James Leito

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Social Media Stars and Defamation

This blog recently discussed regular people who have become internet sensations through the use of social media. Chiara Ferragni, for example, started a fashion blog in 2009. She is now a multimillionaire with approximately 5,000,000 Instagram followers.  Tay Zonday posted his song “Chocolate Rain” on YouTube in 2007, which led to numerous appearances on daytime and late night talk shows.  Nearly a decade later, Zonday’s deep bass voice has been heard a staggering 107,000,000 times on YouTube.  While social media platforms have brought individuals such as these increased attention and fame, these platforms have undoubtedly made it more difficult for … Continue Reading

Legal blogs and protected speech

In Huon v. Breaking Media, LLC, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that federal law protects internet publishers from defamation claims based on content posted by commenters to online news stories (See Memorandum Opinion and Order, No. 1:11-cv-03054 (Dec. 4, 2014)).

In Huon, the plaintiff sued the popular online legal blog Above the Law (among other internet publishers). Above the Law had posted an article concerning the plaintiff’s arrest and trial related to sexual assault charges. The article generated over 100 comments, some of which the plaintiff claimed were defamatory, and the … Continue Reading

Pre-suit discovery on social media

A Kings County, New York court has held that a plaintiff may obtain social media information (such as another’s user information and evidence posted through social media) as part of pre-suit discovery under New York law. This decision could have ramifications in a number of jurisdictions that permit pre-suit discovery to preserve evidence and/or obtain identities of witnesses or potential parties. See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ. P 27; N.J. R. Civ. P. 4:11-1; Tex. R. Civ. P. 202. N.Y. C.P.L.R. 3102.

In Lemon Juice v. Twitter, Inc., 44 Misc. 3d 1225(A) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 29, 2014) the plaintiff … Continue Reading

eDiscovery and private social media accounts

The United States District Court for the District of Kansas recently clarified the scope of discoverable information from private social media accounts.

In Stonebarger v. Union Pacific Corp., a wrongful death case where plaintiffs were seeking to recover damages for the deaths of two individuals killed in a collision, the defendants requested two types of information from plaintiffs’ social media accounts: (1) all account data for each plaintiff’s Facebook page, and (2) all photographs posted, uploaded or otherwise added to any social networking sites or blogs since the date of the accident.

Plaintiffs asserted various objections (including relevancy, … Continue Reading

Social media authentica-tion issues

The Mississippi Supreme Court recently set forth a standard for authentication of social media profiles and messages. In Smith v. State, 2012-CT-00218-SCT (Miss. 2014), the court addressed the admissibility of Facebook messages purportedly sent by the defendant in a capital murder case.

According to the prosecution, the defendant exchanged several Facebook messages with his wife regarding their relationship and the wife’s child from a previous relationship, who was the murder victim. To authenticate the messages, the prosecution offered the testimony of the wife, who stated that she had received the messages from the defendant. The prosecution also noted that … Continue Reading

Jurors and social media

A recent article published in the Duke Law and Technology Review sheds new light on the jury’s use (or more precisely, lack of use) of social media when given proper instructions from the Court. (See Amy J. St. Eve, et al., More from the #Jury Box: The Latest on Juries and Social Media, 12 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 65 (2013)). While it is well documented that social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, can affect the scope of discovery or have an evidentiary impact on a trial, social media use can also impact the fairness of the trial.  … Continue Reading

Identifying anonymous reviewers

On January 7, 2014, a majority of a Virginia appellate court held that a social media provider can be required to disclose the identity of its anonymous users. See Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., No. 0116-13-4 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 7, 2014).

A Virginia carpet cleaning business had subpoenaed from Yelp the identity of certain Yelp users who posted negative reviews about the business. In particular, the business alleged that the reviews were false, defamatory, and did not match any customers in the business’s database. In response to the subpoena,

Yelp argued that the identities were protected … Continue Reading

SPEECH Act – US and Canadian defamation standards

In a case of first impression, the Fifth Circuit recently applied the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (“SPEECH Act”) to protect a blogger from a defamation-based default judgment obtained in Canada.  28 U.S.C. § 4201; Trout Point Lodge, Ltd. v. Handshoe, No. 13-60002 (5th Cir. Sept. 5, 2013).

The plaintiffs had sought to enforce the judgment in Mississippi state court, and the defendant removed the case to federal court under the Act, enacted in 2010.

The Mississippi-based defendant ran a blog ostensibly providing a forum for local residents to gather and share … Continue Reading

Shared Social Media Accounts

A court in the Eastern District of Texas recently held that two companies were “integrated employers” under the Family Medical Leave Act, in part, because the two companies shared a Facebook page. Dooling v. Bank of the West, No. 4:11-cv-00576 (E.D. Tex. July 17, 2013) (Bush, Mag. J.).

This conclusion allowed the plaintiff to establish her status as an eligible employee under the FMLA because both companies combined had more than 50 employees.

Our readers may be aware that the concepts of joint employer, integrated employer, co-employer or dual employer can arise in other areas. In the workers’ compensation … Continue Reading

Social Media and Anti-SLAPP Cases

In a recent defamation case where the defendant sought anti-SLAPP protection related to internet forum posts about the plaintiffs, a federal district court recognized that social-media speech is no different from “traditional” speech. See Piping Rock Partners, Inc. v. David Lerner Assocs., Inc., No. C 12-04634 SI (N.D. Cal. May 17, 2013) (Illston, J.).

“SLAPP” is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, defined in Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed.) as “a suit brought by a developer, corporate executive, or elected official to stifle those who protest against some type of high-dollar initiative or who take an adverse … Continue Reading

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