The Sony film “The Interview” was meant to take the studio laughing all the way to the top of the box office. But when an anonymous group calling itself Guardians of the Peace hacked into the Sony system and released floods of employee data on the internet, allegedly in protest of the film, the story was no longer a comedy matter. Nearly a year later, Sony has reached a settlement, to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, of $8 million to reimburse its employees for identity theft losses, credit-fraud protections services, and legal fees.
On October 8, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“CalECPA”), thereby heightening privacy protections for digital records. Under the new regime, state government entities must secure a search warrant to obtain the content and metadata of electronic communications.
In People v. Murillo, 238 Cal. App. 4th 1122 (Ca Ct. App. 2015), a California appellate court reversed a trial court decision, which had dismissed a felony complaint against Anthony Murillo alleging two counts of threatening a crime victim.
The Second Appellate District held that a reasonable listener could have understood a rap song as threatening two rape victims. The Court cited People v. Lowery in finding that the trier of fact must determine whether the defendant’s rap lyrics were a “true threat” outside the protection of the First Amendment. It also concluded that Elonis v. United States, a 2015 Supreme Court case interpreting the mens rea standard for threats under a federal statute, did not apply to the state law at issue.
Obama Administration Declines to Pursue Legislation for Access to Encrypted Data
On October 10, the Obama administration announced that it no longer plans to pursue legislation that would enable U.S. law enforcement agencies to access the encrypted data of smartphone and other digital device users. FBI Director James Comey has expressed worry that the failure to pass such a law will hamper the ability of law enforcement to address modern public safety and national security concerns. Tech companies including Apple, Google, and Microsoft, along with leading academic voices in the cryptography and computer science communities, warned that a requirement that providers of digital devices offer the government a gateway to their encrypted data would also make such data vulnerable to hacking. Without a legal mandate for the provision of encrypted customer data, law enforcement will continue to rely on voluntary cooperation to in order to gain access to it.
California Continues Fight Against “Revenge Porn” With New Website
California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced on October 14 the launch of a new website that provides victims of cyber exploitation with resources to help them remove the unauthorized content from the Internet. In addition, the site contains guidelines for tech companies to prevent the sharing of “revenge porn” as well as educational tools aimed at assisting law enforcement to crack down on the posting of such content. This action is the latest in a series of moves by California to address the issue of cyber exploitation. Additionally, Attorney General Harris is pushing the state legislature to pass a pair of laws that would allow revenge porn cases to be prosecuted in the victims’ jurisdiction and put in place a formal means for the removal and destruction of the offensive content.
Apple Loses Patent Lawsuit against University of Wisconsin, May Pay Up To $862 Million in Damages
On October 14, a jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin found Apple guilty of patent infringement against the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). The court ruled that chips contained in Apple’s iPhone 5S, 6, and 6S utilize technology that is protected under a 1998 patent filed by WARF. While damages have not yet been determined, Apple may face a penalty of up to $862 million. In 2009, a similar lawsuit against Intel regarding the same patent resulted in an out of court settlement for $110 million according to court documents from the ongoing case against Apple.
Court Rules Reputational Harm Confers Standing to Sue over Inventorship
In Shukh v. Seagate Technology, LLC, 2014-1406 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 2, 2015), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that “concrete and particularized reputational injury” can confer Article III standing to sue. The court vacated and remanded the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota’s grant of summary judgment to defendant Seagate Technology, LLC on the grounds that reputational harm is in fact a valid basis for standing, and affirmed the district court’s remaining holdings. In the original case, plaintiff Alexander Shukh filed a complaint against his former employer Seagate alleging that Seagate wrongly omitted him as an inventor on six patents, among several other claims relating to the termination of his employment. The district court granted Seagate’s motion for summary judgment on Shukh’s claim for correction of inventorship under 35 U.S.C. § 256, finding that Shukh’s employment at-will barred his financial or ownership interest in the inventions. On appeal, Shukh argued that a trier of fact could conclude that his omission from the disputed patents caused injury to his reputation as an inventor, which he claimed prevented him from obtaining other employment. In a unanimous decision, the court found that there is a material question of fact as to whether these omissions actually caused Shukh reputational injury, but agreed that “if the claimed inventor can show that being named as an inventor on a patent would affect his employment, the alleged reputational injury likely has an economic component sufficient to demonstrate Article III standing.” In its opinion, the court emphasized that the number of patents on which an inventor is listed is a critical component of the inventor’s professional reputation.