View Full Version : California lawyer sues Yahoo over message-board posts
08-06-2004, 11:36 AM
California lawyer sues Yahoo over message-board posts
LOS ANGELES, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A California lawyer who has waged an ongoing battle with Yahoo Inc. over personal attacks made against him on Yahoo message boards has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the company.
Why a class action lawsuit? I thought that people could write anything they want on message boards and the forum operator would not be responsible for what someone else wrote?
08-10-2004, 05:22 AM
There are two things here. One, the posts are the property of the original poster. They hold the copyright to such posts and are liable for them, not the forum operators. This is often spelled out somewhere in the TOS and that the operators cannot be held responsible.
The suit (as I read it) is pretty lame.
Other users also took personal shots at Galton, and he filed suit in April of this year against them. At the same time, he sought their personal information via a subpoena from Yahoo. The company, the suit said, responded with incomplete or inaccurate information.
For one thing ... this is no different than a flame war on any other board that I have seen. Often the guy taking the brunt of the stick starts to cry foul and cries (wah, wah, type of crying) that he wants the posts deleted.
Next the guy starts to blame the forum operator for not "moderating" like a professional, and what he would have done. I have heard this all before.
The fact that Yahoo DID provide this guy with information (it may be required) is all that Yahoo could do. It does not matter if it is incomplete or inaccurate --- that is what these people signed up as or allowed Yahoo to know.
Should Yahoo provide more info, like IP addresses? Probably, but I have not seen the posts -- nor do I know the other side of the story. Was Yahoo asked for IPs? dunno ... no mention in that brief blurb.
The suit proposes as a class any California resident who has been targeted by abusive messages on a Yahoo board, who tried to get such messages stopped or learn the identity of the message poster, and who had such requests denied within the last four years. It seeks restitution, a permanent injunction and other forms of relief.
Looking particularly for "denials" here. This guy is fishing in the wind in my opinion.
From my observances of these flame attacks, it is usually the guy who is crying foul that stirs the pot to boiling in the first place. He always comes in under the guise of defense of his (or someone else's) good name and does nothing more than start something short of a riot. Normally, these people do it intentionally because they have nothing better to do with their time or a little bit anal retentive to begin with.
Most of the time it is some obscure fragment or sentence out of hundreds that nobody would even notice, nor would they even care. Sometimes the person is not even mentioned by name, but here comes Peter Crier to take offense to it -- and let's the cat out of the bag that it was him who the poster was referring to.
Had they left it alone in the first place -- then it would have been buried in less than a couple of hours (if I know message boards at Yahoo, it would have been minutes).
But again ... without seeing the posts in question or the history, I cannot pass any judgement on this one except to say that I do not think he has a leg to stand on.
08-10-2004, 08:40 AM
I think this big shot lawyer will see many-a-DDoS attacks, hacking, spam bombs etc from the internet community. Not me personally but there are many privicy advocates will not let him do this kind of thing un-punished.
08-10-2004, 03:21 PM
It's mostly amusing, except for the fact that he's wasting the court's time. He's obviously not very net savvy if he expected otherwise, just up and posting in a user group, without first learning the ropes. He sounds like a crybaby (I'll probably be named in the lawsuit too now cause I "called him a name." LOL
Most lawyers have a bit tougher hide.
08-10-2004, 04:01 PM
I know this is different, well, maybe not.... But I have been (still do) called names, abused, etc in a well known chatroom (that is slander), and I mean bad (wont say what).... and when I sent the offending company a screenshot (well, 20 I might add) and evidence, they just fobbed me off and told me to change my handle.... Lucky I can ignore the abuse....
But I bet if you said that Bill Gates was seen in a red-light area, you'd be sued just like that!
Oh, to be famous!
08-10-2004, 04:22 PM
Let's see if I have this straight...
A Lawyer + California = Frivolous Lawsuit.
I'm not surprised. Only in America, folks.
08-10-2004, 05:52 PM
Actually slander is spoken and can be gestured, where libel is what you find on the web in most cases.
This case will be interesting to see how it unfolds particularly with all the case law that has help ISP's like myself not liable (unless we directly contribute the texts) for anything published on our interactive computers.
I think the case law has been established here and if Yahoo were to loose we would see this one appealed all the way to the supreme court.
I do not see it as the hosting company, ISP, or forum moderators responsibility to conduct a background check on every one of it's users, or "stoppers-by" to the forum.
I think the courts will find the same.
08-10-2004, 05:54 PM
in California ... I lived out there for 8 years and the entire court system is full of claims as lame if not lamer than this.
Wow! if this lawyer actually wins his case ... I hate to see amount of suits that follow. I've got it we can call the Sticks & Stones Law ... don't you think that would be perfect LOL :-)
08-10-2004, 05:55 PM
Let's not forget that he is getting TONS of free publicity (negative or otherwise) that he would have to pay a lot of money for normally and even then he wouldn't be getting this type of exposure.
The almighty dollar strikes again?
I sure hope this is thrown out of court and the lawyer fined for bringing a frivolous suit to court. Webmasters of forums should not have to live under the threat of being dragged into court every time a flamewar erupts. Having to defend against cases like this costs time and money that no one should have to pay - over a legal issue that should have been settled a long time ago.
08-10-2004, 06:23 PM
Looking into this from the other prospective.
Someone complains about ABC Company on a forum, people start to flame throw ABC Company, that forum thread is picked up in Google and when someone does a search for ABC Company up comes this thread.
Potential customers or clients will come across this thread in the forum, by one disatisfied customer, we don't know the full story, but that customer or client is put off from using ABC Company, thus loosing them money and reputation.
Whose fault is this? The person complaining against the company, or the forum owner who let this thread get picked up by Google?
I know this case is a little different, and to be honest, I cannot see it standing up in law, but forums can seriously damage and ruin a companies reputation and business.
08-10-2004, 07:00 PM
Well, that could be the search engines fault then too? If we start looking at things like that, I think everyone could get sued.
In my opinion, that's like sueing Google for putting a rival company on PR 10 by mistake when you're only PR 6. Nothing's perfect!
The webmaster (in some cases) can't even stop search engines from crawling certain sites (if they can't make a robots.txt for example). Even if they can, the search would be automatically searched. And, not all search engines listen to robots.txt.
Also, people have the right to say their opinion about things even if it costs people reputation or money, as long as it's true and not offensive or something.
Thats like, you say on a forum "I don't like this program from this company" and you get sued?
And indeed, if they would have read the TOS they would understand the poster is owner and liable person for the post, not the webmaster.
08-10-2004, 07:30 PM
The fact is you CANNOT say what you want on message boards.
There is censorship - a few months ago if you posted doubt about the Iraq war on the History Channel website forums it was quickly removed - usually within minutes. It may still be the case now.
And seemingly innocent threats - such as grandfatherly David Henson message when he said he would send 'Tom Cruise Missiles' in an attack on Scientology. Found guilty of a terrorist threat, he was sentenced to a year in jail and a heavy fine. He is now seeking political asylum in Canada after escaping from the US (yes, he could have appealed for $25,000 and spent a year in jail waiting).
If I was on a health message board and advised readers (from a scientific report) that due to new self-regulation laws and the removal of any significant government inspection, 70% of beef contains fecal matter, or that beef production methods are a time bomb for more deadly ecoli strains, then I am breaking the law, and can be sued under the new 'veggie laws'. Even though I am repeating scientific research, I can be sued. This is the law that saw Oprah Winfrey taken to court. She won, but at so expensive a cost she won't mention beef anymore.
If I had a gardening message board and was to advise you to plant non-hybrid (organic) Indian Yellow Maize in your garden, I am technically breaking the law by recommending theft of a patented product under the Plants Variety Rights law (where big corporations now own all the patent on all seed), even though the native Americans were growing this variety 1000 years ago. It is against the law to raise seed for one's own crops and to sell seeds, even if your Irish ancestors brought that seed to the US a hundred years ago (yes, it sounds outrageous and has never been enforced, but what if a 'terrorist' attack came via food? Suddenly the government enforces this law that only these companies can now control our food supplies? Not so far fetched methinks).
My point is - you can't say what you want. Freedom of speech is a myth, either on a message board or on a board at the beach.
08-10-2004, 07:37 PM
Someone complains about ABC Company on a forum, people start to flame throw ABC Company, that forum thread is picked up in Google and when someone does a search for ABC Company up comes this thread.
I think that falls under the "Too bad, so sad" doctrine. Nobody is immune from someone bad mouthing you or your company.
Some sites, such as those talking about publically traded stocks for instance, must monitor this more carefully because it is possible to cause a run on a stock based on faulty info, but overall, the basic disgruntled customer or client will not be silenced. At least I'd hope we don't lose that basic civil liberty. Of course you cannot bad mouth oranges in Florida, so there you go.
08-10-2004, 07:43 PM
I think you are confusing the issue here flashfast. The issue is not about libel or slander. This lawyer is not sueing the individuals who made those statements, he is sueing Yahoo for not making available information in regards to identifying those individuals. That is the case in its entirety.
Yahoo has crafted its TOS to not be held liable for any of the posts in the messaging areas. They are not moderated by Yahoo, but by other users who can start one up on a whim -- all you need is a Yahoo ID which we all know full well what that really means -- anonymity.
The most I can see happening if this suit actually succeeds on any merit is that it may change the rules on enrollments to message boards, groups, forums and other types of venues where your opinions/statements can be freely published without much hinderance. This will be another fight onto itself -- because of the personal information that may be required. This guy (the more I look at it) is opening a very large can of worms right now and does not realize it.
08-10-2004, 07:43 PM
"I have a headache"
"Take an asprin"
Practicing medicine without a license?
Just because it's the law doesn't mean it's not a STUPID law.
"Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws"
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
There's an old expression.
"A gentleman who calls a spade a spade ought to be made to use one."
I disagree. A gentleman who doesn't know a spade from a shovel is a freakin' moron, and should be told so to his face.
Steve Galton: YOUR'E A FREAKIN WEENIE. That's me,
KENNY MARSHALL, 205 Church Street, #11, Burlington, VT Saying that. Not web pro news.
Whatsa matter? My pockets not deep enough for ya?
08-10-2004, 09:27 PM
Only in California!
I'm Will Spencer and I endorse this message.
08-10-2004, 09:34 PM
I think Ronnie (Dodger) has stated a well thought out perspective on the premise of this case. He has made several good points. This case seems to be a display of one lawyers foolish attempt to gain money from someone with deep-pockets. Anyone having troubles in a chat-board should take Yahoo's advice and get a new nickname (handle) and start over.
08-10-2004, 09:52 PM
This guy (the more I look at it) is opening a very large can of worms right now and does not realize it.
Yes, true. Will he see anything in return though.
In the UK we have the data protection act, if a company holds information that you divulge, that company has to ensure that the information is held securely.
IF that company divulges the information without the owner of that informations consent then the business, in this case Yahoo could be fined by the Data Protection Commmissioner for giving this information to a third party, in this case the solicitor, if the owner of the information reports the company.
So, were now going to change the data protection laws, not likely!
08-10-2004, 09:55 PM
Without getting too much into the whole constitutional arguement, the freedom of speach guaranteed in the US is to allow you to express your political opinions without fear of persecution from the government. There is no protection for freedom of speach about specific people, or freedom to express your opinions on anyone's message board. So of course there is censorship on message boards, it's a private board.
Now without getting myself bashed too hard, let me play devil's advocate:
From what I have learned about libel by talking to an attorney, the message board owner may be considered a party to the libel if they are aware of the problem and know the information to be libelous and do not take action to prevent it.
If the guy notified Yahoo about the problem, informed them that it was libelous and asked them to remove it, I can honestly see a court ruling that they made a decision to be a party in commiting a libelous act against the guy by not preventing further posts, especially a court in California. Remember there is no protection from prosecution from an individual, only from the government.
Plus I'm sure we can all understand how the guy feels. Getting hammered on a well traffic'd board can be very upsetting. I have often wondered how I would handle the same situation if it was my business getting trashed.
08-11-2004, 01:05 AM
Yes, Ronnie, thanks for bringing us back to the point: Yahoo's TOS, and obvious inability to monitor every forum. This lawyer strikes me as none too bright. Does anyone else here feel the urge to stick out their tongue and say nah-nah-nah-nah-nah?
Other posters here have made the point that you do not have the freedom to say as you please, and yes, there are limits, depending where you are, who you're speaking to, but it sounds as if this fellow just jumped into a forum, and was run out of town and he just couldn't handle it.
It's only going to open a can of worms if he gets somewhere with his suit, and I seriously doubt that will be the case. Most judge's aren't quite ready to write case law when it comes to Internet matters. Now that would be a can of worms!
Off Topic Tip From Oprah Winfrey: Do not disparage beef in Texas. I have read "Mad Cowboy" several times.
08-11-2004, 03:57 AM
I've not read all the posts, so I'll apologise in advance if someone has already pointed this out:
It concerns a teacher that was being slandered on the Friends Re-united (FR) forum (pre-modernisation) by a former student.
Essentially, once the teacher had discovered the slander, he contacted the ISP/FR to request that the slanderous remarks be removed. If I remember correctly, they were not. This, on the basis that they only had 'his' word that the remarks were false, that the burdon of proof was his.
I don't have all the details to hand but I can confirm that he took them to court and, having proven his case, cleared his name and recieved hefty compensation.
In the UK this was a landmark-case which has gone some way to defining our law with regard to the responsibilities of ISP's and Forum administrators
08-11-2004, 09:52 AM
This type of thing is quite scary to me because if anything happens, it will set a precedent that will result in many lawsuits and no more message boards. I know I would close mine in a heartbeat because we've had several flaming problems, and I don't need to be sued for it!
08-11-2004, 12:18 PM
Freedom of speech is not a myth, but neither is it an absolute. There is not and never has been a place where you could say (or print) anything at all without restriction. The famous Supreme Court case about yelling 'Fire' in a theater leaps to mind as just one example.
On the other hand, it is also not relevant to something like this. The right of freedom of speech (I'm speaking of the U.S. here -- other countries might vary) is to be free from governmental interference or supression. It originally was intended to enable free speech regarding primarily political and religious subjects.
Yahoo, being a private enterprise, provides forums for people to have discussions. It may, but doesn't have to, impose limits upon what people may discuss -- if they specified in their TOS that you were not allowed to have a message board discussing left-handed stepchildren then I believe that would be within their rights. I am sure they have terms of service that everyone must agree to before being allowed to join.
I've not read the original messages, and he may or may not have a winable libel case. That in itself doesn't make Yahoo liable as well, unless they can be seen as participants in the libel.
One other thing that occurs to me regarding the class action -- how big a class can it be? I can't say that I have ever heard of someone trying to get the identity of other posters simply because they had been flamed.
08-11-2004, 12:36 PM
Way off topic, but let's get this straight.
Calling a 'spade' a 'spade' is nothing to do with knowing the difference between a spade and a shovel, nor is it do do with using long words (a friend used to think the alternative phrase was 'calling a spade a digging implement' - in other words someone who speaks briefly calls a spade a spade).
"Calling a spade a spade" means being prepared to insult those of a different skin color, because you know you have more friends around than they have should a fight erupt.
I don't have a problem calling a black-skinned person "black", because s/he is. But "Spade" is another word for slave.
Glad I got that off my chest.
08-11-2004, 12:38 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but "libel" and "slander" are different.
"Slander" is untrue. An overt lie. I can understand allowing civil restitution against liars.
"Libel" is just mean. Calling someone a weenie, for example, or critisizing a business for being unscrupulous which I had a great deal of fun doing in here a couple of weeks ago.
-covering with a sneeze-
In otherwords libel is expressing a negative opinion about someone or something.
I'm not saying it's a fact that steve galton is a weenie. It's my opinion. Anyone reading my origional statement knew that (unless there's a National Weenie Registry I don't know about).
I'm prepared to accept that this may well be a law, but if it is it's a STUPID law in flagrant violation of the Constitution.. (see my previous post for my opinion on stupid laws)
When steve stepped into a forum and engaged the other members he opened himself up to the possibility that they could agree or disagree. The other members have that right! It's not my job to hold my tounge in the company of idiots. I have every right to have and express my own opinions. This is the information age. When I'm wrong I not only expect but HOPE someone smarter than me will step up and say so to my face, and will do so without fear of civil liability.
08-11-2004, 12:46 PM
I apologize hminney. I realize full well that most people attach racist conotations to that statement. I was referencing the origional cliche which I think I explained pretty well in the post.
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
I certainly meant no slight to blacks. I was intending to slight the many people who seem to find their ignorance a virtue. To anyone who falls into that catagory who felt offended...
08-11-2004, 01:16 PM
Here I was standing in the wings reading the rest of the worlds problems as I was too busy to participate, and this pops up. It was too good to miss.
What is it with lawyers in the USA? The problem is that they get board sitting in there cars chasing ambulances all day only to find some other lawyer is already in the back of the ambulance writing up the suit on the way to the hospital. So they come home and jump on the computer in their underwear looking for a loophole in the corporate giants armour so they can make a name for themselves and pick up a quick years salary in process. (Sharp intake of breath).
Something’s gota change. Why don't they just take the words "freedom of speach" and add, "If your rich enough to fight for it" and "land of the free" to "Unless you’re in jail for a speeding ticket charge that the system matured into a felony"
Give me a break! A law suit against someone for abusing you on the internet LOL. My suggestion is that this lawyer switches off his computer puts on his pants and go look for another ambulance.
Yahoo please don’t settle out of court on this one, someone has to start standing there ground to put a stop to this kind of insanity. You may loose some, but you’ll send a message to others that you’re not suckers for every out of work lawyer that needs to top up the bank account.
Is there such a thing as a “time wasters counter suit”? Maybe there should be!
(Another sharp intake of breath) That feels better.
08-11-2004, 03:30 PM
Slander is verbal, libel is written. They are more or less different forms of the same thing.
To legally prove libel or slander, I believe you have to prove that it is untrue and that it was issued (or written) with malicious intent.
Truth is a good defense (i.e. if I called Timothy McVey a murderer that cannot be slander/libel because he was been convicted of that crime in court). Public figures, especially public officials are legally required to have thicker skins than the rest of us -- you can get away with saying things about Bush or Clinton that I could successfully sue you for.
08-11-2004, 03:33 PM
Thanks Bob. I knew there was a difference but I didn't know for sure what it was.
Can a negative be proven? Does steven have the burden of proof that he's NOT a weenie? Or is it my job to prove that he IS a weenie?
08-12-2004, 08:59 AM
Are we not pandering to the intended wishes of this lawyer by adding to the barrage of speculation in this case. He's just a lawyer having a go at a big boy, nothings ever going to come of it because the big boys wont let it.
I always quite liked the saying a late friend of mine said " it doesnt matter how big, clever, hardworking or indeed right you are" theres always someone bigger and better than you". Now when it comes to taking on Yahoo, i kind of get this feeling that they might just have the money to be able to employ these kind of people to stick this stupid lawyer ten feet under the ground.
But having said all that, now i am on the bandwagon, perhaps i will be sued for saying that he obviously doesnt have that much business to begin with if he has the time to sit and read forums all day.
Another illustration why cousins should not kiss if you ask me ;-p
All legal papers to be served to me, Matthew Yabsley, should not be too hard to track me down, theres only two of us in the world and it isnt the other one ;-)
08-13-2004, 02:55 PM
I believe the "burden of proof" rests with the plaintiff in slander/libel type cases. Here's a page with handy definitons: http://www.hfac.uh.edu/comm/media_libel/libel/definition.html - if anyone knows otherwise, please speak up.
08-13-2004, 03:19 PM
A quick visit to the dictionary will tell you what the difference between slander and libel is. It was also mentioned in this thead, in my original post.
A few searches on your favorite search engine will also produce some interesting case law regarding almost identical matters, where the courts have ruled in favor (at least in the US) of the ISP.
In this fashion any requests that we as a corporation get to remove a site fall on dead ears unless we are mandated by the court to do so. Why, because my concern is the law goes both ways. IF the ISP has directly contributed to the publishing of libelous material then they can be considered liable.
Why then would they be not liable for removing certain commentary. There is the off chance that we might remove someones posts and overlook another, thus holding us liable for not editing all content, and being an active part of the publishing process.
My thought is not to prune any post, or contribute in any way to site's that may be questionable to isolate us from being associated with the publishing process.
Here is some recent case law for you:
5. BLUMENTHAL v. DRUDGE AND AOL
992 F.Supp. 44 (D.D.C.) - April 1998
The court granted America Online's motion for summary judgment, determining that under Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, the commercial online service was not liable for alleged defamatory remarks set forth by Internet journalist Matt Drudge. The remarks had been posted on AOL, but were also available via a mailing list and through Drudge's own web site. Section 230(c) provides: "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." Plaintiff argued that AOL was more than simply a "provider" in this case, because it had contracted with the journalist (at $3,000 a month) to put the Drudge Report on its service. However, the court disagreed, declaring that "Congress has made a different policy choice by providing immunity even where the interactive service provider has an active, even aggressive role in making available content prepared by others. In some sort of tacit quid pro quo arrangement with the service provider community, Congress has conferred immunity from tort liability as an incentive to Internet service providers to self-police the Internet for obscenity and other offensive material, even where the self-policing is unsuccessful or not even attempted."
In this example the user was known because a simple WHOIS search would tell you who owned the website, and still AOL was found not liable.
In the case of forums, how is one to know who the poster is? I do not see why Yahoo would have any issues divulging the information to the courts, if they knew who was responsible.
The only thing that could possibly come from this is the method in which registrations to public forums take place. This would be either via background checks, or leaving personal data such as a social security number.
Neither of which are likely nor enforcable.
Perhaps in the future we will all be assigned Internet Id #'s and then they will have a semi-viable answer to the issue, but for now I think this guy is "fishing in the wind."