ContractsProf Blog

Editor: D. A. Jeremy Telman
Valparaiso Univ. Law School

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Jail Time for Breach of Contract?

Today's New York Times reports that a 49-year-old Missouri woman has been indicted for driving a 13-year-old California girl to suicide through use of a MySpace account.  According to the indictment, Lori Drew created a MySpace account under the name Josh Evans.  She used this account to contact Megan Meier, who had been a friend of Ms. Drew's daughter.  After a few weeks of friendly chatting, "Josh" turned nasty, eventually driving Megan Meier to suicide, according to the indictment.  Ms. Drew denies having created the account, and Missouri law enforcement officials could not find sufficient evidence to bring charges against her. 

But now federal law enforcement officials in Los Angeles have indicted Ms. Drew on charges of conspiracy and violations of the anti-hacking Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  According to the Wired Blog Network, the feds are alleging violations of the Act because Ms. Drew set up the Josh Evans account in violation of the website's terms of service.  Wired views the indictment as "a potentially troubling precedent, given that terms-of-service agreements sometimes contain onerous provisions, and are rarely read by users."

MySpace supports the indictment.  Wired cites Wharton Business School Professor Andrea Matwyshyn, who describes the indictment as a creative use of the Act, given that it is set up to protect businesses such as MySpace, but is now being used to criminalize conduct that really victimized Megan Meier.  Matwyshyn expresses concern that a breach of contract action is being turned into a criminal case.

[Jeremy Telman]

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