Negative Content Lawsuit Cyberstalking Cyberbullying Cyberharassment Legal remedy.
The negative content lawsuit of Huon v. Breaking Media, et. al.
The plaintiff brought forth negative content lawsuit for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, invasion of privacy, and cyber stalking, and cyber bullying. In the case of online mugshots, one might also consider cyber harassment.
The Chicago attorney Meanith Huon sued a legal blog, a blogger, and the managing editor for 50 million dollars and control of the domain name “Abovethelaw.com.” The case is ongoing.
In 2008, Mr. Huon was charged with two counts of sexual assault, two counts of sexual abuse, one count of unlawful restraint. The complaining witness, name withheld, alleged that while Mr. Huon was driving on Interstate 55 at highway speeds, he ‘yelled’ to her to ‘suck his dick’ and that she allegedly performed oral sex while he continued to drive. There are no other allegations of force or threat of force. The woman claimed that she escaped by jumping from his moving vehicle, according to testimony from the criminal trial. Jurors deliberated for about two hours before issuing a not guilty verdict.
The examination of Mr. Huon’s pleading illustrates both how to draw a legal pleading and that contrary to the negative contents industry claims that mugshot and other negative content producers are not immune from legal remedies. A negative content lawsuit is one way of exerting your rights not to be cyberbullied, cyberstalked, or cyberharassed by the mugshot industry, or other negative content provider.
In the negative content lawsuit, Mr. Huon makes a claim for the cause of action under five distinct claims that amount to false light, infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, cyber stalking, and cyber bullying, and highly offensive and outrageous invasion of privacy. Mr. Huon then alleges that the defendant’s actions have caused him severe public embarrassment, competitive and reputational harm as well as economic loss.
Mr. Huon seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the plaintiffs, as well as an injunction prohibiting publishing or republishing of the material. In paragraph 143(6), Mr. Huon seeks the transfer of the domain names of the offending websites to himself. If the plaintiffs would have failed to answer the complaint, Mr. Huon could have asked the courts for summary judgment of his negative content lawsuit and this would have potential of shutting the offending website down.
Beginning at paragraph 7, Mr.Huon presents the jurisdiction and venue of the court, this is a requirement of the court; they must know that they have proper jurisdiction to hear the matter, and what gives them that jurisdiction. A common failing in lawsuits is a failure to state jurisdiction and venue. In “Right to publicity” cases, you should also specify that you are relying on the Lanham act and cite the appropriate section; specify that you have not given permission to use your likeness, are not receiving compensation for the use of your likeness, and how the plaintiff is receiving revenue (advertising, takedown fees, etc.)
In an internet case such as would be brought against a negative content publisher, it is not necessary that you file in the jurisdiction that the content publisher is incorporated in, or that they operate from. It is only necessary to show that you are affected and that you live in the jurisdiction that you have filed the action in.
Beginning at paragraph 10, Mr. Huon begins showing that the courts also have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs. In this case, all of the defendants were American corporations. In a case involving a foreign corporation, it may only be necessary to show that the webpages are displayed in the United States and the jurisdiction that you live in; it is unsettled. This declaration of jurisdiction continues to paragraph 31.
At paragraph 32 Mr.Huon begins listing a statement of facts from which the courts can determine if there is an issue they have jurisdiction over, and that there is remedy that they can grant. Mr. Huon lists the entire history of the case though this is often not required; you generally need only enough fact that the courts can determine that the complaint has merit.
At paragraph 41, Mr. Huon begins stating how the various defendants specifically violated his rights and made the claims that the actions are wanton violations of his rights. This sets the facts that will be decided in subsequent hearings, but is amendable in future pleadings.
At paragraph 70, Mr.Huon shows how the defendants exercised control over the content of the material. This is done in order to strip the claim of immunity of the website operators under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 USC 230). Section 230(c)(1) provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an “interactive computer service” who publish information provided by others:
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
In analyzing the availability of the immunity offered by this provision, courts generally apply a three-prong test. A defendant must satisfy each of the three prongs to gain the benefit of the immunity:
1. The defendant must be a “provider or user” of an “interactive computer service.”
2. The cause of action asserted by the plaintiff must “treat” the defendant “as the publisher or speaker” of the harmful information at issue.
3. The information must be “provided by another information content provider,” i.e., the defendant must not be the “information content provider” of the harmful information at issue.
At paragraph 86 Mr. Huon specifically and clearly shows how Gawker gained commercial advantage and revenue:
“Reuters described the Jezebel Defendants’ commenting system designed to generate more money with advertisers:
So Gawker’s new commenting system is based around threads, with the default view being the main, most interesting thread. It’s possible to click through to other threads, and every thread — indeed, every comment — has its own unique URL; what’s more, the person who starts a thread has quite a lot of control over which comments in that thread will get featured.
What that means is that if an advertiser buys a sponsored post — and sponsored posts have been part of Gawker’s menu of offerings for some time now — then once the new commenting system is in place, the advertiser will have a reasonably large degree of control of the conversation that most people see in that post.”
In paragraph 88, Mr. Huon shows that the defendants used a comment control system, and that the comment system contributed to website revenue:
“The Jezebel Defendants control, block, edit and promote the comments that users can leave regarding the article. Defendants promote some comments and do not publish other comments. Defendants can promote certain comments by users, placing the comments at the top of the page or in a prominent location for all readers to view. Defendants have “Featured” and “Promoted Discussion” Comments.”
In paragraph 91 – 92, the plaintiff clarifies how the comments were monetized.
Paragraph 100 shows that website optimization was used to place negative content highly in a Google Search.
Paragraph 101 shows that the defendants published the plaintiff’s personal identifying information. Many negative content industries publish dates of birth, addresses, social security numbers, place of birth, and so on. In many jurisdictions, the publishing of this information not only constitutes invasion of privacy, but also meets the statutory requirements of identification theft. Even when states laws do not prohibit the use of the information, the display of that personal identification information increases the person’s exposure to identity theft and possible criminal prosecution resulting from the unauthorized use of their identification information.
In paragraph 115, Mr. Huon makes a showing that the defendants conducted no investigation into the truthfulness of what those defendants posted, or that the allegations were dismissed.
In paragraphs 122 and 123, the plaintiff made a showing that the defendants did not investigate the official proceedings and only relied on internet sources. Mugshot sites rely on the internet for their material.
At paragraph 128, Mr. Huon indicated that he had made reasonable efforts to have the negative content removed and that the defendants refused to remove the material.
In paragraph 129, the plaintiff made a showing that because of the negative content against Mr. Huon that Mr. Huon’s public perception was destroyed. With much negative content, an image of a booking photograph is enough to convince a person that the individual is an active and dangerous criminal.
In paragraph 131 it is alleged that the defendants acted with intent and malice and that they actively attempted to cause personal and professional harm. If a website pursues Search engine optimization, it would be a good assumption that their actions are intentional.
In paragraphs 133 through 135, a showing is made that there are personal and business opportunities that are the result of the defendants actions. Much negative content, especially mugshots, have a serious potential of limiting employment, housing, and personal opportunities. The cost of this negative content to an individual and to society is generally incalculable and detrimental to society and the individual.
Paragraphs 136 through 138 show that injunctive relief is appropriate because there is no adequate relief at law, plaintiff will continue to suffer harm in the absence of injunctive relief, and that the defendants have no legal right to continue the actionable, offensive, and wrongful acts. In the case of booking photographs, the federal case law clearly indicates that there is no legal right to display mugshots. Though federal law does not necessarily restrict a states right to permit the display of a mugshot, the Federal Lanham act does give all members of this country the right to control their image in commercial ventures; a states “Right to publicity” may be stronger than the federal law. The negative content industry violates federal law, and in many situations state law, when they publish your picture without your written consent. There is no legal right to break the law.
As we can clearly see from this filed and active complaint, the negative content industry does engage in cyber stalking, cyber bullying, and cyber harassment with the intent of driving profit into the pockets of the website owners. This complaint also shows that those actions do have legal remedy and consequence.
This action is a pattern that illustrates how to successfully write a complaint against the negative content industry. What will become of it in the future? Only the future knows. Recently Google lost a 200,000 dollar judgment in Australia for negative content. Prior to this, Microsoft lost a 250,000 dollar judgment in Europe for negative content that violates privacy laws.
Full listing of all the documents, pleadings, and minute entries filed in Huon v. Breaking Media et. al. can be reviewed at Justice.com.