Ninth Circuit interpreted certain automated downloading practices under the CFAA and CDAFA. Also, we wrote about and are awaiting the decision in the hiQ v. LinkedIn appeal before the Ninth Circuit. Also prior posts on the topic include a discussion of a noteworthy appeals court opinion that examined scraping activity under copyright law and the scope of liability under the DMCA anticircumvention provisions.  These seminal decisions and the issues they raise were expressly or implicitly addressed in the instant case. While we will briefly review some of the highlights of this decision below, the case is a must-read for website operators and entities that engage in web scraping activities.

A Canadian appellate court ruled that a lower court had jurisdictional authority to issue a production order to craigslist based upon its virtual (but not physical) presence in British Columbia. The production order requested that Craigslist produce to Canadian officials documents relating to a user post in connection with a criminal investigation. (British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Brecknell, 2018 BCCA 5 (Jan. 9, 2018)).

This decision highlights another situation where a court blurred the distinction between a physical and virtual presence of a corporation that engages in global e-commerce.  Indeed, we had written about an important Canadian decision last year that involved an American company objecting to an order to delist certain search results globally.  With U.S. companies already concerned about the territorial scope of the EU’s GDPR, they also have to address legal risks associated with jurisdiction by a virtual presence north of the border (and possibly other jurisdictions). 

In a blog post last month, Google announced that it would extend certain commitments it made to the FTC in 2012 that were set to expire relating to, among other things,  the scraping of third-party content for use on certain Google “vertical search” properties such as Google Shopping.  The announcement came days before the commitments were set to expire on December 27th and months after Yelp had claimed that Google was not living up to its promises by allegedly scraping Yelp local business photos for use in certain Google results (e.g., local business listings).

In a brief, unpublished opinion, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of right of publicity and privacy claims against a host of self-publishing platforms and service providers for distributing an erotic (and purported “less than tasteful”) book whose cover contained an unauthorized copy of the plaintiffs’ engagement photo because the plaintiffs failed to plead more than an “incidental” use of the photo by the service providers. (Roe v. Amazon.com, No. 16-3987 (6th Cir. Nov. 21, 2017) (unpublished)).

This dispute initially raised our interest because it raised the larger issues of how to define a “publisher” and “distributor” in the modern e-commerce environment and to what extent an ebook platform or print-on-demand service could be protected for distributing third-party content by the immunity provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA Section 230”).  While we anticipated that such issues would get a full examination on appeal, the Sixth Circuit sidestepped these novel issues and decided the case on the merits of the privacy claims. 

A U.S. federal district court judge on Tuesday, November 29 ordered Coinbase Inc., the largest cryptocurrency exchange and storage platform in the world, to provide information about certain of its account holders to the U.S. Internal Revenue Services (IRS).  Information pertaining to as many as 14,355 account holders and 8.9 million transactions could be covered in this order, according to estimates provided by Coinbase.  The full order by Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California can be found here.

While a significant milestone in a protracted legal battle between Coinbase and the IRS, the order handed down by Judge Corley is considerably narrower than what the IRS had originally requested.  The information Coinbase must provide is limited to the holder’s name, date of birth, taxpayer identification number (TIN), and address; the date, amount, type of transaction, post-transaction balance, and names of counterparties to any transaction covered by the order; and periodic account statements for the covered accounts.  Significantly, only account holders that have bought, sold, sent, or received cryptocurrency worth $20,000 or more in any tax year from 2013 to 2015 are covered by the order. 

UPDATE: On April 16, 2018, the British Columbia Supreme Court denied Google’s request to amend the Canadian delisting injunction based on the argument that the injunction would “require it to violate the laws of another jurisdiction, including interfering with freedom of expression.”  (Equustek Solutions Inc. v. Jack, 2018 BCSC 610 (Apr. 16, 2018)).  The Canadian court held that the effect of the California district court order (based upon CDA immunity) is that no action can be taken against Google to enforce the injunction in U.S. courts – but that would not restrict the ability of a Canadian court to issue its own orders “directed to parties over whom it has personal jurisdiction.”

“The U.S. decision does not establish that the injunction requires Google to violate American law. That would be the case if, for example, the [defendants] obtained an order from a U.S. court requiring Google to link to their websites. But there is no suggestion that any U.S. law prohibits Google from de-indexing those websites, either in compliance with the injunction or for any other reason. Absent the injunction, Google would be free to choose whether to list those websites and the injunction restricts that choice, but injunctions frequently restrain conduct that would otherwise be prima facie lawful. A party being restricted in its ability to exercise certain rights is not the same thing as that party being required to violate the law.”

In a decision that sets up a potential international comity showdown, a California district court granted Google’s request for a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement in the U.S. of a Canadian court order that compelled Google to globally de-list certain search results of a former distributor that had allegedly used its websites to unlawfully sell the defendant Equustek Solutions’s (“Equustek”) intellectual property. (Google LLC v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 WL 5000834 (N.D. Cal.  Nov. 2, 2017)).

In granting Google’s request for a preliminary injunction, the court found that Google likely satisfied all three elements of qualifying for immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1) (the “CDA” or “Section 230”) as a service provider that linked to third-party content, and that the Canadian court’s order implicated online free speech concerns.  Indeed, the court concluded its opinion with language that surely buoyed many online providers and open internet advocates that had previously expressed concerns about the extraterritorial effort of the Canadian order:

“By forcing intermediaries to remove links to third-party material, the Canadian order undermines the policy goals of Section 230 immunity and threatens free speech on the global internet.”

In an unpublished opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that had sent a putative class action against Amazon over its pricing practices to arbitration, as per Amazon’s terms of service. (Wiseley v. Amazon.com, Inc., No. 15-56799 (9th Cir. Sept. 19, 2017) (unpublished)).  In finding that Amazon’s “Conditions of Use” were not unconscionable and presented in a reasonable manner, this holding differs from a Second Circuit decision from last year that declined to compel arbitration because reasonable minds could disagree regarding the sufficiency of notice provided to Amazon.com customers when placing an order through the website. (On remand, a New York magistrate judge ruled that the court should grant Amazon’s motion to compel arbitration on other grounds based upon the plaintiff’s constructive knowledge of the terms.)