Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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Customedia’s patents, which share a specification, disclose comprehensive data management and processing systems that comprise a remote AccountTransaction Server (ATS) and a local host Data Case Management System and Audio/Video Processor Recorderplayer (VPR/DMS), e.g., a cable set-top box. Broadcasters and other content providers transmit advertising data via the ATS to a local VPR/DMS. That data be selectively recorded in programmable storage sections in the VPR/DMS according to a user’s preferences. These storage sections may be “reserved, rented, leased or purchased from end user[s], content providers, broadcasters, cable/satellite distributor, or other data communications companies administering the data products and services.” On Dish Network’s petition for review, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found various claims ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101 and other claims unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 102. The Federal Circuit affirmed the ineligibility finding, applying the Supreme Court’s “Alice” holding that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patent-eligible.” The claimed invention is at most an improvement to the abstract concept of targeted advertising wherein computers are merely used as a tool; the invocation of already-available computers that are not themselves plausibly asserted to be an advance amounts to a recitation of what is well-understood, routine, and conventional. View "Customedia Technologies, LLC v. Dish Network Corp." on Justia Law

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Nelson Auto filed suit against KARE 11, alleging that the news provider published false and defamatory statements regarding a criminal complaint filed by the State of Minnesota in Otter Tail County District Court charging Gerald Worner, Nelson Auto's former Fleet Manager, with five counts of theft by swindle. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of KARE 11's motion to dismiss, holding that the district court did not err by concluding that Nelson Auto is a public figure as a matter of Minnesota law. The court agreed with the district court that, given the absence of facts from which actual malice might reasonably be inferred, the allegations show nothing more than oversight on KARE 11's part, which does not constitute actual malice. View "Nelson Auto Center, Inc. v. Multimedia Holdings Corp." on Justia Law

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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

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In 1992, Leslie Hill pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of distributing obscene material for renting adult videos at a video-rental store he owned. In November 2013, Hill was arrested in Homewood on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications. Pursuant to that arrest, the Sheriff's Department determined that, based on Hill's 1992 convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("SORNA"). Hill refused to do so on the ground that the 1992 convictions did not qualify as sex offenses under SORNA. The Sheriff's Department collaborated with WVTM-TV on a weekly televised news segment entitled "To Catch a Predator;" the Department would “select somebody that we were either having trouble finding or somebody that had refused to come register or whatever the case may be. . . .And we would type up a script for the Sheriff to read, and then we would take it over to his office and he would read it basically in front of one of the TV cameras in his office to run on TV." Hill was featured on the December 6, 2013, segment of "To Catch a Predator." After the December 6 broadcast, Hill, through his attorney, contacted the district attorney’s office expressing his opinion that his 1992 convictions did not constitute a sex offense under SORNA. A deputy district attorney agreed and requested that the warrants be recalled. On December 10, 2013, both warrants issued against Hill were recalled. Neither Hill nor his attorney contacted WVTM after the December 6 broadcast to inform it that the warrants against Hill had been recalled. On a December 13 airing of the program, a news anchor stated the warrants against Hill had been recalled. Nevertheless, Hill sued Sheriff Hale, a deputy and lieutenant, and WVTM, alleging state-law claims of defamation, false light, negligent training and supervision, and the tort of outrage against all defendants. In appeal no. 1180343, Birmingham Broadcasting (WVTM-TV) appealed a $250,000 judgment entered on a defamation verdict against it. In appeal no. 1180370, Hill appealed the dismissal of all the claims Hill asserted against three members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department") on the basis of state immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in appeal no. 1180343 and rendered judgment in favor of WVTM, and affirmed judgment in appeal no. 1180370. View "Birmingham Broadcasting" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the district court's award of attorney fees and costs to the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ), which had petitioned the district court to compel production of unreacted juvenile autopsy reports under the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA) after the Clark County Coroner's Office refused, holding that a governmental entity is not immune from an attorney fees award to which a prevailing records requester is entitled under Nev. Rev. Stat. 239.011. The Coroner's Office argued that it may refuse to disclose a juvenile autopsy report once it has provided the report to a Child Death Review (CDR) team and that juvenile autopsy reports may include sensitive information that may be properly redacted as privileged. The Coroner's Office further argued that action 239.012 immunizes a governmental entity from an award of attorney fees when that entity withholds public records in good faith. The Supreme Court held (1) Nev. Rev. Stat. 423B.407(6)'s applies strictly to the CDR team as a whole; (2) the district court erred when it ordered the production of unreacted juvenile autopsy reports; and (3) the award of attorney fees must be vacated because it cannot yet be determined whether LVRJ is a prevailing party in its underlying NPRA action. View "Clark County Office of the Coroner v. Las Vegas Review-Journal" on Justia Law

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Higgins refereed an Elite Eight game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2017. The close contest between the Kentucky Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels ended when the Tar Heels scored with less than a second on the clock. Kentucky’s coach thought the referees, Higgins in particular, had disfavored his team. Higgins’ roofing business suffered losses after he became the target of an online campaign orchestrated by Kentucky fans who pinned the loss on Higgins. Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio and some of its contributors, alleging that their post-game coverage incited the harassment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The First Amendment safeguards the radio station’s right to comment on Higgins’ performance and the fans’ reactions to it, even it "might have exercised their First Amendment rights more responsibly." Kentucky Sports Radio commented on a matter of public concern. Speech that does not “specifically advocate” for listeners to take unlawful action does not constitute incitement. Kentucky Sports Radio knew or should have known, the volatility of the situation but the station did more to fan the flames of discontent than to extinguish them. "The Constitution protects that choice. A conscience must do the rest." Merely repeating potentially false reviews generated by other users may be in bad taste but cannot by itself constitute defamation. View "Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio, LLC" on Justia Law

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In February 2010, AMS sent a fax advertisement to 11,422 different numbers from a recently acquired customer list. PHI filed a putative class action suit asserting that those faxes violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The district court subsequently certified the proposed class, granted PHI’s motion for summary judgment on liability against AMS and its CEO, entered a nearly $6 million judgment, and approved a distribution plan for that judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. AMS conceded that the fax in question was an advertisement that lacked any kind of disclaimer explaining how to opt-out of future faxes. AMS did not meet its burden of proving that it had prior express invitation or permission to send faxes; even if the company from which it obtained the customer list had express permission to send faxes, that permission is not transferrable under the TCPA. View "Physicians Healthsource, Inc. v. A-S Medication Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Viamedia sued Comcast under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, for using its monopoly power in one service market (Interconnect) to exclude competition and gain monopoly power in another service market (advertising representation) in the Chicago, Detroit, and Hartford geographic markets. Interconnect services are cooperative selling arrangements for advertising through an “Interconnect” that enables retail cable television service providers to sell advertising targeted efficiently at regional audiences. Advertising representation services assist those providers with the sale and delivery of national, regional, and local advertising slots. Viamedia’s evidence indicated Comcast used its monopoly power over the Interconnect to force its smaller retail cable television competitors to stop doing business with Viamedia; Viamedia’s customers for advertising representation (Comcast’s retail cable competitors) switched to Comcast because Comcast presented a choice: either start buying advertising representation services from us and regain access to the Interconnect or keep buying services from Viamedia and stay cut off from the Interconnect they needed to compete effectively. The strategy cost Comcast millions of dollars in the short run but eventually gave it monopoly power in these local markets for advertising representation services. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Viamedia’s case. Giving Viamedia the benefit of its allegations and evidence, this is not a case in which Section 2 is being misused to protect weaker competitors rather than competition more generally. Viamedia has also adequately stated a claim that Comcast has unlawfully refused to deal with Viamedia and any cable competitor that bought advertising representation from Viamedia. View "Viamedia, Inc. v. Comcast Corp." on Justia Law

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NTCH challenged the Commission's three spectrum-management decisions: first, the Commission "modified" Dish Network's license in the AWS-4 Band to authorize the company to develop a stand-alone terrestrial network that could support wireless broadband services; second, the Commission "waived," a year later, certain technical restrictions on these modified licenses, though it conditioned the waivers on Dish Network's commitment to bid a certain sum of money in a public auction for adjacent spectrum in the so-called "H Block;" and third, the Commission designed and conducted "Auction 96," in which Dish Network bid as promised and won the H Block licenses. The DC Circuit denied NTCH's petitions for review of the district court's orders modifying Dish Network's AWS-4 licenses and establishing Auction 96’s procedures. Applying a deferential standard of review, the court held that the Commission's decision to authorize standalone terrestrial services in the AWS-4 Band sought to encourage "innovative methods of exploiting the spectrum," to address the "urgent need" for wireless broadband. Furthermore, the Commission chose to modify Dish Network's licenses largely because of the "technical judgment," that same-band, separate-operator sharing of the spectrum would be impractical. The court held that the Commission's decision was logical and that the Commission's failure to consider an alternative was not unreasonable. The court rejected NTCH's remaining contentions that the Commission's decision exceeded its authority under section 316 of the Communications Act. In regard to the Auction 96 procedures, the court held that NTCH failed to show that the Commission's decision was arbitrary and capricious. However, the court held that the Commission wrongly dismissed NTCH's challenges to the waiver orders for lack of administrative standing, and thus remanded for the Commission to consider those claims on the merits. View "NTCH, Inc. v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Telephone Consumer Protection Act bars certain uses of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” which it defines as equipment with the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” as well as the capacity to dial those numbers AT&T’s “Customer Rules Feedback Tool,” a device that sends surveys to customers who have interacted with AT&T’s customer service department, exclusively dials numbers stored in a customer database. AT&T sent unwanted automated text messages to Gadelhak. Gadelhak brought a putative class action under the Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1). The district court held and the Seventh Circuit affirmed that AT&T’s system did not qualify as an “automatic telephone dialing system.” While characterizing the Act as a grammatical nightmare, the court concluded that the phrase “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies both “store” and “produce.” AT&T’s system neither stores nor produces numbers using a random or sequential number generator. View "Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc." on Justia Law