Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Internet Law
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The case involves Scott Rosenthal, a Massachusetts resident, who filed a class action lawsuit against Bloomingdales.com, LLC, an Ohio-based company with its principal place of business in New York. Rosenthal alleged that Bloomingdales unlawfully intercepted and used information about his activity on its website. The company had commissioned third-party vendors to embed JavaScript computer code on its website, which was deployed onto Rosenthal's internet browser while he visited the site. This code intercepted, recorded, and mapped his electronic communications with the website. Rosenthal claimed that this violated the Massachusetts Wiretapping Act and the Massachusetts Invasion of Privacy Statute.The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed Rosenthal's complaint for lack of specific personal jurisdiction over Bloomingdales. The court concluded that the defendant's conduct, which formed the basis of Rosenthal's claims, occurred outside of Massachusetts. The court also determined that Bloomingdales had not initiated contact with Massachusetts. Because the complaint failed to identify a 'demonstrable nexus' between Rosenthal's claims and Bloomingdale's contacts with Massachusetts, the court found no basis for specific jurisdiction over Bloomingdales.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. The court found that Rosenthal failed to provide "affirmative proof" that Bloomingdales purposefully deployed the JavaScript code to intentionally target users in Massachusetts. The court concluded that Rosenthal had not sufficiently established that Bloomingdales purposefully availed itself of what Massachusetts has to offer, thus failing to meet the requirements for specific jurisdiction. View "Rosenthal v. Bloomingdales.com, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2021, Hugo Escudero was investigated as a suspected wholesale cocaine dealer based on information provided by a confidential informant. The informant claimed that Escudero and his brother were selling large amounts of cocaine and used a runner, M.G., to deliver the drugs. Law enforcement officers corroborated this information through surveillance and obtained a GPS tracking warrant for Escudero's vehicle. This led to additional search warrants for Escudero's apartment and music studio. In September 2021, officers arrested Escudero and M.G. when they arrived with a kilogram of cocaine for a controlled buy.Escudero was indicted and filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the tracking and search warrants. A federal magistrate judge recommended denying Escudero's motions to suppress, and the district court adopted this recommendation. During the trial, Escudero posted a message on M.G.'s Facebook page, which the court admitted into evidence as it was "probative of the consciousness of guilt" and not unfairly prejudicial. The jury found Escudero guilty of possessing five or more kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute, and he was sentenced to 216 months of imprisonment.On appeal, Escudero challenged the legitimacy of the tracking warrant, the admission of his Facebook message, and the sufficiency of evidence for his guilty verdict. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the Leon good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the tracking warrant, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Escudero's Facebook message and witness list comment, and the evidence was sufficient to convict Escudero of possession. View "United States v. Escudero" on Justia Law

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The case involves a professional photographer who sexually exploited a minor. The defendant initially contacted the victim through a social networking site and began communicating with her through various means, eventually soliciting and receiving explicit images of the victim. The defendant also met the victim in person and sexually abused her. After the victim's parents reported the exploitation to the police, an investigation was launched. The police seized a computer tower, an external hard drive, and other items from the defendant's former residence. A forensic examination of the hard drives revealed explicit images of the victim, communications between the defendant and the victim, and hundreds of images of unidentified females in various stages of undress.The defendant was indicted on multiple counts, including aggravated rape of a child and enticement of a minor. He pleaded guilty to all charges, except for the eight counts of aggravated rape of a child, where he pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of statutory rape. After being sentenced, the defendant filed a motion for the return of the seized property. The Commonwealth opposed the return of the property, arguing that it was in the "public interest" to destroy the devices. The Superior Court denied the defendant's request for the return of certain property.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts granted an application for direct appellate review. The court concluded that the procedural requirements set forth in G. L. c. 276, §§ 4 to 8, must be followed before a forfeiture decree may be issued under G. L. c. 276, § 3. The court vacated the Superior Court orders denying the return of certain property to the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. View "Commonwealth v. James" on Justia Law

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In January 2021, John William Thomas Flechs, using the pseudonym “John Breezy,” began conversations on the Kik online messaging platform with someone he believed to be a 14-year-old boy. In fact, Flechs was messaging Sergeant John Haning, a member of the Rogers County, Oklahoma Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Over the next four days, Flechs and the minor discussed sexual topics in graphic detail. After they discussed meeting in person, Flechs asked the minor if he would be going to the skatepark. When Flechs arrived at the skatepark, he handed two Dr. Pepper sodas to an officer posing as the minor. Officers then arrested him.A grand jury indicted Flechs for attempted enticement of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). A petit jury returned a guilty verdict. The district court sentenced Flechs to 120 months in prison and five years of supervised release. Flechs timely appealed.On appeal, Flechs argued that the trial evidence was insufficient to prove that he intended to entice the minor or took a substantial step toward enticement. He also argued that the jury instruction on the term “grooming” violated Federal Rule of Evidence 605, contained an unconstitutional presumption on the element of intent, and misstated the law. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed the conviction. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict Flechs of attempted enticement of a minor under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). The court also held that the jury instruction on the term “grooming” did not violate Federal Rule of Evidence 605, did not contain an unconstitutional presumption on the element of intent, and did not misstate the law. View "United States v. Flechs" on Justia Law

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The case involves Raji Afife Azar, who was charged with three counts of "computer crime" under ORS 164.377(2)(c) for selling items on eBay that he believed to be stolen. The state argued that by selling stolen merchandise on eBay, Azar had accessed and used a computer system for the purpose of committing theft of property. Azar moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the state had not proved that he had engaged in "computer hacking," which he asserted was required to establish computer crime. The trial court denied Azar's motion, and a nonunanimous jury convicted him of those counts.The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's denial of Azar's motion for judgment of acquittal. The court concluded that Azar's conduct of selling stolen property on eBay constituted computer crime under ORS 164.377(2)(c). The court reasoned that "theft" as used in ORS 164.377(2)(c) encompasses each of the forms of theft described in ORS 164.015, including theft by receiving.The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court concluded that the legislature did not intend for the computer crime statute to reach conduct such as Azar's, which may constitute "theft" within the meaning of the Criminal Code but neither interferes with another’s protected interests in a computer, computer system, or computer network nor depends on computer technology as the means of gaining access to the thing that the person seeks to unlawfully obtain. The court held that the trial court erred in denying Azar's motion for judgment of acquittal and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "State v. Azar" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Cody Wayne Hopkins, was charged with Attempted Enticement of a Minor Using the Internet, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b). The accusation revolved around an online conversation Hopkins had with a government agent posing as a 13-year-old girl. Despite knowing her age, Hopkins continued the conversation, making explicit sexual remarks, and arranging to meet her at a nearby high school. Upon arriving, Hopkins was arrested, and in a subsequent interview, admitted to knowing the girl was underage but claimed his intention was only to talk to her.During his trial, Hopkins claimed he was severely sleep-deprived during the interview, which led to confusion. However, the prosecution implied that he was lying about this assertion since it was not mentioned in the interview's transcript, which was redacted and given to the jury. Furthermore, the prosecution argued that Hopkins intended to entice a minor into engaging in illegal sexual activity based on his explicit text messages, despite Hopkins's claims of merely wanting to talk.The jury found Hopkins guilty, and he moved for a new trial citing prosecutorial misconduct. He argued that the prosecution had attacked his credibility based on untrue facts - that he had not mentioned sleep deprivation during the interview - and had repeatedly misstated the elements of the charged crime. However, the district court denied his motion for a new trial.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court found no plain error in the prosecution’s conduct that would affect Hopkins' substantial rights, as the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming. The court also did not find any exceptional circumstances warranting reversal due to the prosecutor's alleged misstatement of the elements of the crime during the closing argument. Lastly, the court concluded that the cumulative effect of the alleged prosecutorial misconduct did not deny Hopkins a fair trial. View "United States v. Cody Hopkins" on Justia Law

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The case involves tech icon Steve Wozniak and 17 other plaintiffs who sued YouTube and Google over a cryptocurrency scam. The scam involved hijacking popular YouTube channels, impersonating tech celebrities, and hosting fake live events promising to double any cryptocurrency sent to a specific account. The plaintiffs claimed that YouTube and Google knowingly hosted, promoted, and profited from the scam for years. The trial court dismissed the case on the grounds of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which provides immunity to interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties.On appeal, the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Sixth Appellate District, affirmed the lower court's decision for most of the plaintiffs’ claims. It held that the claims were barred by the CDA as they sought to treat YouTube and Google as publishers of third-party content. However, the court found one claim – that YouTube and Google created their own content and materially contributed to the illegality of the scam by providing verification badges to hijacked YouTube channels – could potentially fall outside the scope of CDA immunity. The court concluded that as currently pleaded, these allegations were inadequate, but there was a reasonable possibility the defects could be cured by amendment. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Wozniak v. YouTube, LLC" on Justia Law

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An online business, Interactive Life Forms, LLC, was sued by a customer, Brinan Weeks, who alleged that the company falsely advertised a product he purchased. In response, the company invoked an arbitration clause found in the terms of use on its website, claiming that these terms bound customers irrespective of whether they clicked on the link or provided any affirmative assent. The company argued that by using the website and making a purchase, Weeks had agreed to the terms of use, which included a provision mandating arbitration for any disputes.The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, finding that the company failed to show the parties agreed to arbitrate their dispute. The court held that the link to the terms of use was insufficient to put a reasonable user on notice of the terms of use and the arbitration agreement.On appeal, the Appellate Court of the State of California, Second Appellate District Division One, affirmed the trial court’s decision. It held that the company failed to establish that a reasonably prudent user would be on notice of the terms of use. The court rejected the company's argument that it should depart from precedent, which generally considers browsewrap provisions unenforceable, and also dismissed the company's claim that Federal Arbitration Act preempts California law adverse to browsewrap provisions. The court concluded there were no grounds to deviate from this precedent, and that the Federal Arbitration Act did not preempt California law concerning browsewrap agreements. The court emphasized that the company had the onus to put users on notice of the terms to which it wished to bind consumers. View "Weeks v. Interactive Life Forms, LLC" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Brian Orlandella, was convicted by a jury of sexual exploitation of a minor and transfer of obscene material to a minor. The charges arose from Orlandella's interactions with a minor via the Kik messenger app. On appeal, Orlandella raised five arguments, all of which were rejected by the court.Orlandella argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, but the court held that a reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that he persuaded the minor to produce explicit videos and pictures. Orlandella also contended that the court erred by not giving the jury a specific unanimity instruction on Count One, but the court held that a general unanimity instruction was sufficient.Furthermore, Orlandella claimed that the government violated its obligations to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense. However, the court found that the evidence in question was not material and its suppression did not undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Orlandella also argued that the court erred by failing to give the jury a missing witness instruction regarding the government's failure to call the minor as a witness. The court found that the minor was not peculiarly available to the government and that Orlandella was not prejudiced by her absence. Finally, Orlandella contended that his incriminating statements were taken in violation of his Miranda rights. The court held that even if there was a Miranda violation, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt given the overwhelming evidence against Orlandella. Consequently, his convictions were affirmed. View "United States v. Orlandella" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs in this case, Steve Wozniak and 17 individuals who fell victim to a cryptocurrency scam, sued YouTube and Google. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants knowingly hosted, promoted, and profited from a scam that falsely claimed Wozniak was hosting a live event, during which anyone who sent cryptocurrency to a specified account would receive double the amount in return. The defendants argued that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provided immunity because the plaintiffs were trying to treat them as publishers of third-party content. However, the plaintiffs contended that they were not treating the defendants as publishers but were instead seeking to hold them liable for engaging in actions they knew would further criminal activity.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Sixth Appellate District held that most of the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act as they sought to treat the defendants as publishers of third-party content. However, the court found that the plaintiffs' claim that defendants created their own content and materially contributed to the scam's illegality by providing verification badges to hijacked YouTube channels potentially fell outside the scope of immunity. The court concluded that the trial court erred in not granting leave to amend the claims related to verification badges. The judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wozniak v. YouTube, LLC" on Justia Law