Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Internet Law

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A claim of genericness or "genericide," where the public appropriates a trademark and uses it as a generic name for particular types of goods or services irrespective of its source, must be made with regard to a particular type of good or service. Plaintiffs petitioned for cancellation of the GOOGLE trademark under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1064(3), based on the ground that it is generic. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Google, Inc., holding that plaintiffs failed to recognize that a claim of genericide must always relate to a particular type of good or service, and that plaintiffs erroneously assumed that verb use automatically constitutes generic use; the district court correctly framed its inquiry as whether the primary significance of the word "google" to the relevant public was as a generic name for internet search engines or as a mark identifying the Google search engine in particular; the assumption that a majority of the public uses the verb "google" in a generic and indiscriminate sense, on its own, could not support a jury finding of genericide under the primary significance test; and plaintiffs have failed to present sufficient evidence in this case to support a jury finding that the relevant public primarily understands the word "google" as a generic name for internet search engines and not as a mark identifying the Google search engine in particular. View "Elliott v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mavrix filed suit against LiveJournal for posting 20 of its copyrighted photographs online. The district court granted summary judgment for LiveJournal, holding that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), safe harbor protected LiveJournal from liability because Mavrix's photographs were posted at the direction of the user. In this case, when users submitted Mavrix's photographs to LiveJournal, LiveJournal posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators led by a LiveJournal employee reviewed and approved them. The court disagreed with the district court and concluded that the common law of agency does apply to this analysis and that there were genuine factual disputes regarding whether the moderators were LiveJournal's agents. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for trial. The court addressed the remaining issues that the district court addressed because these issues may be contested on remand. On remand, the district court must determine whether LiveJournal met the section 512(c) safe harbor threshold requirement by showing that the photographs were posted at the direction of the user, then LiveJournal must show that it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringements and that it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control. View "Mavrix Photographs, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the developer of the computer code for the original John Madden Football game for the Apple II computer, filed a diversity action against EA, seeking contract damages in the form of unpaid royalties for Sega Madden and Super Nintendo Madden. The court concluded that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) to EA under the "intrinsic test" because the jury had no evidence of Apple II Madden or Sega Madden as a whole to enable it to make a subjective comparison. In this case, plaintiff's claims rest on the contention that the source code of the Sega Madden games infringed on the source code for Apple II Madden. But, none of the source code was in evidence. The jury therefore could not compare the works to determine substantial similarity. The court rejected plaintiff's argument that EA’s post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion for JMOL regarding the intrinsic test should not have been considered. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in dismissing the Super Nintendo derivative work claims where the Apple II and Super Nintendo processors have different instruction sizes and data word sizes; the court agreed with the district court that the jury could not have determined plaintiff's damages from the alleged breach to a reasonable certainty; and even if the district court erred, there was no harm because plaintiff's failure to introduce any source code precluded a finding that Super Nintendo Madden was a Derivative Work. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the claim that EA used development aids to create non-derivative works because the claim is unsubstantiated. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Antonick v. Electronic Arts, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, owner of a locksmith business, filed suit against Yelp, alleging that Yelp is responsible for causing a review from another site to appear on its page, providing a star-rating function that transforms user reviews into Yelp’s own content, and “caus[ing] [the statements] to appear” as a promotion on Google’s search engine. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230(c), “immunizes providers of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties.” In this case, the threadbare allegations of fabrication of statements are implausible on their face and are insufficient to avoid immunity under the CDA. The court also concluded that Yelp’s rating system, which is based on rating inputs from third parties and which reduces this information into a single, aggregate metric is user-generated data. Nor do plaintiff's arguments that Yelp can be held liable for “republishing” the same content as advertisements or promotions on Google survive close scrutiny. The court concluded that, just as Yelp is immune from liability under the CDA for posting user-generated content on its own website, Yelp is not liable for disseminating the same content in essentially the same format to a search engine, as this action does not change the origin of the third-party content. The court noted that proliferation and dissemination of content does not equal creation or development of content. View "Kimzey v. Yelp!" on Justia Law

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Facebook filed suit against Power over a promotional campaign where Power accessed Facebook users’ data and initiated form emails and other electronic messages promoting its website. The court concluded that Power did not violate the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7706(g)(1), because neither e-mails nor internal messages sent through Power’s promotional campaign were materially misleading. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's judgment as to this claim and remanded for entry of judgment for defendants. The court held that a defendant can run afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), when he or she has no permission to access a computer or when such permission has been revoked explicitly. The court also held that a violation of the terms of use of a website - without more - cannot be the basis for liability under the CFAA. In this case, after receiving the cease and desist letter from Facebook, Power intentionally accessed Facebook’s computers knowing that it was not authorized to do so, making Power liable under the CFAA. Therefore, the court affirmed in part the holding of the district court with respect to the CFAA. The court also affirmed in part the district court’s holding that Power violated California Penal Code section 502 where Power knowingly accessed and without permission took, copied, and made use of Facebook’s data; affirmed the district court’s holding that Power's CEO, Steven Vachani, is personally liable for Power’s actions; and affirmed the discovery sanctions imposed against Power for non-compliance during a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. However, the court vacated the injunction and the award of damages, remanding the case to the district court to reconsider appropriate remedies. View "Facebook, Inc. v. Vachani" on Justia Law
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Telesocial, a San Francisco start-up, entered into a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) regarding a possible agreement to acquire Telesocial's software application named "Call Friends." This dispute stems from Telesocial's allegations that Orange violated federal and state laws by stealing Telesocial's technology to create its own product called "Party Call." Orange and its employees seek a writ of mandamus under 28 U.S.C. 1651 directing the district court to vacate its order denying Orange’s motion to dismiss, and direct an entry of judgment dismissing Telesocial’s First Amended Complaint (FAC). The court applied the Bauman v. United States factors and concluded that the district court did not commit clear legal error in determining that the NDA did not cover the claims at issue; Orange has the ability on direct appeal to attain the relief it desires; Orange will not be prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; and the district court’s decision does not raise a novel issue that affects the international business community. Accordingly, the court denied Orange’s petition for writ of mandamus. View "Orange, S.A. v. USDC for the Northern Dist. of CA, San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Google's AdWords program is an auction-based program through which advertisers would bid for Google to place their advertisements on websites. Pulaski and others filed a putative class action alleging that Google misled them as to the types of websites on which their advertisements could appear. On appeal, Pulaski challenged the district court's denial of class certification, holding that on the claim for restitution, common questions did not predominate over questions affecting individual class members. The court held that a court need not make individual determinations regarding entitlement to restitution. Instead, restitution is available on a class wide basis once the class representative makes the threshold showing of liability. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court erred in holding that such individual questions would predominate. In Yokoyama v. Midland National Life Insurance Co., the court held that damage calculations alone cannot defeat certification. The court concluded that Yokoyama remains the law of the court and the district court erred in not following the rule in Yokoyama. Finally, the court concluded that the proposed method for calculating restitution was not “arbitrary” under Comcast Corp. v. Behrend. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Pulaski & Middleman, LLC v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) creates and assigns top level domains (TLDs), such as “.com” and “.net.” Plaintiff, a registry specializing in “expressive” TLDs, filed suit alleging that the 2012 Application Round for the creation of new TLDs violated federal and California law. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court rejected plaintiff's claims for conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce under section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, because plaintiff failed to allege an anticompetitive agreement; the court rejected plaintiff's claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, because ICANN’s authority was lawfully obtained through a contract with the DOC and did not unlawfully acquire or maintain its monopoly; the trademark and unfair competition claims were not ripe for adjudication because plaintiff has not alleged that ICANN has delegated or intends to delegate any of the TLDs that plaintiff uses; and the complaint failed to allege a claim for tortious interference or unfair business practice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "name.space, Inc. V. ICANN" on Justia Law

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MTM filed suit against online retailer Amazon under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., alleging that Amazon had infringed MTM's trademark. MTM argues that initial interest confusion might occur because Amazon lists the search term used – here the trademarked phrase “mtm special ops” – three times at the top of its search page. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon. The court considered five non-exhaustive Sleekcraft factors to determine whether a trademark gives rise to a likelihood of confusion: the strength of the mark, relatedness/proximity of the goods, evidence of actual confusion, defendant’s intent, and the degree of care exercised by purchasers. The court concluded that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether there is a likelihood of confusion under the initial interest confusion theory. Finally, the court held that the customer-generated use of a trademark in the retail search context is a use in commerce. In this case, Amazon's purpose is not less commercial just because it is selling wares, not advertising space. Therefore, the court declined to affirm the district court on the alternative ground that Amazon’s use is not a use in commerce. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Multi Time Machine v. Amazon.com" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an aspiring model, filed a failure to warn suit against Internet Brands, the company who owns the website modelmayhem.com. Plaintiff had posted information about herself on the website and two rapists used the website to lure her to a fake audition where they drugged her, raped her, and recorded her for a pornographic video. The district court dismissed plaintiff's action because her claim was barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230(c). The court held that section 230(c)(1) precludes liability that treats a website as the publisher or speaker of information users provide on the website. This section protects websites from liability for material posted on the website from someone else. In this case, plaintiff does not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as a "publisher or speaker" of content someone posted on modelmayhem.com, or for Internet Brands' failure to remove content on the website. Plaintiff also does not claim to have been lured by any posting that Internet Brands failed to remove. Instead, plaintiff attempts to hold Internet Brands liable for failing to warn her about how third parties targeted and lured victims through the website. The duty to warn allegedly imposed by California law would not require Internet Brands to remove any user content or otherwise affect how it publishes such content. Therefore, the CDA does not bar plaintiff's failure to warn claim and the CDA was not a valid basis to dismiss the complaint. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.View "Doe v. Internet Brands, Inc." on Justia Law