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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Spin-Off to Sponsored Stories Suit Falls Flat

(CN) - A group of children who accused Facebook of misappropriating their names and likenesses failed to present "a viable legal theory," a federal judge ruled.

Though Facebook paid $20 million in Fraley v. Facebook to settle claims over its "Sponsored Stories" feature in 2012, that deal didn't appeal to all users.

The class in Fraley covered nearly 125 million users unhappy that Facebook publicized their "likes" of advertisers, without compensation or a way to opt out.

One subclass of Fraley included minors, and C.M.D. led a faction of this group who opted out of the settlement.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco found last week, however, that the spun-off action fell flat.

"All four claims require plaintiffs to have a tenable basis for challenging the enforceability of Facebook's statement of rights and responsibilities (SRRs) that purport to govern the use of the Facebook site," the ruling states. "Because plaintiffs have not articulated a viable legal theory on which the SRRs could be found unenforceable, the complaint must be dismissed."

Facebook has contended that it did nothing more than take information users voluntarily shared with friends and republished it to the same friends, "sometimes alongside a related advertisement," according to the ruling.

Ultimately the plaintiffs failed to present facts showing they suffered any "legally cognizable harm" from the alleged conduct, Seeborg gound.

The judge declined to credit assertions that "the consent provisions in the SRRs are legally unenforceable as to the putative class of minors because they represent a type of contract into which a minor cannot legally enter under California Family Code §6701."

Likening the dispute to "garden-variety rights a contracting party," Seeborg noted that the minors had the power to contract.

"The consent Facebook users give for use of their names and profile pictures in certain ways on the site simply is not tantamount to appointing Facebook as an agent for users, or to delegating to it any power to be exercised on behalf of those users," the eight-page ruling states. "While Facebook may obtain 'powers' under the SRRs to utilize the names and pictures in certain ways, that is no different from garden-variety rights a contracting party may obtain in a wide variety of contractual settings. Plaintiffs have not shown how it would be a delegation of power within the meaning of the statute. Rather, Facebook users have, in effect, simply granted Facebook the right to use their names in pictures in certain specified situations, in exchange for whatever benefits they may realize from using the Facebook site."

As to the plaintiffs seeking relief under Illinois law, where they originally filed the case, Seeborg said they had effectively conceded that their claims were dependent on a conclusion that the service terms were invalid.

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