Posted on

How Much Will a Car Accident Lawyer Charge You?


If you’re involved in a car accident, and another party is at fault, you’ll be able to appoint an attorney on a contingency basis. Find out when it’s worth the cost.

If you’ve been in a car accident, and someone also is to blame, you’ll be looking for a plaintiff’s car accident lawyer. We all know lawyers are expensive, but how much will you need to pay?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how contingency fees work and what you may expect if you decide to hire a lawyer to handle your car accident case.

  • Fees and Expenses

Depending on the lawyer and your contract for lawful services, you may or may not be responsible for upfront court fees and other litigation operating expense.personal-injury-law-practice-guide

These fees and expenses contain court filing fees, cost of serving summonses and subpoenas, expenses of obtaining medical records and police reports, court reporter fees, and expert witness fees.

Many personal injury firms need the client to pay the above-mentioned fees as they become due. If your contract states that you are responsible for these expenses, you can expect a personal injury firm to call you and seek payment as the fees become due. If you cannot pay these costs, your case will likely not proceed until there is a payment.


  • Other Fee Arrangements

Not all cases will involve a pure contingency fee agreement. Lawyers may collect an initial retainer to begin your case and also collect an emergency fee at the end of your case. However, if you recover money in your case, the amount already paid to the attorney must be subtracted from the percentage that is due to the attorney at the end of the case. For example, if you paid $2,000 to the lawyer as a retainer and recover $90,000 in a resolution, the attorney will receive $28,000 from the resolution ($30,000-$2,000 = $28,000).

  • Is a Car Accident Lawyer Worth The Cost?


The general rule is this: The more serious the injuries, the higher the value of hiring a lawyer. If you were in a minor fender bender with little or no injury, you may probably negotiate an acceptable settlement yourself. You would be doing yourself a disservice to pay a lawyer a third of an easy and almost guaranteed — settlement.

On the other hand, if you were injured and needed any important medical treatment, the settlement value of your case rises quickly. This means the insurance adjuster will work to reduce your damages and try to get you to accept a very low settlement offer – they are in the dealing of making money, not spending it. This fact is evidenced by a 1999 study by the Insurance Research Council who finished that, on average, claimants represented by a lawyer received 3 ½ times the settlement money like those without.

In this case, you’ll advantage from having a lawyer to negotiate your damages effectively. Additionally, the threat of a court case and trial puts pressure on the insurance company to offer a fair settlement.


Choosing Your Car Insurance In Calgary can be a tricky task, one of the easiest ways of doing this is to choose a broker who has access to all the major underwriters, This way you know you ae going to receive the correct cover you require at a price that suits you. So you wont ever need a car accident lawyer that you need to pay for.…

Reasons to Hire a Personal Injury Attorney

three-reasons-to-hire-a-personal-injury-attorney-1-638Whenever we undergo any type of personal injury or an accident it’s better to go for a personal injury attorney Philadelphia. These experienced law firms help us to get our claims without any problems. Moreover, whenever such things happen to any of our family members it is difficult to manage our personal family caring along with the complex and complicated law cases. These law cases need to be handled with proper care and proper time devotion is needed for getting your claim from the other parties, moreover if in case the injury is big and there is heavy damage to the person and there are no such evidence then it becomes even more difficult for you to get that complicated evidence from different sources. So getting yourself an experienced Personal Injury Attorney will help you in many different ways.

Reasons to Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney:

  1. Experience in dealing with the Personal Injury Cases:

_MG_4022When you yourself are on the way of defending your case then things are new to you and it seems a very tough way to get the judgment in your favor. But when you go for the option of hiring an experienced personal injury law firm, then things become crystal clear and because of their experience in handling the personal injuries cases from a long time makes the case easy and simple for them. This experience of years increases the chances of getting the possible claims as soon as possible.

  1. No Recovery No Fees:

Legal-FeesThe experienced law firms are very strict to their work and in some place the law firms have very flexible rules for their clients, such as they would not charge you a single penny till you don’t get your injury claims in your hands, and in case you tend to lose the case from the opposition then they will not even for all the labor that they have put in collecting information and working on your case.

  1. Investigation:

Magnifying Glass with the word Investigate on white background.

A common man is not able to do proper investigation and collect much of the evidences, whereas an experienced personal injury attorney has a separate branch of people who does the investigation process effectively and thoroughly moreover, these teams have links and sources spread over different areas which help them to collect the evidence, even more, faster and this evidence is most important to win the case and get the claims.

  1. Best outdoor settlements:

Some of the old and experienced law firms are so master in their work that they tend to solve more than 60% of the personal injury cases outside the court by setting up a mutual understanding between the two parties and because of this solution the valuable time of you as well as the firm is saved and even you need not go inside the hectic word of the law courts where you need to invest proper time as well as proper explanations. With these kinds of solutions, you will get the claims and the other party will also leave happily.

Posted on

Benefits of Hiring Auto Accident Attorney

columbus-car-accident-lawyersThere are many people from around the world who gets injured by some or the other means, but surprisingly about 70% of the people who gets injured outside their house are injured by Auto Accidents. This is one of the main reasons for people getting injured very badly because of some other people’s mistake. But our law provides us the freedom to take the worthy claims from the suspect. But still it is difficult at times to take our claims and it becomes even more difficult for a person when he has suffered an accident. At this point of time, that person needs a helping hand which would help him to get the possible claims for the injury as well as the damage. So the Auto Accident Attorney will help you to get the rightful claims from the third party.

Moreover, if you go alone in the law courts to get your claims, then it will get very difficult for you to collect the evidence and proofs for preceding the case. These auto accident attorneys assure that your case proceeds in the right direction and at the end of the day you get you valuable needed claims.

Benefits of Hiring Auto Accident Attorney:

  1. They know the Exact Calculations:

indexWhen you undergo an accident then you may settle the case by compromising with just a part of the claim, but these law attorneys are well versed in their field and they know exactly how much does even a scratch sums up to. So if you have some injuries on your body because of the accident, then they will help you to get the rightful amount of claim for all your injuries as well as the damage caused to your vehicle.

  1. They understand all the Legal Process and tactics:

640x0Not everyone is having knowledge of the legal proceedings and formalities, but when talking of the Auto Accident Attorney’s, they are the master of this field. These firms know all the inn’s and out’s of the process and they also know how to deal with the case so that maximum amount of claim can be recovered from your injury and accident. Car accident lawyer Philadelphia can be of great help when you are involved in an accident.

  1. Lets you fight against all the odds:

quote-the-bravest-sight-in-all-this-world-is-a-man-fighting-against-odds-franklin-knight-lane-102-89-62When you are up to get your claims, you not only have to deal with the suspect, but you also need to take your rightful claim that has to be taken from the insurance company who are standing ready for the battle. These insurance companies will find each and every possible way of screwing your claims and would not accept their bonds and commitments. So to deal with these ready to battle companies and the third party at the same time you definitely need the support and assistance of the masters of this field. The Auto Accident Attorney has a long experience of deal with such kind of cases and it is a normal work for them to handle such a burden with ease. So you can easily rely on these firms to get you claims.

Posted on

New Energy Efficiency Regulations for TVs Are Coming to California: Why You Should Be Concerned

IFA Trade Fair Opens to Public
The California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission is in the process of considering new energy efficiency regulations for televisions which would require substantially increased energy efficiency. (fn1)

Current Standards

Proposed Standards

Under the proposed rules, which were largely based on recommendations from California’s utility ca_en_cat_tvs_feature_003industry, power usage would be limited to 1.0 watts in stand-by mode. Power usage in active mode would be based on screen size — ultimately based on the following formula: [{0.12 watts x the screen area (in square inches)} + 25 watts]. All TVs would be required to have a power factor of no more than 0.9. In addition, all TVs would be required to include a menu that forces a viewer to select the display mode each time the power is turned or to have automatic brightness controls. TVs would also have to include features placing the unit in stand-by mode when not in active use.

The proposed rules would begin to take effect after January 1, 2011 and would cover both stand-alone and combination TVs, but still exclude computer monitors. (fn3)

Expected Impact of the Proposed Standards

television_comparisonsA review of the product database for TVs on the commission website indicates that almost 18% of the models listed would not be compliant with the new standards for stand-by power. It is not surprising that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has opposed the proposed rules, estimating that up to 30% of current TV models could not be sold under the new regulations. According to the CEA and the Plasma Display Coalition, the models that would be most greatly impacted by the proposed rules would be TVs with larger screen sizes and greater functionality — in other words, the units with the highest profit margins. (fn4)

On the other hand, some manufacturers of TVs and TV components had applauded the new rules. Vizio sent a letter to the commission in which it stated that it currently has LCD models that meet the proposed standards and that “there are significant efficient achievements on the near horizon” that could permit its plasma TVs to meet the new standards as well. (fn5)

At present, the rules are merely proposals. There are likely be at least 1-2 hearings with stakeholders, as well as at least one round of formal public hearings, before the Commission adopts final rules. However, the current economic and political climate makes it likely that tough, new rules will be adopted.

Compliance, Enforcement and Litigation Risk

AG-master1050Under Commission regulations, manufacturers of TVs and most other covered products must test their products for compliance with the Commission’s energy efficiency standards. (fn6) A manufacturer must also file a certificate of compliance with the Commission. The Commission places compliant products on a database that is published on its website. (fn7) According to Commission rules, only products that have been tested and that appear on the Commission database may be sold or offered for sale in California. (fn8)

It should be noted that the Commission has limited enforcement capabilities. The sole enforcement televisions_400x265power granted to the Commission by statute is the power to seek an injunction, where a violation requires “immediate action to protect the public health, welfare, or safety.” (fn9) The Commission has not brought such an enforcement action in recent memory. The Commission also has no inspection force to ensure that its rules are being complied with.

While the Commission may pose a limited direct threat, many manufacturing and vendor agreements contain clauses requiring suppliers to comply with all applicable laws. A non-compliant supplier could also be subject to suits by private individuals under California’s Unfair Competition law — which, inter alia, could subject it remedies such as to disgorgement of profits earned from the sale of non-compliant goods. (fn10)


Given the current economic and political climate, manufacturers of TVs and other appliances can expect increasing demands for energy efficient products from state and federal regulators.

New Class Actions Filed Regarding LCD Rear Projection HDTV’s Using “Optical Block” Technology

JamieKwapichDefendants in a consumer electronics class action often hope that agreeing to settle the suit will bring an end to litigation over a product or component. However, Sony’s settlement in 2008 of a class action regarding Optical Block technology used in its LCD Rear Projection HDTVs has been followed-up with the filing of new class actions regarding Optical Block against Sony and Hitachi in the Southern District of California. (fn1) The new suits claim that Optical Block contained a defect that eventually caused the TVs to display bright blue and red haze, spots and streaks which covered the programming on the screen. The complaints, which allege that the manufacturers were aware of the defect at the time of sale, request relief under the unfair competition, deceptive advertising and warranty laws of California and other states.

SANY0042In the New York action, after filing a motion to dismiss, Sony agreed to settle the action. In the settlement agreement, while Sony was not required to pay a specific sum to the plaintiffs, Sony agreed to: (i) extend the limited warranties on the affected units to permit repair or replacement of the Optical Block until June 30, 2009, (ii) refund prior expenses paid by customers to replace the Optical Block; (iii) refund money paid by customers for extended service plans; and (iv) refund money paid by certain customers who had previously exchanged affected units for other Sony TVs. (fn2)

5a-LCD close-upThe total cost of the settlement to Sony cannot be determined from the court documents. However, the settlement class contained approximately 175,000 members. In its Opinion and Order approving the settlement, the Court noted that Sony had indicated that it made fixes to eliminate problems with the Optical Block technology in 2006. The Court also noted that at a settlement hearing, Plaintiffs counsel stated “we do think that Sony has successfully remanufactured the component.” (fn3)

Plaintiffs’ counsel was awarded $1.6M in attorneys fees and costs. This resulted in a 21% premium over the value of plaintiffs’ counsels’ services if computed under the lodestar method (which computes attorneys fees on a hours x hourly rate basis). (fn4)

Posted on

Can a Clause Permitting a Website Operator to Unilaterally Change the Terms of the Website User Agreement Be Enforced?

website terms and conditionsThe clickware or browse-ware on many websites contain clauses permitting the operator to unilaterally change the terms of use. For example, a number of websites that I reviewed recently, and that offer services throughout the U.S. or North America, contain clauses along these lines:

“We may amend, modify or update these terms of use at our sole discretion, and all users
shall be bound by any such amendment, modification or update. We may, but are under no
obligation, to provide notice of any amendment, modification or update of these terms of use.”

Are clauses like this enforceable? The answer is . . . it depends.

website-tos-featured-image-1200x467On one hand, many website customers would argue that because this kind of clause gives so much discretion over the terms of the contract to the website operator, there really has been no agreement at all — no meeting of the minds as to the terms of the contract. Others would argue that because the website owner can modify his obligations at will, the website owner has offered by real “consideration”, so the contract is illusory.

California courts have held that such discretion does not necessarily make a contract invalid, because it is assumed that the party with the discretionary power — in this case, the website operator — has a duty to exercise its discretion in good faith and in accordance with fair dealing. So even if the agreement permits a material term, like the price, to be modified, as long as the actual modification that is made is reasonable or in proportion to some objective standard, the right to modify will generally be upheld. (fn1) For example, California courts have upheld contracts in which banks have reserved the right to increase interest rates on a loan, as long as the increases that were actually imposed were determined to be reasonable. (fn2)

X3-B-300x300However, in many cases, website operators have attempted to insert entirely new terms in later versions of an agreement that were not present at the time that the customer used a website or agreed to its contractual terms. I have seen cases where subsequent terms of use added such items as arbitration clauses (fn3), forum selection clauses (fn4), choice of law clauses (fn5), or attorneys fees’ (fn6) provisions.

Some California cases have held that such added terms may not be enforceable — despite the presence of a unilateral modification clause. Here are some examples:

glossaryIn a 1998 case, the Bank of America sent “bill stuffers” to credit card account customers in which it announced that all future account disputes would be settled by arbitration and “if you continue to use your account, this new provision will apply to all past and future transactions.” The Bank argued that it had a right to impose this new term because provisions in its agreements with credit card holders stated: “We may change any term, condition, service or feature of you account at any time. We will provide you with notice of the chance to the extent required by law.” (fn7)

glossary-of-web-terms-710x341The Court disagreed. It found that while a clause permitting unilateral modification can be upheld, modifications must be limited in scope to terms “whose general subject matter was anticipated when the contract was entered into.” Here, the Court found that “there is nothing about the original terms that would have alerted a customer to the possibility that the Bank might one day in the future invoke the change of terms provision to add a clause that would allow it to impose ADR on the customer.” Accordingly, the Court held that the new ADR clause was not enforceable. (fn8)

terms_of_useIn a 2002 case, a customer sued PayPal, arguing that a later version of a user agreement that included a new arbitration clause that contained such things as a prohibition against consolidation of claims and a forum selection in favor of venue in Santa Clara County, California, was invalid.

PayPal created accounts with customers using an online application. A prospective customer clicked a box at the bottom of the application that read, “[you] have read and agree to the User Agreement and [PayPal’s] privacy policy.” The “clickwrap” User Agreement apparently agreed to by the plaintiff contained a clause stating that “this Agreement is subject to change at any time without notice.” (fn9)

website-accessibility-featured-imageUsing an “unconscionability” analysis, the Court found that PayPal contract was “procedurally unconscionable” because it was a “contract of adhesion.” A contract of adhesion is a standardized contract, which is drafted and imposed by a party with superior bargaining power, and which gives the subscribing party the opportunity only to accept or reject it. (fn10) Many (but certainly not all) website contracts would fit this definition. (fn11)

The Court noted that a contract that is procedurally unconscionable may nonetheless be enforceable if it is substantively conscionable. However, the new terms also failed this test. First, the new terms CG11BDprovided that PayPal could unilaterally freeze funds in disputed accounts, forcing the customer to engage in expense court proceedings to unfreeze them. Second, the prohibition against consolidation of claims effectively meant that few claims could be pursued by customers, since most claims involved small amounts of money. Third, the new requirement that arbitration proceed under the commercial rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and that the costs of arbitration be equally shared meant that, in most cases, the cost to arbitrate would far exceed the amount of the claim — again effectively precluding customers from pursuing recovery. Fourth, limiting venue to Santa Clara County, California was also unreasonable, since PayPal’s customers were spread across the U.S. and could not afford to pursue claims if this meant traveling to California. Accordingly, the Court found that the new arbitration clause was not enforceable.

Posted on

Golan v. Holder: Colorado Federal Court Finds that Federal Law Restoring Expired Copyright Claims of Foreign Authors Violates the First Amendment

160411_Gore_RK-1250x650A number of press reports have given the impression that the Colorado District Court’s ruling in Golan v. Holder  means that that Federal laws reviving expired copyrights violate First Amendment protections on free speech. The actual ruling is far narrower.

In 1993, Congress enacted 17 U.S.C. Section 104A, to permit foreign authors whose copyrights had fallen into the public domain for technical reasons (such as by failing to renew the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office) to restore their copyrights. Section 104A solely permitted “restoration” of copyright protection for works from “a nation other than the United States.” Section 104A was added after the United States joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works — a treaty first enacted in 1886, but not joined by the U.S. until 1988. Article 18 of the Convention requires member nations to provide copyright protections to works by foreign authors so long as the term of protection in the country of origin has not expired as to the work.

The plaintiffs were U.S. artists who used works by foreign artists that had been in the public domain before 1994, such as Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.” The plaintiffs claimed that after Section 104A was enacted, they were subjected to higher performance fees, sheet music rentals and other royalties. In some cases, these costs were prohibitive.Counter demonstrators look over to those attending "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside Islamic Community Center in Phoenix

The Golan case was the brainchild of Stanford Law professor, founder and co-director of the Center for Internet and Society and Director of the Fair Use Project, Lawrence Lessig. The original complaint claimed that Section 104A shrunk the public domain and thereby violated the limitations on congressional power inherent in the Copyright Clause, and violated First Amendment rights to free expression. The Colorado District Court originally rejected these claims. However, on appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that a legitimate First Amendment claim existed and remanded the case for First Amendment analysis.

The basis for the Tenth Circuit’s ruling was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Eldred v. Ashcroft, in which the Supreme Court stated that a Congressional act modifying copyright law might be subject to First Amendment scrutiny if it “altered the traditional contours of copyright protection.”  While the Tenth Circuit could not find federal authority that explained the phrase “traditional contours”, it concluded that the traditional contours of copyright protection included the principle that “works in the public domain remain there.”  It based this on the notion that the general sequence is that copyrighted works has always progressed from “1) creation; 2) to copyright; 3) to the public domain” and that Section 104A changed this sequence.


On remand, the District Court first found that since Section 104A was content-neutral, it was subject to what is commonly-referred to as “intermediate scrutiny” under the First Amendment. Under this test, a statute can only be sustained: if it furthers an important or substantial government interest that is unrelated to the suppression of free expression, and if the restriction is no greater than necessary to further that interest.

The U.S. government claimed that the primary interests advanced by Section 104A were compliance with the Berne Convention and correction of historic inequities imposed on foreign authors. The Court rejected both of these rationales.

The parties agreed that the Berne Convention required restoration of the rights of foreign authors. However, the Court found that Section 104A was not narrowly tailored to meet this interest, because “the government could have complied with Berne while providing significantly stronger protection for the First Amendment interests of reliance parties like the Plaintiffs here.”

Reliance parties are persons who have used a foreign work that was in the public domain, and continue to use it after that work is “restored” under Section 104A. Section 104A provides that reliance parties may continue to use restored works for 12 months after receiving a notice of intent to enforce a restored copyright without being subject to suit for infringement, and may continue to use to use a restored work for the duration of the copyright if they pay “reasonable compensation” to the copyright owner.

lady justice-body

The Court found that these protections for reliance interests were not the broadest permissible under the Berne Convention. Rather, it found that Congress could have permitted reliance users to simply continue using restored works as they had prior to restoration. The Court concluded that Section 104A simply was “not tied to the Government’s interest in complying with the Berne Convention.” Since Section 104A did not advance a substantial government interest, it could not withstand First Amendment scrutiny.

The Court also rejected the notion that there was any need to correct inequities for foreign authors. Rather, it found there were no such inequities, because U.S. law imposed the same requirements on all authors, whether foreign or domestic, to obtain copyright protection. Moreover, it also found that Section 104A created inequities, by permitting foreign authors to relieve themselves of failure to comply with formalities required for copyright protection, while denying this right to U.S. authors.

The District Court’s decision did not go as far as the plaintiffs had wanted. The plaintiffs had argued that Congress simply has no power to restore copyrights to works in the public domain “at all.” Doubtless, this issue will resurface if the District Court opinion is appealed. No notice of appeal appears to have been filed as of the date of this report.

Facebook Suit Against Social Networking Aggregator Survives Initial Court Test is a social networking aggregator, boasting over 5 million users in India and Brazil, shutterstock_134112389that launched business in the U.S. in November 2008. It permits users to simultaneously log-in to multiple social networking sites, such as Myspace and Facebook and instant messaging sites, such as Twitter.

While some website operators might consider this service as free advertising, other might see it as posing the danger of supplanting the websites it aggregates. In fact, has already drawn significant lawsuit fire. In December 2008, shortly after the site premiered, was sued by Facebook. (Facebook, Inc. v. Power Ventures, Inc., et al., U.S.D.C., Northern District of California, Case No. C 08-5780).

Facebook claimed that was circumventing Facebook’s protocols for accessing its information, infringing on Facebook’s trademark, and inducing Facebook users to provide them with email addresses of Facebook contacts for the purposes of sending commercial messages that it falsely stated came from “The Facebook Team.” Facebook brought claims against under numerous legal theories, including violation of the CAN-SPAM act (15 USC §7701), copyright and trademark infringement, violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and violation of California’s unfair competition law.

shutterstock_1561415934In response, brought a motion to dismiss/motion for more definite statement -challenging the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint. However, the bar to survive such a motion in Federal court is not very high. Under Federal rules, a plaintiff generally does not have to be specific about the facts that underlie the claims he brings in a lawsuit. Federal courts deem it sufficient that the complaint merely contain sufficient facts to give the defendant “fair notice” of the nature of the claim and its basis. The courts rely on discovery and law and summary judgment to weed out unmeritorious claims. The main exception to this rule is for claims alleging fraud. For these claims, the complaint must state what the fraudulent representations were, who said them and where and when.

These rules largely dictated the outcome here. After Facebook filed its opposition, actually withdrew its motion as to the CAN-SPAM claims. According to’s reply brief, this did not amount to a concession that the claims had merit, but merely that Facebook had met the pleading standards for these claims.

indexAt the hearing on the motions, Judge Jeremy Fogel also found that Facebook had met Federal pleading standards for its copyright and trademark infringement, violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. For example, to make out a claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a plaintiff must allege, inter alia, that the defendant circumvented a technological measure designed to protect the copyrighted material. See Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Skylink Techs, Inc. 382 F.3d 1178, 2103 (Fed. Cir. 2003). Here, Facebook’s complaint had alleged that “Facebook implemented technological measures to block access to the Facebook site by” and that “Defendants’ deliberately circumvented Facebook’s technological security features . . .” These rather general allegations were cited by the Court as sufficient. (Order at 8:4). Fn1

Given the low pleading standards required for complaints, too much should not be made of the Court’s ruling. Internet content providers have often found ways to cope with aggregators. It will be interesting to see whether the tussle between Facebook and gets resolved via legal processes or business negotiations.

Posted on

Melkonian v. Facebook: New Privacy Suit against Facebook Faces Challenges

ct-facebook-lawsuit-20160510Digital media law update: News has just broken about a suit filed by five individuals against Facebook for alleged privacy violations. While the ink has barely dried on the court filings, in my view, the plaintiffs face significant legal hurdles to recovery of significant damages. Here is an initial analysis of the claims in the complaint — Melkonian, et al., v. Facebook, Inc., et al., Superior Court of the State of California, County of Orange, Case No. 30-2009-00293755:

The plaintiffs and their allegations

This is not a class action, but a joint suit by a rather mixed bag of plaintiffs:

• The lead plaintiff, Melkonian, is a photographer who claims that images she took have been posted on Facebook without her consent.
• Two plaintiffs are minors under age 13 who created Facebook accounts without their parents’ consent and uploaded personal information and photographs onto the site.
• The fourth plaintiff is a college student who joined the original form of Facebook, “Thefacebook,” in 03germanfacebook2-master768May 2005 and uploaded personal information when the site operated under an allegedly more privacy-protective set of terms and conditions.
• The fifth plaintiff is an actress who claims that digital images of her have been uploaded onto the site without her consent.

Much of the 41-page complaint is devoted to a history of Facebook’s changing policies on user privacy, its interactions with groups such as “People Against the New Terms of Service,” discussions about public attitudes toward privacy, and various private and public investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices. The primary factual allegations in the complaint are:

(1) Facebook data mines personal information posted on its site and exploits this by providing it to facebook-marketplaceadvertisers who use it to target ads to users;

(2) Facebook’s posted privacy policies are incomplete, misleading and unfair. For example, on February 4, 2009, Facebook unilaterally changed its terms of service to include, inter alia, a grant by users of “an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute User Content . . . and to use your name or likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising . . .” According to the Complaint, this is an outrageous extension of Facebook’s rights over its user’s data;

(3) Facebook fails to adequately warn users about the dangers of posting sensitive personal information online;

(4) Facebook fails to prominently disclose its privacy policies and terms of use at sign-up and employs confusing and ineffective privacy protection tools;

(5) Facebook has no technical safeguards to prevent misappropriation of user data by third-party developers who have access to the site;

(6) Facebook fails to provide users with a simple and permanent means to delete their accounts and personal data;

(7) Facebook’s uses “social ads” — customized advertisements that use private data, such as a user’s name and photo — to advertise products and services to the user’s “friends” and others users within that person’s network;

(8) Facebook uses tracking technology called “Beacon” that allows third parties to gather information about user’s purchase activities and then create social ads regarding such purchases;

(9) Facebook lacks adequate safeguards to prevent registration or use by children under age 13.

Analysis of the causes of action

_76780127_76780126Based on these wide-ranging allegations, the complaint states six separate causes of action against Facebook, including: (i) and (ii) statutory and common law misappropriation of the right of publicity for its use of the plaintiffs’ names and photographs without consent for advertising purposes; (iii) violation of the California unfair competition law for its data mining practices and dissemination of the plaintiffs’ personal information, (iv) violation of the California Constitutional Right to Privacy for its commercialization of plaintiffs’ personal information; (v) violation of the California Online Privacy Act for failing to “conspicuously post and comply” with the privacy policies required under the Act, and (vi) violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act for unconscionably changing its Terms of Use and privacy policies without notice, and representing that user information would remain private, but then providing it to third party advertisers.

_76780123_1d5251c2-a507-449a-a910-a79f7448e2e2The claims of the lead plaintiff, Melkonian, appear to be claims for copyright infringement. As such, some or all of her claims here could be preempted by the Copyright Act. Putting this issue aside, the remaining four plaintiffs’ claims are based on allegations that their names, personal information and/or photos were used commercially without their consent.

So do these claims have any legs?

Causes of action 1 & 2: misappropriation of name and likeness

To make out a valid claim of common law misappropriation of name or likeness, a plaintiff must show that (1) the defendant used his/her name or likeness; (2) the use was to the defendant’s advantage, commercially or otherwise; (3) lack of consent; and (4) resulting injury. Eastwood v. Superior Ct. (1983) 149 Cal.App.3d 409, 417. To make out a valid claim under the California privacy statutes, a plaintiff must prove the same elements, however the defendant must have used the plaintiff’s name directly in connection with the advertising or sale of goods. California Civil Code § 3344.

facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-san-francisco-april-12-2016Here, the plaintiffs appear to adequately plead that their names and likenesses were used by Facebook to its advantage, and specifically in advertising — via data mining and social ads. Plaintiffs also appear to adequately plead that this use was without their consent — although Facebook will surely argue that the plaintiffs consented by agreeing to submit to its Terms of Use. While none of the privacy plaintiffs appear to claim that they suffered economic damages, economic damages are not required to make out a privacy cause of action. Under California law, emotional damages are sufficient. See Abdul-Jabbar v. General Motors Corp., 85 F.3d 407 (9th Cir. 1996).

In defense, Facebook will doubtless claim that the plaintiffs consented to its use of their personal data by agreeing to its Terms of Use when they signed up on the site. While Facebook changed its Terms of Use over time, this does not necessarily mean that new terms are invalid. (See our blog post of March 31, 2009). Facebook may have more difficulty in showing that the minor plaintiffs gave consent to the use of their personal data, but the resolution of that issue awaits further discovery.

Facebook might also argue that its use of the plaintiffs’ names and likenesses did not constitute “publicity” and hence is not actionable as a violation of the plaintiffs’ rights to privacy. It is a basic principle of California law that the right of privacy is only violated by “publicity” — a communication to the public in general, or to a large number of people, as opposed from communication to an individual or a few persons. See Schwartz v. Theile (1966) 242 Cal.App.2d 799, 805; 5 Witkin, Summary of California Law, 10th ed., Torts, § 654 (2005). The typical misappropriation of name or likeness case involves public advertising in which the name or the picture of the plaintiff is used to tout the product. Use of a plaintiffs’ name or likeness in data mining, or even social advertising, may not expose it to a large enough number of people to be considered publicity.

Privacy setting shortcuts are displayed on Apple Inc. iPhone 6 smartphone screen as a FaceBook Inc. logo is seen in this arranged photograph taken in London, U.K., on Friday, May, 15, 2015. Facebook reached a deal with New York Times Co. and eight other media outlets to post stories directly to the social network's mobile news feeds, as publishers strive for new ways to expand their reach. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook might also consider arguing that the common interest privilege applies to its practices because the data mining information and social ads were only distributed to a small number of interested parties.

Even if plaintiffs are successful in these claims, the complaint does not plead much of a case for a large damage award. There are no claims of monetary losses, and a jury may wonder how much emotional damage could be caused by plaintiffs’ knowledge of Facebook’s data mining practices, or the use of plaintiffs’ pictures in a social ad. While minimum damages are also available, the statutory amount is rather low — $750. On the other hand, an injunction prohibiting data mining or social ads could create significant lost revenue for Facebook.

Cause of action 3: breach of the California unfair competition law

The third cause of action, for breach of California’s unfair competition law (Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq.), is based on plaintiffs’ misappropriation of name and likeness allegations in the 1st and 2nd causes of action, and the statutory violations stated in the 4th-6th causes of action. As such, it will stand or fall based on the result of the litigation of those claims.

Cause of action 4: violation of the California constitutional right to privacy

The fourth cause of action, for violation of California’s constitutional right to privacy, is a cognizable claim. However, to succeed, a plaintiff must show: (1) a legally protected privacy interest, such as an interest in precluding the dissemination of sensitive or confidential information, (2) a reasonable expectation of privacy, and (3) invasions of privacy that are sufficiently serious to constitute an egregious violation of the social norms underlying privacy rights. See Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. (1994) 7 Cal. 4th 1.

rtx1z0ssPlaintiffs may face a tougher time in meeting these high standards. Facebook could argue that the plaintiffs had no expectation of privacy regarding information provided to their “friends,” because the plaintiffs consented to have these persons to join their network and to obtain sensitive personal information about them. On the other hand, the plaintiffs would likely respond that they never consented to have information about their purchasing habits divulged to members of their network. However, Facebook could respond that even if this is true, providing social ads that disclose a user’s purchase habits is simply not an egregious violation of privacy rights, especially considering the level of personal disclosure that is often present on Facebook.

Cause of action 5: violation of the California Online Privacy Act

The fifth cause of action is for violation of the California Online Privacy Act. Business & Professions Code §§ 22575-79. The Act requires commercial web sites that collect personally identifying information (i.e., interactive web sites like Facebook) to create and “conspicuously post” a privacy policy. While the Act creates no public or private right of action, violations would be actionable under California’s unfair competition law.

However, remedies under the California unfair competition law are primarily limited to restitution and injunctive relief. Unless the plaintiffs actually paid money to Facebook, they would be unlikely to recover any money for breaches of the Act. I would expect Facebook to defend against this claim by attempting to show that it complied with the Act.

Cause of action 6: violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act

The sixth cause of action, for violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (California Civil Code § 1750) is based on two theories: (i) that Facebook’s unilateral changes in its Terms of Use, Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Privacy Policy were unconscionable, and (ii) that Facebook represented that user information would remain private, but then began data mining and sharing it with third parties.

However, as we have previously blogged, California courts have upheld clauses permitting unilateral alterations in a contract — under limited circumstances. See our blog posts of March 31 and April 22, 2009. Facebook may argue that such circumstances apply here, making any change in its change in policies not unfair.

This is an important suit that could prove to be a significant test of data mining and social advertising. While the plaintiffs’ potential damage awards do not appear to be high, the suit does have the potential to cause expensive damage to Facebook’s business, if it is required to scale back its data mining and advertising.

Civil enforcement, Copyright, Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Litigation