Justia U.S. Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Internet Law
Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V.
A generic name—the name of a class of products or services—is ineligible for federal trademark registration. Booking.com, a travel-reservation website, sought federal registration of marks including the term “Booking.com.” Concluding that “Booking.com” was a generic name for online hotel-reservation services, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) refused registration. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court decision that “Booking.com”—unlike the term “booking” standing alone—is not generic. The Supreme Court affirmed. A term styled “generic.com” is a generic name for a class of goods or services only if the term has that meaning to consumers. Whether a compound term is generic turns on whether that term, taken as a whole, signifies to consumers a class of goods or services. Consumers do not perceive the term “Booking.com” that way. Only one entity can occupy a particular Internet domain name at a time, so a “generic.com” term could convey to consumers an association with a particular website. An unyielding legal rule disregarding consumer perception would be incompatible with a bedrock principle of the Lanham Act. The PTO’s policy concerns do not support a categorical rule against the registration of “generic.com” terms. Several doctrines ensure that registration of “Booking.com” would not yield its holder a monopoly on the term “booking.” View "Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V." on Justia Law
United States v. Microsoft Corp.
In 2013, federal agents obtained an 18 U.S.C. 2703 warrant requiring Microsoft to disclose all e-mails and other information associated with a customer's account that was believed to be involved in illegal drug trafficking. Microsoft determined that the account’s e-mail contents were all stored in Microsoft’s Dublin, Ireland datacenter and moved, unsuccessfully, to quash the warrant with respect to that information. The court held Microsoft in civil contempt. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that requiring Microsoft to disclose the electronic communications in question would be an unauthorized extraterritorial application of section 2703. In March 2018, Congress enacted and the President signed the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), Pub. L. 115–141, amending the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701, to add: “A [service provider] shall comply with the obligations of this chapter to preserve, backup, or disclose the contents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information pertaining to a customer or subscriber within such provider’s possession, custody, or control, regardless of whether such communication, record, or other information is located within or outside of the United States.” The Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. No live dispute remains between the parties over the issue with respect to which certiorari was granted; a new warrant replaced the original warrant. View "United States v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law
Musacchio v. United States
Musacchio resigned as president of ETS in 2004, but with help from the former head of ETS’s information-technology department, he accessed ETS’s computer system without authorization through early 2006. In 2010, Musacchio was indicted under 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), which makes it a crime if a person “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access” and thereby “obtains . . . information from any protected computer.” A 2012 superseding indictment changed the access date to “[o]n or about” November 23–25, 2005. Musacchio never raised the 5-year statute of limitations. The government did not object to jury instructions referring to: “intentionally access a computer without authorization and exceed authorized access” although the conjunction “and” added an additional element. The jury found Musacchio guilty. In affirming his conviction, the Fifth Circuit assessed Musacchio’s sufficiency challenge against the charged elements of the conspiracy count rather than against the heightened jury instruction, and concluded that he had waived his statute-of-limitations defense. The Supreme Court affirmed. A sufficiency challenge should be assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against the elements set forth in an erroneous jury instruction. Sufficiency review essentially addresses whether the case was strong enough to reach the jury. Musacchio did not dispute that he was properly charged with conspiracy to obtain unauthorized access or that the evidence was sufficient to convict him of the charged crime. A defendant cannot successfully raise section 3282(a)’s statute-of-limitations bar for the first time on appeal. The history of section 3282(a)’s limitations bar confirms that the provision does not impose a jurisdictional limit. View "Musacchio v. United States" on Justia Law
Elonis v. United States
Elonis used the Web site Facebook to post lyrics containing graphically violent language and imagery concerning his wife, co-workers, children, and law enforcement, interspersed with disclaimers that the lyrics were “fictitious” and that Elonis was exercising his First Amendment rights. His boss fired him. His wife obtained an order of protection. Elonis’s former employer contacted the FBI. The agency monitored Elonis’s Facebook activity and charged him under 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which makes it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.” Elonis requested a jury instruction that the government was required to prove that he intended to communicate a “true threat.” The district court told the jury that Elonis could be found guilty if a reasonable person would foresee that his statements would be interpreted as a threat. Elonis was convicted. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The instruction, requiring only negligence with respect to communication of a threat, is not sufficient to support conviction under Section 875(c). Mere omission from a criminal enactment of any mention of criminal intent does not eliminate that requirement. Wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal. This does not mean that a defendant must know that his conduct is illegal, but a defendant must have knowledge of “the facts that make his conduct fit the definition of the offense.” In some cases, a general requirement that a defendant act knowingly is sufficient, but where such a requirement would not protect an innocent actor, the statute must be read to require specific intent. The crucial element separating legal innocence from wrongful conduct under Section 875(c) is the threatening nature of the communication, so the mental state requirement must apply to the fact that the communication contains a threat. The requirement is satisfied if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat. The Court did not address whether a mental state of recklessness would also suffice or First Amendment issues. View "Elonis v. United States" on Justia Law
Am. Broad. Cos. v. Aereo, Inc.
The Copyright Act of 1976 gives a copyright owner the “exclusive righ[t]” to “perform the copyrighted work publicly,” 17 U.S.C. 106(4), including the right to “transmit or otherwise communicate ... the [copyrighted] work ... to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance ... receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times,” section 101. Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet. Aereo’s server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by an antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder and streams the show to the subscriber, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast. The owners of program copyrights unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that Aereo was infringing their right to “perform” their copyrighted works “publicly.” The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Aereo performs the works within the meaning of section 101 and does not merely supply equipment that allows others to do so. The Court noted that the Act was amended in 1976 to make the law applicable to community antenna television (CATV) providers by clarifying that an entity that acts like a CATV system “performs,” even when it only enhances viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals. Aereo’s activities are similar; it sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast. That Aereo’s system remains inert until a subscriber indicates that she wants to watch a program is not critical. Aereo transmits a performance whenever its subscribers watch a program. The Court stated that when an entity communicates the same contemporaneously perceptible images and sounds to multiple people, it “transmit[s] ... a performance” to them, regardless of the number of discrete communications it makes and whether it makes an individual personal copy for each viewer. Aero subscribers are “the public” under the Act: a large number of people, unrelated and unknown to each other. View "Am. Broad. Cos. v. Aereo, Inc." on Justia Law