On May 28, 2020 President Trump issued an “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” (the Order). It takes aim at Twitter, Facebook and Google through the lens of 47 U.S. Code § 230 (Section 230), the federal law that allows  internet platforms to host and moderate user created content free of  liability under state law. The Order came just days after Twitter, for the first time, added warning labels and fact-checking to several of Trump’s tweets.

A lot has already been written about the politics behind the Order. But what does the Order accomplish as a legal matter? Here’s my take, in brief.

First, the Executive Order directs the Commerce Department to ask the FCC to do rulemaking to interpret Section 230. Section 230 does not delegate to the FCC rule-making authority, so I don’t see how the FCC could exercise rule making authority with respect to Section 230.… Read the full article

[Disclosure: Kevin Peters and Jennifer Henricks, attorneys at Gesmer Updegrove LLP, represented Dr. Hlatky in the case discussed below]

Contact law is complicated. It dates back centuries, and is mostly common law, meaning it evolves case-by-case in judicial opinions. There are thousands of cases, involving thousands of fact patterns, and it seems like there’s always room for one more variation.

This was the case in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) April 28, 2020 decision in Hlatky v. Steward Health Care System LLC, where the plaintiff was awarded $10.2 million for damage to an asset — a cancer research lab — that she didn’t own.

The Facts. Dr. Lynn Hlatky is a prominent cancer researcher. She has over three decades of research experience, including at one time a faculty position in the radiation and oncology department at Harvard Medical School. Her research targets the development of a cancer vaccine.

In 2010 Dr.… Read the full article

A Renter Uses Your House to Film Porno Movies – Can You Sue For Copyright Infringement?

I can’t let a decision on this case pass by, both because the facts are so bizarre and because the case is in my backyard, the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The plaintiff, Leah Bassett, owns a house on Martha’s Vineyard. She entered into a several-month long lease with Joshua Spafford. Spafford allowed the house to be used to film a number of pornographic movies. Ms. Bassett sued everyone involved, and one of her claims is copyright infringement. She claims that the movies include shots of paintings, slipcovers, wall hangings and the like (over 50 works in total), all of which were created by her.  She asserts that their appearance in the movie scenes violate her copyright rights (reproduction, distribution and public display).

This case received a lot of attention when it was filed. See, for example,What if your house was used in a porn shoot? This homeowner says hers was, and she’s suing (Boston Globe, March 2018)(link);Martha’s Vineyard homeowner says rental was used as porn set (New York Post, March 2018)(link).… Read the full article

The odds of Oracle coming out on top in the Supreme Court appeal of Oracle v. Google just took a turn for the worse.

On May 4, 2020 the following entry appeared on the Supreme Court docket in the long-pending Oracle v. Google copyright case:

The parties are directed to file supplemental letter briefs addressing the appropriate standard of review for the second question presented, including but not limited to the implications of the Seventh Amendment, if any, on that standard. The briefs, not to exceed 10 pages, are to be filed simultaneously with the Clerk and served upon opposing counsel on or before 2 p.m., Friday, August 7, 2020. (Emphasis added)

The “second question presented” is Google’s appeal of the Federal Circuit’s decision reversing a trial jury’s fair use finding in favor of Google. The “standard of review” is a reference to the “de novo” standard used by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in the opinion under review.… Read the full article