Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Internet Law
United States v. Bebris
Bebris sent child pornography over Facebook’s private user-to-user messaging system. Facebook licenses a “hashing” image recognition technology, PhotoDNA, developed by Microsoft. PhotoDNA provides the capability to scan images uploaded onto a company’s platform and compares the “hash” (or essence) of a photo with a database of known images of child pornography. Three of Bebris’s messages were flagged by PhotoDNA. Facebook employees reviewed the images and reported them to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(a), which then reported the images to Wisconsin law enforcement. Those officials obtained a warrant and searched Bebris’s residence, where they found a computer containing numerous child pornography files.Bebris, charged federally with possessing and distributing child pornography., argued that the evidence should be suppressed, contending that Facebook took on the role of a government agent (subject to Fourth Amendment requirements) by monitoring its platform for child pornography and reporting that content. The district court denied his Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(a) subpoena seeking pre-trial testimony from a Facebook employee with knowledge of Facebook’s use of PhotoDNA.The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. The subpoena sought cumulative testimony. The record included a written declaration from Microsoft and Facebook and live testimony from an executive at NCMEC, which administers the federal reporting system. Facebook did not act as a government agent in this case. View "United States v. Bebris" on Justia Law
Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law
Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc.
Clearview's facial recognition tool takes advantage of public information on the Internet. Clearview uses a proprietary algorithm to “scrape” pictures from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Venmo. Clearview’s software harvests from each scraped photograph the biometric facial scan and associated metadata (time and place stamps); that information is put onto its database, which is stored on servers in New York and New Jersey. Clearview offers access to this database for users who wish to find out more about someone in a photograph. Many of its clients are law-enforcement agencies. The New York Times published an article about Clearview.This putative class action asserted violations of Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/15. After its removal to federal court, the district court remanded the case to state court, stating that the complaint alleged only a bare statutory violation, not the kind of concrete and particularized harm that would support Article III standing in federal court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In alleging a violation of a general rule that prohibits the operation of a market in biometric identifiers and information, the complaint described only a general, regulatory violation, not something that is particularized to the plaintiffs and concrete. It alleged no particularized injury resulting from the commercial transaction. View "Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc." on Justia Law
Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
Without permission from Epic, TCS downloaded thousands of documents containing Epic’s confidential information and trade secrets. TCS used some of the information to create a “comparative analysis”—a spreadsheet comparing TCS’s health-record software (Med Mantra) to Epic’s software. TCS’s internal communications show that TCS used this spreadsheet in an attempt to enter the U.S. health-record-software market, steal Epic’s client, and address key gaps in TCS’s own Med Mantra software.Epic sued. A jury ruled in Epic’s favor on all claims, including multiple Wisconsin tort claims. The jury then awarded Epic $140 million in compensatory damages, for the benefit TCS received from using the comparative-analysis spreadsheet; $100 million for the benefit TCS received from using Epic’s other confidential information; and $700 million in punitive damages for TCS’s conduct. The district court upheld the $140 million compensatory award and vacated the $100 million award. It reduced the punitive damages award to $280 million, reflecting Wisconsin’s statutory punitive-damages cap. The Seventh Circuit remanded. There is sufficient evidence for the jury’s $140 million verdict based on TCS’s use of the comparative analysis, but not for the $100 million verdict for uses of “other information.” The jury could punish TCS by imposing punitive damages, but the $280 million punitive damages award is constitutionally excessive. View "Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd." on Justia Law
West v. Charter Communications, Inc.
In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Curry v. Revolution Laboratories, LLC
Curry, the founder of “Get Diesel Nutrition,” has paid for advertising for his products, including "Diesel Test," in national fitness magazines since 2002. In 2016, the defendants began selling a sports nutritional supplement, "Diesel Test Red Series." Like Curry’s product, the defendants’ product comes in red and white packaging with right-slanted all-caps typeface bearing the words “Diesel Test.” Curry alleges that he received messages indicating that customers were confused. The defendants concocted a fake ESPN webpage touting their product and conducted all their marketing online. In about seven months, they received more than $1.6 million in gross sales. At least 767 sales were to consumers in Illinois. After Curry demanded that the defendants cease and desist, both parties filed trademark applications for "Diesel Test." The Patent Office suspended both applications. Curry filed suit, alleging violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act, violations of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, filing a fraudulent trademark application, and violation of common law trademark protections. The district court dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Revolution’s activity can be characterized as purposefully directed at Illinois, the forum state, and related to Curry's claims. Physical presence is not necessary for a defendant to have sufficient minimum contacts with a forum state. Illinois has a strong interest in providing a forum for its residents to seek redress for harms suffered within the state by an out-of-state actor. View "Curry v. Revolution Laboratories, LLC" on Justia Law
Dancel v. Groupon, Inc.
Dancel sued, alleging Groupon had used her photograph to promote a restaurant voucher. Groupon had collected the photograph from Dancel’s public Instagram account based on data linking it to the restaurant’s location. She sought damages under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA) on behalf of a class of Illinois residents whose Instagram photographs have appeared on a Groupon offer. The parties litigated in state court until Dancel moved to certify a class of “[a]ll persons who maintained an Instagram Account and whose photograph ... was ... acquired and used on a groupon.com webpage for an Illinois business.” The class was not defined by its members’ residency. Groupon filed a notice of removal under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453. The district court denied remand and denied class certification. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of class certification. IRPA requires more with respect to the plaintiff’s identity than an Instagram username It demands that an attribute, even a name, serve to identify the individual whose identity is being appropriated. This individualized evidentiary burden prevents identity from being a predominating common question under Rule 23(b)(3). View "Dancel v. Groupon, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Grisanti
The FBI took over a child-pornography website, “Playpen,” and kept Playpen running to locate people who distributed and viewed child pornography. Playpen allowed visitors to remain anonymous. The FBI obtained a warrant authorizing the use of a “Network Investigative Technique” (NIT). When a user logged into Playpen, the NIT installed malware on the user’s computer and relayed identifying information to the FBI. The warrant application said that the property to be searched was “located in the Eastern District of Virginia” but an addendum stated that the NIT would be “deployed” on a server “located at a government facility in the Eastern District of Virginia” to obtain information from “activating computer[s]” of “any user” who logged into Playpen. Grisanti logged into Playpen from Indiana. The NIT sent identifying information. The FBI obtained Indiana search warrants and found evidence of child pornography on Grisanti’s computer. Before the FBI could complete its investigation, Grisanti destroyed the hard drive and a flash drive. The court denied a motion to suppress, concluding that the agents relied on the warrant in good faith. Convicted of destruction of evidence and child-pornography offenses, Grisanti was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment. The court noted that Grisanti possessed more than 600 images of child pornography—some involving prepubescent children—and destroyed the evidence. He never sought treatment and blamed others when he was caught. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that it had already held that the good-faith exception applies to the warrant at issue. Grisanti’s sentence was not unreasonable and the district court did not make any procedural error. View "United States v. Grisanti" on Justia Law
United States v. Khan
Khan construed a lawsuit concerning a traffic accident as “senseless provocation”; believed “noise pollution around [his] house” to be “organized persecution,” for which he promised retaliation; and believed Mayor Emanuel “doomed Chicago.” In Facebook posts, Khan threatened to “kill,” “shoot,” “hunt,” “murder,” and “put bullets in” college students, “vulnerable individuals,” people walking dogs, “high net worth individual[s],” and witnesses that “get [in] the way.” He claimed a specific Chicago neighborhood as his “free kill zone,” planned to “purchase a [G]o[P]ro camera, ... record the killings, and upload them.” Khan drove for Uber and posted messages about “dry run[s]” and carrying a loaded gun during shifts for “necessary murders.” He posted photos of himself holding those guns and “sw[ore] to Allah ... that I will ... murder in the next 30 days, which corresponded to Khan's plan to fly to Pakistan.Khan was indicted for making interstate threats to injure others, 18 U.S.C. 875(c). The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting challenges to the indictment and the sufficiency of the evidence. The district court was not required to instruct the jury that it must find that Khan intended to communicate a threat; that the intended victim received it; and that it caused the victim to feel threatened. The court properly refused to suppress evidence of a gun found in Khan’s car and to suppress other evidence on the theory that the government did not produce evidence of an anonymous tip. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law
Carello v. Aurora Policeman Credit Union
Carello is blind. To access online visual content, he uses a “screen reader,” which reads text aloud to him from websites that are designed to support its software. Carello claims that the Credit Union website fails to offer such support. The Illinois Credit Union Act requires that credit union membership be open only to groups of people who share a “common bond,” including “[p]ersons belonging to a specific association, group or organization,” “[p]ersons who reside in a reasonably compact and well-defined neighborhood or community,” and “[p]ersons who have a common employer.” The Credit Union limits its membership to specified local government employees. Membership is required before an individual may use any Credit Union services. Carello is not eligible for, nor has he expressed any interest in, Credit Union membership. He is a tester: he visits websites solely to test Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, which prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of [their] goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations,” and requires them to make “reasonable modifications” to achieve that standard, 42 U.S.C. 12812(a), (b). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Carello’s claim. Carello lacked standing to sue because he failed to allege an injury in fact. View "Carello v. Aurora Policeman Credit Union" on Justia Law