Not So Kid-Friendly Facebook Contracts

Court rules that kids can be bound by Facebook’s member agreement (Venkat Balasubramani, 4 April 2014) – The status of kids’ ability to form contracts via online terms of service was somewhat uncertain over the last several years, with a few Facebook-related rulings raising questions. A group of minor plaintiffs who opted out of the Fraley v. Facebook Sponsored Stories settlement brought suit for violation of their publicity rights under an Illinois statute. A recent ruling shuts out their claims, and gives some clarity to the online contracting landscape for minors. The key question in front of Judge Seeborg was whether the contract at issue between minors and Facebook – essentially granting a publicity rights release—was one of the narrow types of contracts with minors that were void, or if the contract was merely voidable under California Family Code 6701, et seq. * * * With the caveat that this is just a district court ruling, and plaintiffs will continue to attack these terms in far-flung jurisdictions, this is a very helpful ruling for Facebook in that it removes some uncertainty as to a big category of potentially lucrative users: users who are old enough to not pose COPPA-problems but those who haven’t yet reached the age of majority. Networks for the most part took a don’t-ask/don’t-tell type of approach with this group, but were hesitant to enter into deeper economic and legally uncertain relationships.

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Ninth Circuit Dismisses CNN Caption Case

Ninth Circuit allows CNN motion to dismiss captioning complaint (Broadcasting & Cable, 7 Feb 2014) – A California court has backed a CNN argument that it did not have to closed-caption online clips. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit earlier this week vacated a district court’s order denying CNN’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAAD) that sought to force CNN to caption video clips on its Web site, arguing that not to do so violated the state’s Disabled Persons Act (DPA). The Court found that the claim of equal access under DPA was trumped by a California statute providing for “for the early dismissal of meritless lawsuits arising from a defendant’s conduct in furtherance of its free speech rights.” It said the California legislature had made it clear that statute was to be read broadly. The court also found that GLAAD was unlikely to win under invocation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act because it had not shown an intent to discriminate by CNN based on disability. But the court breathed some life into the GLAAD argument by leaving open the question of whether DPA applied in the case of accessibility via Web captions. CNN said DPA did not apply to virtual locations like the Internet. The Ninth Circuit panel reserved judgment and asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on that question, saying “The final question, whether the DPA applies to websites, is an important question of California law and raises an issue of significant public concern.”

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Image courtesy of Miles.