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IM and lawsuits

Discussion in 'Law' started by Booko, Sep 28, 2007.

  1. Booko

    Booko Deviled Hen

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    Can someone be sued for putting the contents of a chat out somewhere publically?

    How does this work in terms of contract law?

    Where can I find the contract?

    If it's just a verbal contract, we know that's worth the paper its printed on. ;)
     
  2. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

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    Most verbal contracts ARE legally enforceable contracts. As to the legality of putting the content of IMs out in the public, it would depend on the content. It could violate copyright, trademark or patent laws. It could violate obscenity laws or privacy laws. It could violate confidentiality provisions in contracts, or constitute fraud or industrial espionage, etc., etc.
     
  3. Booko

    Booko Deviled Hen

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    If they can be proven, of course, which for verbal contracts is not quite as easy as with written ones.

    And also it could violate laws regarding slander and libel, yes? Except if something is proveably true it isn't slander or libel, I think.

    I suppose the issues of copyright and so forth had not occurred to me, simply because I've never seen an IM with that content.

    What sort of privacy laws might apply?

    I know that some states have provisions limiting taping phone conversations, but I have no idea where the law is concerning chats where both parties agree to be there by implication, because they're both chatting, and surely there is an understanding that IM's, unlike phone calls, are already "recorded."

    That's where I get very fuzzy about the entire issue.
     
  4. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

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    That's generally the case.



    Certainly. Again, depending on the content.

    The truth is a defense to libel claims in most states. The burdens shift around when it concerns statements about "public figures" though, who have a much higher burden to prove when suing for libel/slander.

    Me neither, but it's possible.

    Some jurisdictions might recognize a cause of action for "public disclosure of private facts" under very limited circumstances. "False light" could also conceivably be a basis for a legal action. From the almighty Wiki (though I learned about it in law school as well):

    And some states have dual party consent requirements for taping conversations, but if that's been applied to IM or chat, I'm not aware of it.
     
  5. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    Any creative product that you make, such as writing, is copyrighted (is that the right word?) the moment you create it. In the case of infringement, the trick is proving that you wrote it, and when you wrote it, as well as proving that the infringer knew of your prior work.

    IIRC (and I'm no lawyer), copyright infringement generally deals with cases where the infringement lets someone improperly profit off the copyrighted work, or denies the copyright holder proper profit. Most copyright laws have "fair use" provisions as well, that allow use without permission in certain circumstances (it's not copyright infringement for a journalist to quote an excerpt from a novel in his review of the book, for example). In any case, I think copyright infringement would probably only come into play if someone's selling your IM conversations.

    Edit: Back to your original question, who it was who released your chat can have a bearing on whether it's allowed as well. If it was the owner of the web site where the chat occurred, check your membership agreement: there may be a clause in there where you agree to let him or her use whatever you post on the site as he or she sees fit... though I have a feeling that a good lawyer would be able to poke holes in many membership agreements.
     
  6. Aqualung

    Aqualung Tasty

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    One party consent is generally all that's needed to record a private conversation. "Federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications
    with the consent of at least one party to the call." which seems to apply to IMs, too, since that's a form of electronic communications.

    "Federal law and most state laws also make it illegal to disclose the contents of an
    illegally intercepted call or communication." but this says nothing about legally recorded communications.

    I could not find anything on that site regarding the disclosure of legally obtained recordings.

    http://www.papillontechnology.com/Download/One party consent.pdf

    "Congress passed a federal wiretapping law in 1968, in response to concerns that technology was eroding the security of private communications. The statute imposes criminal and/or civil sanctions against those who intentionally disclose (or try to disclose) or use (or try to use) the contents of a wire, oral, or electronic communication when they know or have reason to know that the communication was intercepted in violation of federal wiretapping law." Again, this indicates that it's only a crime to disclose information gained illegally.

    Southern Newspaper Publishers Association

    That's all that I could find on that matter. I don't think that disclosing a legally recorded conversation (one in which one party consented to the recording) is illegal.
     
  7. Aqualung

    Aqualung Tasty

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    This is true, but most general conversation is not considered "a creative product". If somebody IMs you saying, "How was your day", that's not copyrighted, and neither is the response of "It was pretty good".

    That's true when the copyrighted work has NOT been registered with the copyright office. If it has been, there are generally larger payoffs even when no harm to the person's market can be established.
     
  8. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

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    Several states are "all party consent" states. American Legal Guide on Recording Telephone Conversations (USA)

    However, as Aqualung notes, federal law only requires one party to consent to the recording. And most states follow the federal single party consent rule.

    But again, that's for telephone calls, and I don't think it's been applied to Chat or IM.

    Also, a work is copyrighted when it is "fixed in a tangible medium." The filing of a copyright is another matter and does not determine whether a copyright has attached, but rather what the scope of the rights and remedies are for the copyright holder.
     
  9. Terrywoodenpic

    Terrywoodenpic Oldest Heretic

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    There are some cross border difficulties with copyright.
    In the UK copyright is automatic on publication there is no "filing of copyright"
    Also the length of time copywrite lasts varies per country.

    There is one case of perpetual copyright ownership. The British parliament granted perpetual copyright of The story of Peter pan, to great Ormond St Children's hospital.
     
  10. Aqualung

    Aqualung Tasty

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    I think it's for all electronic communications.

    For interstate communications, wouldn't the federal law apply?

    Exactly. Nice concise explanation (unlike my random ramblings :D)
     
  11. jonny

    jonny Well-Known Member

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    I doubt that someone could be sued for that. I've always lived with the rule "Don't write it down if you don't want it broadcasted to the whole world."
     
  12. tcprowling

    tcprowling Junior Member

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    'Back to your original question, who it was who released your chat can have a bearing on whether it's allowed as well. If it was the owner of the web site where the chat occurred, check your membership agreement: there may be a clause in there where you agree to let him or her use whatever you post on the site as he or she sees fit... though I have a feeling that a good lawyer would be able to poke holes in many membership agreements."
    That's very interesting!
    I have often seen, in forums, The statement ( works to the effect) "all posting to this forum remain the property of XXX forum" and Ioften wondered why that would be in there. Your quote sheds some light on that
     
  13. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

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    Common sense infrequently deters a lawsuit.
     
  14. ALifetimeToWaitFor....

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    The internet is a new animal when it comes to law, but you can file suit defamation (i.e. slander, libel) under the Communications Deceny Act. Communications Decency Act - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Act provides the website or service provider isn't responsible "in most cases" for the words of another person posting on their site and since the website isn't regarded as a publisher, the individual is, and publishing laws apply to the poster.
     
  15. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Riboflavin
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    I'm not sure how that act changes the law, but I believe in the past, a service operator could be deemed a "publisher" if they moderated content beyond a certain point. I remember hearing about a case in the '80s where a company sued Compuserve because of comments posted by a user on one of their forums; the court ruled that because of the way Compuserve moderators edited "unacceptable" content out, that they'd crossed the line from common carrier to publisher, and therefore became liable for content posted by users.
     
  16. ALifetimeToWaitFor....

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    There she be.

    EDIT: Its common law precedent now.
     
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