February 15, 2007
Parents Lose MySpace Assault Suit
Judge Sam Sparks of the Western District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit against MySpace by parents over the assault of their daughter by another member of the social networking web site. Julie Doe had misrepresented her age as 18 years old in gaining a MySpace membership. She apparently exchanged correspondence and personal information with 19 year old Pete Solis, who initiated the contact. Doe was 14 at the time this happened. The two met for a date on May 12, 2006 and during the course of that date, Solis sexually assaulted Doe. Doe's mother reported the assault to Austin, Texas, police the next day. Solis was arrested and is facing criminal charges over the encounter.
Jane Doe's parents initiated suit against MySpace, alleging negligence, gross negligence, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. They asked for damages of $30 million. The crux of the suit revolved around whether MySpace had a duty to to take measures to protect Julie Doe. Judge Sparks analyzed the case against safe harbor provisions in the Communication Decency Act of 1996. These provisions protect an online communication service against liability for the statements made by third parties on the site, and other editorial controls such as "deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone, or alter content."
The Plaintiff parents argued that the safe harbor provisions did not apply as other court decisions construing the statute dealt with libel issues and other types of untruthiness (thank you Stephen Cobert). Plaintiffs say that communications between Doe and Solis were true and there is no issue involving publication of third party communications. In any event, they claim, MySpace should have implemented basic safety measures to prevent sexual predators from communicating with minors on their site.
Judge Sparks rejected the argument, noting the broad findings of Congress in passing the CDA to protect online services from suits over content. He said the CDA protects online content providers such as MySpace from actions by its subscribers. If MySpace had not published the postings of Doe and Solis, the meeting would not have taken place and the assault would not have occurred. From his perspective, the suit was all about the publication. the Judge also addressed the issue from the perspective of Texas common law, noting that the state did not place a duty on entities to control the behavior of third parties. None of the exceptions to the doctrine applied, including that which would have turned the MySpace web site into a virtual "premise." The Court dismissed most of the suit with prejudice as a result.
One of the most interesting statements in Judge Sparks' opinion is this one:
Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for negligence or gross negligence because MySpace had no duty to protect Julie Doe from Pete Solis's criminal acts nor to institute reasonable safety measures on its website. If anyone had a duty to protect Julie Doe, it was her parents, not MySpace."
If there every was a zinger that said that people should take responsibility for their own actions, and that parents should take responsibility for the upbringing of their children, then this is it. The case is available through the Western District of Texas web site. Links from Judge Sparks will lead to CourtWeb, which is a free web opinion service of the federal courts for selected jurisdictions. The case is Doe v. MySpace, Docket Number A-06-CA-983-SS. The decision was released on February 13, 2007.
February 13, 2007
Yahoo Merges IM and Mail
Yahoo announces the ability to send IM to Yahoo contacts while in the mail client. Of course, other online services have been doing this for a while. It's pointless to go over the age divide between teen preferences for IM and adult preferences for email. This development should give adults a chance to try IM without having to load a messy client.
Google loses appeal with Belgian Newspaper Group
The Court of First Instance ruled against Google in a court battle over including stories from Copiepresse in Google News and the general Google search engine. The court ruled, essentially, that Google needs to get permission to include stories rather than have the sites opt out of coverage. Google issued a statement that noted disappointment in the ruling and said that there would be a further appeal.
Out-Law.com has an interesting analysis of the ruling.
February 12, 2007
Microsoft Plans Vista Successor
Microsoft is responding semi-formally to the speculation that Vista is the last great operating system client the company will release. Not so says CEO Steve Ballmer. The Vista successor code named "Vienna" should be out in 2009. That may have been for the sake of investors and Wall Street analysts. If XP works, why buy Vista if it's going to be replaced in two years? Bill Gates says he expects the next client out in 2011. That assessment is probably more realistic given how long the company had to work on Vista. Sure there problems with security in XP that had to be addressed which distracted from Vista coding. Vista will have a target on its back for hackers aiming at both security and DRM controls. Who knows what distractions Microsoft will face on the road to Vienna.
Speaking of Vista, there is a command built into the OS that can extend the trial period for up to 120 days before activation is required. The details are in this posting at Daily Tech.