Articles Posted in Internet Law

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Starting in 2008, Sunmola carried out an online romance scheme from South Africa, targeting middle-aged women in Georgia and Illinois. Sunmola often used pictures of men in U.S. military uniforms in his online profile to gain the victims' trust; they made electronic fund transfers after his false claims of financial distress. Sunmola secretly recorded some victims in sexually suggestive positions, then sent extortion demands. Authorities also discovered evidence of credit card fraud affecting businesses. He was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and interstate extortion. Authorities arrested Sunmola in London and transferred him to U.S. custody. Three days into his trial, Sunmola openly pleaded guilty to all counts, admitting to the essential elements of each offense. The judge accepted the pleas without a plea agreement. Applying several enhancements and considering other section 3553(a) factors, the district court sentenced Sunmola to 324 months in jail with an adjusted restitution payment of $1,669,050.98. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to a four-level “substantial financial hardship” sentencing enhancement, a two-level “vulnerable victim” adjustment, a two-level enhancement for acting on behalf of a government agency, and a four-level adjustment for acting as the organizer or leader. The court upheld the restitution calculation and application of general deterrence in his final sentencing. View "United States v. Sunmola" on Justia Law

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FanDuel and DraftKings conduct online fantasy‐sports games. Participants pay an entry fee and select a roster, subject to a budget cap that prevents every entrant from picking only the best players. Results from real sports contests determine how each squad earns points to win cash. Former college football players whose names, pictures, and statistics have been used without their permission sued, claiming that Indiana’s right-of-publicity statute, Code 32‐36‐1‐8, gives them control over the commercial use of their names and data. The district court dismissed the complaint, relying on exemptions for the use of a personality’s name, voice, signature, photograph, image, likeness, distinctive appearance, gestures, or mannerisms "in" material “that has political or newsworthy value” or “in connection with the broadcast or reporting of an event or a topic of general or public interest." The Seventh Circuit certified the question to the Supreme Court of Indiana: Whether online fantasy‐sports operators that condition entry on payment, and distribute cash prizes, need the consent of players whose names, pictures, and statistics are used in the contests, in advertising the contests, or both. Plaintiffs’ details on the websites are not necessarily “in” newsworthy “material” or a form of “reporting” and there is no state law precedent interpreting a statute similar to Indiana’s. The Supreme Court of Indiana may consider not only the statutory text but also plaintiffs’ arguments about the legality of defendants’ fantasy games and the possibility of an extra-textual illegal‐activity exception. View "Daniels v. Fanduel, Inc." on Justia Law

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FanDuel and DraftKings conduct online fantasy‐sports games. Participants pay an entry fee and select a roster, subject to a budget cap that prevents every entrant from picking only the best players. Results from real sports contests determine how each squad earns points to win cash. Former college football players whose names, pictures, and statistics have been used without their permission sued, claiming that Indiana’s right-of-publicity statute, Code 32‐36‐1‐8, gives them control over the commercial use of their names and data. The district court dismissed the complaint, relying on exemptions for the use of a personality’s name, voice, signature, photograph, image, likeness, distinctive appearance, gestures, or mannerisms "in" material “that has political or newsworthy value” or “in connection with the broadcast or reporting of an event or a topic of general or public interest." The Seventh Circuit certified the question to the Supreme Court of Indiana: Whether online fantasy‐sports operators that condition entry on payment, and distribute cash prizes, need the consent of players whose names, pictures, and statistics are used in the contests, in advertising the contests, or both. Plaintiffs’ details on the websites are not necessarily “in” newsworthy “material” or a form of “reporting” and there is no state law precedent interpreting a statute similar to Indiana’s. The Supreme Court of Indiana may consider not only the statutory text but also plaintiffs’ arguments about the legality of defendants’ fantasy games and the possibility of an extra-textual illegal‐activity exception. View "Daniels v. Fanduel, Inc." on Justia Law

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Thirteen Illinois municipalities claimed that the online travel agencies (OTAs), including Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity, have withheld money owed to them under their local hotel tax ordinances. The OTAs operate their online travel websites under the “merchant model”; customers pay an OTA directly to reserve rooms at hotels the OTA has contracted with. The participating hotels set a room rental rate. The OTA charges the customer a price that includes that rate, the estimated tax owed to the municipality, and additional charges for the OTA’s services. After the customer’s stay, the hotel invoices the OTA for the room rate and taxes and remits the taxes collected to the municipality. Contracts between hotels and the OTAs confirm that the OTAs do not actually buy, and never acquire the right to enter or grant possession of, hotel rooms. The municipalities claim that OTAs do not remit taxes on the full price that customers pay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the OTAs. None of the municipal ordinances place a duty on the OTAs to collect or remit the taxes, so the municipalities have no recourse against the OTAs View "Village of Bedford Park v. Expedia, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Millers, from Lafayette, Indiana, shot and killed two police officers and one civilian in Las Vegas. They died in an ensuing shootout. Days later, Bradbury, a Lafayette resident, placed a message on Facebook, referring to “the town’s cop killing group run by ... myself,” to having sent the Millers to Las Vegas, and to a “larger plot … to kill cops … specifically to take out [named officers]…. We have gathered enough thermite and explosives … to destroy no less than 6 police cars, as well as the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.” A friend asked whether he was serious; Bradbury stated, “complete satire … a big mind game … [I]t’s made to get you to think.” (To think about committing mayhem!).” Bradbury deleted his post, but screenshots were sent to the police. A search, pursuant to warrants, of his bedroom in his parents’ home, revealed thermite. Bradbury was acquitted of “willfully mak[ing] any threat,” but convicted of “maliciously convey[ing] false information,” 18 U.S.C. 844(e), and sentenced to 41 months of imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding a jury instruction that “maliciously” means “to act intentionally or with deliberate disregard of the likelihood that damage or injury will result.” The court rejected an argument that the post was a joke, so there was nothing malicious. Bradbury conducted an elaborate and malicious hoax, intending disruptive effects by diverting law enforcement resources. View "United States v. Bradbury" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Amazon, claiming that it permitted third parties to advertise counterfeit copies of books, Vagabond Natural and Vagabond Spiritual, that the plaintiff wrote and self‐published, detailing his experiences as a vagabond homeless man. He says Amazon refused repeated requests to remove the advertisements, although Amazon did eventually remove them. He insists that legitimate sales would have generated “millions of dollars for Amazon” and allowed him “to end homelessness,” but that Amazon “forcefully exploited” his books by counterfeiting them. He claims to have examined copies of each book purchased through Amazon by his cousin and determined that all were unauthorized reproductions because genuine copies would bear his fingernail indentations on the covers. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the books at issue are hard copies, rather than online copies, and are almost certainly Hart’s self‐published books because they are identical to those books. Only six copies were sold by Amazon. There is no plausible allegation that, even if the books sold by Amazon are counterfeits, Amazon was aware of the fact. Counterfeiting cannot be presumed; Hart’s claims did not meet even a minimum standard of plausibility. View "Hart v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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During their acrimonious divorce, Paula accused Barry of serial infidelity. In discovery Barry asked her for all documents related to that accusation. Paula complied and produced copies of incriminating emails between Barry and several other women. In a separate lawsuit, Barry alleged that Paula violated the federal Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, 18 U.S.C. 2520, by surreptitiously placing an auto-forwarding “rule” on his email accounts that automatically forwarded the messages on his email client to her and that Paula’s lawyer violated the Act by “disclosing” the intercepted emails in response to his discovery request. The district judge dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that Paula’s lawyer cannot be liable for disclosing Barry’s own emails to him in response to his own discovery request. The allegations against Paula, however, technically fall within the language of the Act, “though Congress probably didn’t anticipate its use as a tactical weapon in a divorce proceeding.” The emails attached to the complaint did not conclusively defeat Barry’s allegation that Paula intercepted his emails contemporaneously with their transmission, as required by the Act. View "Epstein v. Epstein" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Huon was charged with criminal sexual assault of Jane Doe. He claimed that the encounter was consensual and was acquitted. The website Above the Law (ATL) published an article entitled, “Rape Potpourri” which discussed two “rape stories,” one of which concerned Jane Doe’s allegations and Huon’s opening statement at his trial; the post was later updated to note that Huon was acquitted. Huon sued ATL, alleging defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy. Days later, a Gawker website published an article entitled, “Acquitted Rapist Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist” with Huon’s 2008 mugshot and the ATL article. The title was later changed to, “Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist.” The Gawker article generated 80 comments from anonymous third-party users. Huon added Gawker as a defendant. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the defamation claim. The title can be construed innocently when viewed with the rest of the article, which fairly reported on Huon’s trial and his initial complaint. The court reversed dismissal of the defamation claim concerning the third-party user comments. Huon adequately alleged that the publisher helped create at least some of the comments; one of the comments constitutes defamation under Illinois law. Because that claim was reinstated, the court also reinstated the false-light and intentional-infliction claims, which were dismissed against Gawker based solely on the rejection of his defamation claims. View "Huon v. Denton" on Justia Law

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Someone used the email address gslabs@hotmail.com to contact a Vietnamese website in an attempt to buy sassafras oil, a chemical that can be used to make the illegal drug known as ecstasy. The website was being monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which began an investigation that culminated in Caira being convicted on drug charges. A key step in the investigation was learning that Caira was the person behind the gslabs@hotmail.com address. The DEA made that discovery by issuing administrative subpoenas to technology companies, without getting a warrant. The district court denied a motion to suppress and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the DEA conducted an “unreasonable search” in violation of the Fourth Amendment, Because Caira voluntarily shared the relevant information with technology companies, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information, so his Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. The court characterized as “harmless” the district court’s errors imposing conditions of supervised release without justifying them on the record. Caira is serving a life sentence for another conviction. He is not expected to be released from prison so the conditions are not expected to be imposed. View "United States v. Caira" on Justia Law

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Sgouros purchased a “credit score” package from TransUnion. Armed with the number TransUnion gave him, he went to a car dealership and tried to use it to negotiate a favorable loan. The score he had bought, however, was useless: it was 100 points higher than the score pulled by the dealership. Sgouros filed suit, asserting that TransUnion violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681g(f)(7)(A); the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 ILCS 505/1; and the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. 407.010, by misleading consumers by failing to inform them that the formula used to calculate their purchased credit scores was materially different from the formula used by lenders. TransUnion moved to compel arbitration, asserting that the website through which Sgouros purchased his product included an agreement to arbitrate. The district court concluded that no such contract had been formed and denied TransUnion’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed after evaluating the website and concluding that TransUnion had not put consumers on notice of the terms of agreement, as required by Illinois law, but actually distracted them from noticing those terms. View "Sgouros v. TransUnion Corp." on Justia Law