A “Dirty” Lawsuit: How a Sex Scandal Could Impact Online Defamation Law

A former high school teacher and NFL cheerleader sleeps with her student.  She faces widespread scorn, including scathing Internet comments.  Despite the scorn, she becomes engaged to the student.

It sounds like the plot of a made-for-TV movie.  But these facts form the basis of a landmark defamation lawsuit that could have ramifications for any website that allows users to post comments.

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“River Crabbing” Chinese Search Engine Battles for Freedom of Expression in the U.S.

In 2004, the Chinese Communist Party announced a new national goal of building a “Harmonious Society.”  Since then, this goal has often been cited by the Chinese government as a reason for Internet censorship.  In Mandarin, the word “Harmonious” is pronounced héxié (the accent marks here indicate rising tones).  However, by changing the tones slightly to héxiè (a rising tone followed by a falling tone) the word changes from harmonious to “river crab” – which has become Internet slang for government censor.  So when something suddenly disappears from the Internet in China, people often joke that it has been “river-crabbed.”

Although river-crabbing does not happen here in the United States, last week a federal judge had to address a related problem:  Does the First Amendment allow Baidu.com (China’s version of Google) to censor political speech from its search results for users here in the United States?

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Fun with Facebook

In the last few months, numerous cases involving Facebook have resulted in amusing rulings that we would be remiss to ignore.  On deck for this blog post we have three good ones:

  1. A judge issued an adverse ruling to a litigant who refused the judge’s friend request [Hint: Never refuse a judge’s friend request while the case is still pending!];
  2. A nurse was fired and denied unemployment benefits because of her colorful Facebook rant against her employer; and
  3. A school-district IT director in Georgia trolled through students’ Facebook pages and used a risqué student photo in connection with an internet safety slideshow (causing great embarrassment to the student and her mother).

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Did King.com Really “Trademark” the Word Candy?

Much of the independent video game world is up in arms regarding the recent news that large UK game developer King.com has “trademarked” the word CANDY.  Many see this as an attempt by a Wonka-esque behemoth to grab control of a common word in order to crush its smaller competitors like some piece of common confectionary.  While there may be some truth to that thought, as is often the case when legal issues get picked up by the blogosphere and even mass media, there are also many misperceptions clouding the debate.  Because I feel that if I’m going to take a (short) break from playing CANDY CRUSH, I might as well write about it, I want to try to clear up some misconceptions.

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Federal Judge Declares Sherlock Holmes Characters in Public Domain. Sort of.

Comedian Dmitri Martin has a great joke about the expression “sort of.”  Although normally a fairly meaningless expression, saying “sort of” after certain things suddenly becomes very important.  Such as after the phrase “I love you,” or “You’re going to live,” or “It’s a boy.”  I immediately thought of this joke after reading a recent order issued by a federal court in Illinois.  The order declared that Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, 221B Baker Street, the evil Professor Moriarty, and other elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved works have fallen into the public domain.

Sort of.

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“Hustlin’” to a Legal Victory: Rick Ross and the Right of Publicity

California gives you the right to profit from your own identity.  But what if you assume somebody else’s?

Rick Ross is famous for rapping about cocaine.  Ricky D. Ross is famous for selling it.  Ross (the cocaine dealer) alleged that Ross (the rapper) misappropriated his name and likeness for his own financial benefit.  Or as one person wrote: “Rick Ross sued Rick Ross for being Rick Ross.”

A recent California appellate decision settled the dispute.  But before revealing who prevailed (hint: it was a Ross), some background on the Ross v. Ross feud, and the right to publicity.

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