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AOL Subscribers Can Be Sued in Virginia Courts 260

ITR writes "Another blow against the cyber-constitutional separation of 'Internet and Geography', a Virginia court rules that an AOL user in Texas can be forced to appear in a Virginia court to answer a defamation lawsuit. 'The upshot, said the judge, is that the defendant's use of the server to facilitate the alleged libel was sufficient to warrant jurisdiction under Virginia's long-arm statute -- the state law that gives courts power over out-of-state defendants.' "
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AOL Subscribers Can Be Sued in Virginia Courts

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  • Which means that my friend in a country where gambling is legal can run a server in that country where gambling is legal and since the server is there he can't be prosecuted under US laws? I seem to recall a while back the FBI went after a bunch of people who were running servers based in the Caribbean somewhere. I think Virginia is opening a can of worms that they might in the future prefer they had left closed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There was a case of a guy in LA who ran a porn BBS in Los Angeles. He got extradited to Tennessee because someone, a cop I think, dialed up his BBS and found the content of his BBS illegal in Tennessee. This guy lost his ass and went to jail for breaking a law in a state he had never been.

    Anyone know more about this casse which to my mind was the first incident of this crap?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This was the case of Tennesse court vs. Amateur Action BBS. The BBS was not the reason the California couple was extradited to TN, a Post Master from Memphis, TN got wind of the BBS and decided to try to bring it down. Due to the issues of being a subscription, he was unable to bring them down due to the BBS, however, from the BBS he was able to order pornography (video) that was illegal in TN. When they mailed it to him, they broke TN state law. They are still serving time in Knoxville

    - This information came from a book I read called Sex Laws and Cyberspace - it has many such articles in it
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The BBS was Amateur Action, run by Robert and Carleen Thomas, located in the SF Bay Area. The, er, zealous public servant was a post office inspector, if I remember correctly, obtained a membership on the BBS, downloaded files, and used them as the basis of prosecution in Tennessee. The general consensus was that the stuff on the BBS wouldn't have gotten a conviction in the bay area - it was dicey even in Tennessee. Convicted, however, conviction upheld on appeal, and both spouses served time based on TN community standards violation. (There's an archive of stuff on the case [eff.org] at EFF's site.)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    First off, I tend to agree with the spirit of the original poster's message. Responsibility should come with freedom of speech.

    However, it should also be noted that (IMNSHO) the purpose of libel is to protect people from an overly vindictive press. Let me put it this way:

    If a story appeared in my hometown newspaper accusing me of incest, I would be concerned, to say the least. If someone in a bar calls me a mo'fo in front of a bunch of my friends, I'd presume the fellow was drunk and would shrug it off. Assuming I WAS the sort of person who called lawyers over slights like that, I'm pretty certain a libel suit over an angry, drunken remark would be laughed straight out of court.

    Although Usenet is a mass medium which posts to millions of machines throughout the world, in general, I would consider the environment much closer to bar banter than to a newspaper article. I don't lose much sleep over being flamed on the net.

    Every libel case which is sucessfully prosecuted makes for a chilling precedent. The next time you post something in a newsgroup, you must weigh the odds that the person you are aruging with will seek to harass you through legal means.

    Some people may hope that a few sucessful libel cases will encourage people on Usenet to mind their manners a bit more (certainly an admirable goal!), this will not happen. As long as there are anonymous remailers, cyber cafes, and open university workstations, people will be able to flame on Usenet to their heart's content with little or no risk of reprecussion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 1999 @07:52AM (#1854854)
    Okay [flame suit on] I have an opinion on this that differs greatly from most of what I'm seeing here. This is not flamebait, but just another perspective.

    One of the major problems with the Internet, and especially the people on it, is the prevailing assumption that "freedom of speech" equates to "freedom to libel and slander other people and corporate entities".

    If you call someone a pedophile in print, you'd better be ready to be sued. Why should it be any different on the Internet? For those of you who didn't actually read the article (apparently a lot of you judging from the comments that seem to have opinions formed solely off of the /. summary), the suit accuses the defendants of no less than that very act.

    I think it is high time that people be held accountable for what they say online to other people. Folks say things on the Internet that they'd dare not say in print. I've been accused of a few libelous things myself and was advised to not proceed with filing suit due to the ambiguity of how the law applies to the Internet.

    Americans have enjoyed the freedom of speech for many years, but have always known that the freedom of speech does NOT mean that you can say anything about anyone and get away with it. Apparently folks have forgotten that after getting their AOL accounts.
  • This has been happening for a while in various other forms. For example, Kevin Mitnick, after his federal charges are dropped (finally, several years later), will be hauled off to various states that have all charged him with computer crimes because the servers happened to be in those states.

    The effect this creates was that even if somebody was completely innocent, and could win all the cases, they could be hauled around the U.S. and put on trial 15 different times, and would lose 10-20 years of their life before being finally cleared.
  • Posted by drkwndysky:

    You know it seems to me that this wonderful country we all live in has been getting worse and worse. Too many people out there don't seem to know how to live their own lives. When they don't get their way they play politics, run off to local law enforcement, etc. Can't anyone resolve their own conflicts of interests? I know that phrase "love thy neighbor" is really corny but you have to admit that when society began to look at their neighbors and virtually say "piss off" it is going to have some repercussions. And as far as the Virgina legal system is concerned they are only allowing a place for more whiners to have access to more money that they wouldn't have otherwise had this country learned to resolve it's own conflicts! Now the way I see it is the Supreme Court has at times had more wisdom that most lend credit and perhaps we will see this rediculous law overturned! It has got to get better people
  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    This would be akin to Canada passing a law that makes it illegal to smoke bacon in Florida. And as soon as someone fires up the smokehouse trying to prosecute him for it. This is a joke.

    This is a state court in VA. The "long arm" statute is only enforceable within VA. Just because the kid down the street has to be in bed at 6PM doesn't mean that I'm a bad parent because my kid stays up until 9. Even if they want you, all you have to do is refuse to appear. The judge will issue a bench warrant and as long as you don't have to go to VA you're fine. One state's bench warrant doesn't have to be honored by any other. For something as trivial as libel chances are that nobody in the state attorney general's office will care enough to extradite you.

    Just as Geronimo learned to use borders to his advantage those tactics can still apply for trivial matters. If this were me, I'd refuse to show and then I'd contest the bench warrant. It would go to the supreme court. A case like this would lean towards the defendant because the current supreme court is rather conservative.
  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>huh? Which Supreme Court are you talking about? Justice Scalia is one of the only "conservatives" on the court.

    We've got three right leaning justices on the court right now and two moderates. Now is the time for right wing/conservatices cases to be brought before the court. With Justice Thomas on board to balance things out they have a fair chance of going over.

    >>I agree with you, however. The current court would favor the defendent because it is a more moderate to liberal court, not because it is a conservative one.

    I think that the conservatism of the current SC would favor the defendant because the defense can make it an issue of state sovereignty. Do the laws of other states apply to what I do while I'm in my own? No.

  • Posted by apav:

    Law suit abuses abound but I think you picked a bad example. My understanding of the facts of the case are that the company had many (on the order of hundreds) incidents where customers were burned in similar situations. They were aware of these cases and had done nothing to protect there customers. There were providing a product that could severly injure customers if used in a manner that was obviously within the norm. Being aware of the problem, they had made no changes or provided any warnings. This was the basis for their liability.

    Though the award seemed large, judged against the revenue from coffee sales by the defendant, it could be argued that it was not excessive since it was small in comparison. If awards are too small, corporations have no motivation to change their behavior. Such awards are for juries and judges to decide until we can come up with a better method.

    The injuries to the plantif required hospitaliztion and skin grafts. I admit that I had minimal sympathy for the plantif until an acquaintance of mine (admittedly a bit of an impulsive character) suffered similar injuries when he had to make evasive manuvers while driving - talk about bad burns, wheeew! We are not talking about the frivolous here.

    So in this case, I cannot find that the verdict and award were unreasonable even if I disagree with them in whole or in part.
  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>(1) The entire point of a long-arm statute like this one is to subject nonresidents to jurisdiction. Subject to some constitutional limitations, they are enforceable.

    On what grounds? This would be like my example, Canada making a law prohibiting tha actions of people in the US. States have borders, as long as what you do is beyond the border of that state their laws don't apply to you. Jurisdiction is defined by boundaries, those of a state are logical in nature. If you're outside the jurisdiction of that state they can't unilaterally include you. There would have to be some type agreement between two states for this to be possible.

    >>(2) The judge will not issue a "bench warrant" if you don't appear to defend yourself in a civil case; he'll just rule that you automatically lose.

    Duh. My mistake. I completely overlooked the fact that we were discussing a civil case.

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>f you commit a crime against someone in another state that causes them damage in that state then, yes, you can be tried in that state. And that's exactly what this case is about.

    What is relevant is where the crime takes place, not where the "victim" is. If I go to amsterdam and smoke a metric ton of marijuana, I can't be tried for that here in the US.

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    Not necessarily, for example a few months ago a man sued "God" and when "God" did not appear in court the man was not awarded victory. The case was thrown out.

    Moreover this is an issue that will most likely be decided by the US supreme court.

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>They can do that now, if the letter was part of the commission of a crime (fraud, blackmail, false advertising, etc.) In that type of crime, however, you would have actually had to have had a real presence in that jurisdiction.

    A difference is that you've just described FEDERAL crimes. Since the US postal service is under federal jurisdiction. What's wierd is that Postal Inspectors are allowed to carry guns.

    This is why junk mailers have had to become so clever. "You MAY have won!" is common with the MAY portion stressed. Because mail fraud is not taken lightly.

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>Your example has Canada passing a law that affects Floridians in Florida. The jurisdictional question deals with foreign persons committing an action in Virginia that affects Virginians.

    My point is that he was OUTSIDE of the jurisdiction of the VA court. He (presumably) committed these acts while never setting foot outside of Texas. It would be in the jurisdiction of the TX court system.

    >>It does have merit. Consider a pharmaceutical company in California that makes a deadly drug that's marketed to Nebraska. Someone in Nebraska dies. Shouldn't the California company face Nebraska penalties.

    No. They're in California. If they committed a crime in CA,(barring a change of venue) they should face justice handed down by a CA court.

    >>All states have long arm statutes to enumerate certain powers of the court, or grant them all power that the consititution does not strictly reserve for the federal government (i.e. bankrupcy, patent and copyright, etc.)

    Without bilateral agreements of some type with another states those laws are meaningless. Can the US pass a law that says every crime committed in the US, Canada, and Mexico are not prosecutable by the nearest DA in a US city? No! Outside of it's own borders there have no jurisdiction.

    >>All states have long arm statutes to enumerate certain powers of the court, or grant them all power that the consititution does not strictly reserve for the federal government (i.e. bankrupcy, patent and copyright, etc.)

    Not every section of every law is valid, enforceable, or constitutional. Can you say CDA?

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    Sorry to go off topic, but...

    >>The only one of the lot that you can count on to favor your rights over the government regardless of the issue is Thomas, politically incorrect as it is to say this. I used to think that he was peeking over Scalia's shoulder, but in the still rare cases that they vote opposite each other, it's Thomas voting for individual rights, and Scalia voting for government power.

    It is exactly this that the liberals (using the modern definition) hate about Thomas. He's a right wing conservative who favors the rights of the individial over what the government deems to be the best for the collective.

  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>ou should grow up and be responsible for your actions. Stop whining.

    Um, you seem to not be getting the big picture. What if a VA resident decides that he doesn't like you and will file a civil action against you. If this situation is allowed to progress you will be forced to incur the cost of travel for yourself and or a lawyer or you lose by default for not showing up. Even if you show up and win, you're still out the cost of the lawer and the trip.

    What if it's done twice? Three times? A dozen times. It'll cost him what $100? Maybe $200 to sue, how much will it cost you for two round trip plane fares and lawer fees?

    Do you get what the opposition to this is all about now?

  • Posted by Psyc_Snyper:

    I find it interesting when people make comment of laws being passed against internet mischef to be a blow to free speech. If people are going to make reference to a constitutional principle it should actually apply to the situation. Not every Internet regulating law deals with freedom of speech. In this incident it's more like a trespassing issue than a freedom of speech issue.

    To spam or not to spam this is the question, cmon give me a break. That stuff is a waste of time, ten times out of twenty it is done by an employee who was pissed off at there boss for firing them. I mean really when is this law ever going to effect the internet shadows and demons that lurk in unsuspected gateways? Never, I say let them pass their irrelevant laws. First and fore most if you are stupid enough to get caught then you deserve whatever they give you. What spammer would ever use his personal email accountor one that could be traced to him? Give up? Okay here comes the answer, an idiot!
  • Posted by Lord Kano-The Gangster Of Love:

    >>..either by physically entering the state, or by otherwise having "minimal contacts" within the state.

    This is exactly my point, this definition is too ambiguous. This is the portion that the SC will deal with. When I urinate in the woods a portion of that urine evaporates and could possibly blow all across the US, once it enters the other state that is a type of "minimal contact".

    >>You appear to be unable to distinguish a crime and a tort, as well (a common problem amongst uneducated American citizens).

    You appear to be unable to stick to the issue instead of resorting to insults (a common problem amongst the immature)?

  • Washington was burned by the British, not Canadians.

    The war of 1812 was between the US and the UK, not Canada. The UK just happened to use Canada as their staging ground, because those northern colonies were still loyal to them. That's a bit different than saying the country of Canada that we see today was responsible.

  • I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. Sea a lawyer licensed in your jurisdictionif you need legal advice on this matter.

    >1. if i were named in such a suit and refused to
    >appear, wouldn't VA need an extradition order
    >or something to get me into the VA court?

    nope, this is a civil case, not criminal. They would would enter a default judgment against you, then have that judgment entered in your state (or wherever you had seizable assets or a paycheck).

    >2. does the sovereign state of VA have standing
    >in the case because the AOL server is locate in VA

    It's not an issue of standing; that's for the plaintiffs. It's a question of jurisdiction. And it appears that it is not that just *any* server was in VA, but that the newsserver that *published* the statement to the rest of the world was in VA. If this had gone first to a Texas surver, when was relayed to VA in the ordinary course of Usenet distribution, this would be a different matter.

    hawk, esq.
  • No, he's not. Rehnquist & O'Connor are conservatives, as is Kennedy on a bad day. Scalia & Thomas are "classic liberals," as liberalism was understood in the eighteenth century. Classic liberals tend to be opposed to government action in general, and will strictly hold the gov't to its defined powers, regardless of what it's trying to do. They'll join the conservative block to slap down extra-constitutional social programs and preferences (with the liberals voting to permit them), and join with the liberal blcok to slap down intrusions on personal freedom and liberty (with the conservatives voting to extend government power).

    Given the cases that come up today, they vote with the conservatives more often than the liberals. Bring up free speech issues, or government surveillance issues, and expect them to vote with the liberals.

    Kennedy tends to vote with this pair, except when he gets cranky, and spends time in the conservative block. And if police safety or similar issues are in issue, Scalia's knee has a tendency to jerk to the right.

    The only one of the lot that you can count on to favor your rights over the government regardless of the issue is Thomas, politically incorrect as it is to say this. I used to think that he was peeking over Scalia's shoulder, but in the still rare cases that they vote opposite each other, it's Thomas voting for individual rights, and Scalia voting for government power.
  • Nope. That sounds more like "collateral estoppel"--which only applies between the same two parties.

    However, if Santa Clara County, California, holds a criminal trial, no other county in California can try the same defendant for the same crime. Clark County, Nevada could. However, I know most of the judges there (err, those who were there 5 years ago), and most of them would be downright frosted to see such a case come before them . . .
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday June 11, 1999 @10:04AM (#1854873) Journal
    >Well, the problem itself is not new. E.g. if you,
    >a Californian, kill another Californian in
    >Nevada, either California or Nevada can try you
    >for murder (either, but not both, though).

    Actually, both could. Double jeopardy applies to multiple trials by the same soverign, and Nevada and California are separate sovergeins (the imperial pretensions of some California agencies notwithstdanding).

    Caselaw has held that this permits the federal courts to try an individual after a state fails, as well, though this, IM!HO, is an incorrect application of the principle: the federal government is *not* sovereign in its own right, but relies on delegated power from the states. In these cases, the delegated power is generally from the state that has already held a trial. Hoever, these cases tend to come up when there has been either a miscarriage of justice, or a politically unpopular result, and the maxim that, "hard cases make bad law" comes into play, and the desire to punish the wrongdoer takes precedence over a bedrock legal principle.

  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday June 11, 1999 @10:25AM (#1854874) Journal
    Disclaimer: I am a lawyer, but this is not legal advice. If you need advice on this matter, see a lawyer in your own jurisdiction.

    It's fairly typical for long-arm statutes to claim jurisdition as in all matters not prohibitted by the U.S. Constitution.

    While I could also see the case going the other way, I don't see the publication from virginia as all that questionable. Sending an article to usenet is done by having an initial server publish to the next servers in sequence. A deliberate act of the defendant used the virginia server to publish.

    OTOH, while there are no surprises in this case, I'm not sure that it's necessarily the best policy. While the overwhelming majority of the activities of today's federal government exceed its constitutional authority, I'd tentatively agree that given that substantially all of the transmission of a usenet message is interstate, that there is at least some authority from the commerce clause to address the matter.

    also, It seems to me that the case could have been first removed to federal court on grounds of diversity of citizenship (unless the plea specifically asked for less damages than required for removal), then transferred to federal court in the defendant's home jurisdiction in Texas.
  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday June 11, 1999 @02:42PM (#1854875) Journal
    >To put this another way, if you hold that the the
    >Supreme Court cases decided in the first half
    >of this century that considered the extent of
    >Congress' power to regulate "interstate
    >commerce" were wrongly decided . . .

    yes, I do. Those cases had nothing to do with interstate commerce, but indirect effects of indirect commerce (basically, that by growing something himself, he didn't buy it on interstate markets).

    >But no one should think that the courts "know"
    >that the government is acting unconstitutionally
    >all the time, but don't do anything about it.

    No, I'm not claiming that. And as a matter of fact, there are a handful of recent cases suggesting that the pendulum is swinging back (ruling that carjacking is inherently intrastate, for example).

    >but I don't know what the grounds for transfer to Texas would be.

    generally, a defendant can seek to have the federal case transferred to his home jurisdiction. However, after I hit "submit", it occurred to me that there were multiple defendants in multiple jurisdictions . . .

  • How does the opinion of one judge in the United States suddenly become the opinion of all United States citizens?

    I'm a resident and citizen of the USA, and I think the ruling is dangerous and ill-considered because it means that what I write electronically might be subject to the laws of faraway places even though I might not even be *aware* that my postings were being stored and read in those places.

    That means, if it were applied to Usenet, that all postings on Usenet would have to meet the legal standards of all states and perhaps countries which had at least one Usenet server, or I as a Usenet poster could be subject to prosecution.

    On the subject of 'merkins -- let's try to avoid sweeping generalizations, shall we? There are many things to discuss related to this topic -- and slamming other Slashdot users isn't constructive.
    -Rich (OS/2, Linux, Mac, NT, Solaris, FreeBSD, BeOS, and OS2200 user in Bloomington MN)
  • MAE East [mfsdatanet.com] is located in Vienna, Virginia. Can I get hauled into a Virginia court because my network traffic passes through a national access point in Virginia? Or is storage of the message/traffic required?
  • It's rather snide of you to declare that borders are 'obsolete notions.' If that's true, you'd better remove the lock on your door. I don't care what the rules are that obsolete notion you call 'your house,' in the big world we all live in, I like to smash in computer monitors with a ball-peen hammer. Don't you dare try preventing me from having my fun. It's my right, and there aren't any borders any longer.

    Actually, I've heard this from many internet Utopians, and it's not a frivolous notion. In many places, the political and cultural climes were such that many forms of media were simply not available before the advent of the Internet. For instance, I have access to foreign newspapers over the Internet, and my access is not dependent on paying a fortune to a importer delivering week old papers. In that sense, the geographical borders between myself and Europe are essentially irrelevant. During the coup in Russia, traditional media was cut off, but some people were able to communicate using the Internet.

    A border is not limited to the minefield and barbed wire fence around your home. Often a border is a arbitrary creation of state. That state may not be completely compatible with desires and needs of its citizens.
  • All I can say is "try to find a local ISP." This, however, is harder than it sounds. The ISPs that offer the most bandwidth are likely to be multistate, exposing their users to this kind of harassment. The "local" phone company offering that coveted DSL or the cable company offering high-speed service may be headquartered thousands of miles away.

    This does do damage to the notion of the Internet as something of a worldwide phenomenon, unaffected by such obsolete notions as borders. I think the latest issue of "Communications of the ACM" (June 1999) has a short article on Chinese Internet infrastructure. It is quite enlightening-- as the main purpose of ChinaNet is geared toward maintaining state control...
  • Typically you'll find strict laws like this, often bordering on the absurd, in Southeastern states like Virginia. Trouble is, Bible thumping locals in turn elect Bible thumping politicians to rule over them. This is all fine and dandy by me until they start to think they have any juris- diction over people living in saner areas of the country.
  • This is another case of US law that unfairly penalises US citizens. I live in the UK. I can get an AOL account in the UK and US law has no jurisdiction whatsoever over me. I cannot be extradited for an offence that was commited in another country whilst I can clearly prove I was in this country. If I get an AOL account here it still uses the VA servers.

    Seeing as AOL is now a global mess, is it really fair to introduce laws that only penalise one section of that mess. Then again anyone that is dumb enough to use AOL deserve what they get.
  • Not many non-merkins are dumb enough to leave assets in the US subject to the whiles and whims of the US legal fashion world.
  • Why is it that when the Americans start talking about how great they are at war everyone starts laughing ?
  • That's right and when they're done maybe they can go after the pornographers, the gays, the bigots, the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers, the Democrats, and whoever else isn't in power and can't stand up for themselves.

    The ends do *not* justify the means, because once justified, the same means may lead to different ends. If we want to curb spam, let's do it right, let's not do it by circumventing the constitution.

    Aaron Gaudio
    "The fool finds ignorance all around him.
  • The Internet is not a haven for lawlessness. It's high time you twits figured that out.

    Well, from my perspective, the alarm comes not from any notion of "new" legal precedents. Nor does it come from the real-world consequences of Internet behaviour. What does concern me is the variation of laws in different geographic entities.

    It is a given that I have no control over where my words go. Anyone who reads this posting might save it to a server anywhere. Anywhere. Do I have any means of checking that I'm not violating any law in existence anywhere in the world? Of course not. Yet, this ruling underscores the fact that I could be held liable for local laws in regions that I have never physically entered, nor directly contacted.

    If I write an inflammatory article about a particular state or nation, can I be extradited? As others have pointed out, U.S. courts would likely prevent the execution of any judgement for a case like that. But what about "offensive" (i.e., unprotected) speech?

    It's hard enough to find rationality in the courts within one jurisdiction. Now, it would seem, that every person on the Net must comply with the set of all laws from every jurisdiction on the planet. (It's not too hard to imagine mutually contradictory laws arising between, say, the U.S. and France. What do we do then?)

    The bottom line is, not too many people are arguing that no laws apply to the Internet. But doesn't it seem a bit ludicrous that every jurisdication can enforce their own local code on netizens from anywhere in the world?

  • Um, dude, the four corners area is Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. :) (I'm a former New Mexican, but as of recently a resident of Virginia, oddly enough. The 'four corners area' is where the Hanta virus outbreaks keep happening. Not the whole damned state.)

    I'm split on this issue, given that I'm now a resident of Virginia. I'm unsure as to support this ruling (it's got both its good and bad points; good because it leaves lots of loopholes to get around shitty rulings, but bad because long-arm jurisdiction sucks, and puts in more shitty rulings to need to get around), but at least it means now I can threaten a lawsuit to AOL spammers with legal grounds to stand on. :) (I'm not sue-happy, but I'm sick and tired of spam. blah.)
    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.

  • There's somewhat of a scientific flaw in the 'bits as atoms' argument they're using. They're assuming that when I send a bit from my computer to a server somewhere else, it's the exact same electron(s) which carried that bit that end up in the server somewhere else. This is a common misconception, but the electrons travel literally at a snail's pace; it's the *signal* which goes at relativistic speeds.

    As I commented previously, I'm split on this issue. It's beneficial to me, being a resident of Virginia, to be able to sue someone for libelling/slandering/spamming/etc. me since their bits eventually reach my home computer in Virginia (and since I use a personal proxying/masquerading firewall to have all my and my roommates' systems online, it could be argued that a Virginia server is used, without even having to piss over the difference between server and workstation), but I don't like this precedent as it applies to the Internet in terms of long-arm jurisdiction and the like.

    Also, would defamation online be constituted as libel or slander? It's "spoken" in a way, but it's also "printed" in a way (libel relates to untrue printed information, slander is to spoken information), but in reality it's neither. But if 'printing' is constituted by the act of publishing, well, technically anything you say on Usenet is eventually 'published' (on the web) thanks to Deja et al.

    Complicated issue, not at all helped by the fact that our government and legal system are still set up in terms of late 1700s/early 1800s technology.

    Perhaps the best way to look at this whole argument is how it would be on a national television broadcast. If someone in Texas is on CNN and broadcasts his message about how someone in Virginia is a stupidhead because he thinks such-and-such about the purported JFK conspiracy, where would a slander case be held? (Since in this case it's definitely speech at issue, it'd definitely be slander, not libel.) Woudln't it be a federal case? Take it one step further; if someone in Iraq slanders the American president and military and broadcasts it (and some of Saddam Hussein's speeches were, I might add, rebroadcast in the USA as part of the US media's anti-propaganda propaganda) and Clinton decided to sue that certain Iraqi for slander, where would a case, if any, exist?

    Many things to consider.

    "'Is not a quine' is not a quine" is a quine.
  • The problem is, this could set a precedent that by posting _anything_ on the internet, you put yourself under the any jurisdiction your message passes through.

    Say you post a recipe using sherry as an ingredient, and it passes through a jurisdiction which bans discussion of alcohol. Oops, you can be tried in their court.

    This isn't just about libelous speech. It's about any speech, and how you could be vulnerable to any jurisdiction which doesn't like it, for any reason.
  • I wish this was the case. It would be nice if people would be allowed to browse freely, but would have to take a basic computer literacy test before they were permitted to post. It's a really bad idea and it would never work, but just think of how clean Usenet would be if it was possible.

  • All I have to do to sue an aoler is move to VA?

    My bags are already packed :)
  • I believe the gist of this was that only servers can be held accountable. I can't see how intermediate points could be held accountable. It would be like me suing the post office because somebody else was sending me death threats.

    But that's a scary thought.. if backbone providers were held accountable for traffic (not servers, mind you, just routing)... sheesh, what a precident that would be.

  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @07:40AM (#1854893)
    Thanks 1E+08.

    Let me lay out the significance for everybody: This Virginia court has declared AOL, well.. rogue. They just rang the dinner bell and yelled "fresh meat!". I'm sure somebody else can phrase this better, but that's essentially what they've done, and it's a sharp departure from what most courts would do.. that is, allow other courts to excercise control in their jurisdiction.

    What does this mean? Well, in short.. spammers just got a few bruises. It isn't a pancea, but it's a step in the right direction.

    I'm looking forward to somebody using this new development to go after the AOL spammer-scum out there.

    disclaimer: #include

  • You're not. I just hope that you don't have any assets in our country, because those are in our jurisdiction.
  • This could be used as an argument against applying local community decency standards to remote Internet sites - this way Bible Belt judges can't apply their standards to anything other than porn sites in the Bible Belt...
  • it's a rule that EXISTS, yes, but does not necissarily (sp) make perfect sense in this case. some things that you got wrong:

    no one libeled AOL. someone committed libel USING their AOL account. I'm all for enforcing libel laws, but in this case there's some doubt as to which juristiction to try the case in. I have accounts overseas (or I did at some point). If I, as an American citizen, libel a German, while in France, with a Swiss account, on a server in Belgium, where are you going to try it?

    personally, I'm not a lawyer, but I always understood that legal advice was to be given dispassionately and objectively. (according the my grandfather, who is a practicing lawyer, at any rate) if you're a lawyer, act like one. if you're not, you're unlikely as I am to have a perfect understanding of the issues that cause real contraversy (sp) in our legal system today and so should not be pointing fingers and calling names.

    people who do not use the internet as "a haven for lawlessness" have legitimate concerns about laws and precedents that affect them. big brother may be your best friend, but others may not wish such a close relationship.

  • considering the inconsistencies across state lines in laws, am I going to have to choose my ISP by state, now?

    and if you're going to say that I should be responsible for my actions, don't even bother. all I am trying to point out is that local standards are not universal, and that responsibility differs among states. if I choose an ISP and end up with a server in the bible belt for my web page, on which I post some erotic but literarily valuable literature, I could be sued for what is perfectly legal where I live.

    just something to look at...
  • Personally I think that there are too many lawsuits in the world today, and that there are many frivolous lawsuits abounding.

    Further, I'm not sure that the courts picked the right course on this item either, but...

    Where would you folks propose that someone go for redress in a case like this? Or do you all think that people should feel free to say whatever they want, about whomever they want, with total impunity?

    Personally, I think that until there is an internet based court system, people have to accept that there are some difficulties with the drawing together aspects of the net.
  • Actually, it's not that the person has to be located in a particular place, it's enough that you have "dealings" with that locale. if you are a Texan, posting via AOL's servers in VA, you would be subject to both state's legal systems, assuming that this ruling holds.

    The fact that you are using a server in VA, was considered to be "significant dealings" with VA. and living in Texas vertainly puts you under their jurisdiction
  • Jurisdiction is defintely an issue. And currently there is little legal precedent set where jurisdiction should lie in cases like this. The VA courts are simply applying their laws to the case, as there is a dearth of authorities currently available to seek redress of matters like this in the cyber sphere.

    I'm not sure that applying laws from the physical sphere is totally appropriate to the internet, but I do think that it's probably better than letting people run around doing and saying whatever they like.

    I agree with several of the poeple that have pointed out previously, that freedom of speech does not guarantee that you can say whatever you feel like, with impunity.
  • This is not a blow against free speech. The Bill of Rights doesn't guarantee your right to libel someone else, nor to slander them. If you do this, it is a crime. The crime must be adjudicated somewhere. The question is: where?

    The problem here is that this question is not so easily answered. Can someone in another country be held to account for an online action that is legal in his own country but a crime somewhere else? These jurisdictional issues need to be addressed. It does no good whatsoever to say that laws shouldn't apply (for whatever odd reason) to things we do on the Internet; the simple fact is that people do bad things online just as they do in the "real world" and they need to be punished for them. This problem is not going away, and blabbering about an alleged "autocracy" won't change things.

  • My concern was principally that the original poster did not seem to understand that online crime must be punished, as he was whining about "archaic autocracy." The critical issue is one of jurisdiction and enforcement.

    According to the NYTimes article, this was not about pornography:

    Bochan alleged that in some of their messages, the defendants accused him of being a pedophile, according to the court papers.

    This is clearly a question of possible defamation (if he is not a pedophile), and because it was done in a published form it could be libel.

    I'll relent on the question of libel/slander being an actual crime; I think you're right that it's only a tort. I disagree that the Constitution provides protection for deliberate attempts to damage the reputation of others through spreading untrue information about them. However, it is neither a tort nor a crime to spread the truth about another person, no matter how unpleasant that truth is. This is something the Constitution does protect. The critical issue has to do with the truthfulness of the attacks upon another person's character.

  • I have no problem whatever with libel being prosecuted in the courts. But I don't think the jurisdictional issues have been entirely resolved -- even if there is good reason to treat this particular case as having occurred in Virginia. The larger problem is that people have committed/will perform acts on the Internet which are illegal in some places but not in others. What laws will cover these cases? Am I responsible for criticisms of the Chinese government (something that's illegal in China) if my postings manage to get through their Net blockade? Who's laws appertain? It appears to me, at first blush, that the only sensible course is to apply the laws of the jurisdiction in which the person actually lives (unless there's a contractual agreement on the part of the parties involved that moves that jurisdiction elsewhere). Otherwise, I become subject to laws that I don't necessarily even know exist.

  • Our local rabble-rousing rag printed some pictures of the victim's injuries (from the court documents?). They were nasty.
  • I find this strange that they can apply this kind of law to the net...
    It's the same as being able to drag someone into court from another state simply because they sent a letter there...
    Will they also be trying to sue people in China, or Europe or anywhere else in the world for that same use of that server?
    It seems to me, that this law cannot be consistently applied, and is quite simply another case of the people that make the laws deciding on things that they don't understand (c.f. the troubles experienced by Demon internet, and a particularly litigious, and highly annoying person, who's determined to make a name for himself by ruining a good thing for everyone else)...
    If there's one thing I've noted in Law over the past several years, it's a complete lack of common sense...
    I hope they wake up before they try to tie th ings down so badly that simply connecting up to the net, and viewing the wrong banner ad, yoiu get sued halfway across the world.

  • According to long arm statutes all you have to do is conduct sufficient activities within a state to warrant a connection with that state. That's the way it has always been and always will be. It would appear that using a server in that state is grounds for sufficient activities for a connection to that state.

    So what. You should grow up and be responsible for your actions. Stop whining.

  • This is eventually going to have to be settled in the Supreme court. I wonder how long that is going to take. Whatever way it goes, I would rather know for sure than having to guess what some state my traffic is going through might want.

  • The article said that he was using a local ISP and AOL's content (i think they call it "bring your own connection") some of my less technical friends use this with their cable modems, despite my pleading...


  • by Bernal KC ( 10943 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @09:22AM (#1854909) Homepage
    Here is the Edupage summary for the California case:

    In a decision with global implications, a three-judge appellate
    panel from the California Court of Appeal for the Second District
    has ruled that the state of California has no jurisdiction over a
    Web site whose hosting servers are located in the state. The
    ruling clarifies the issue of jurisdiction in lawsuits involving
    Web sites and out-of-state companies. The court's decision
    addresses a defamation suit filed by plaintiff Steven Rambam
    against the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO). The JDO had
    posted information on its Web site claiming that Rambam was a
    racist Nazi sympathizer and a potential murderer. In his
    lawsuit, Rambam claimed that the JDO's contracts with
    California-based Web hosts GeoCities and Xoom.com provided the
    state with jurisdiction in the case. The judges disagreed.
    "Defendants' conduct of contracting, via computer, with Internet
    service providers, which may be California corporations or which
    may maintain offices or databases in California, is insufficient
    to constitute 'purposeful availment,'" wrote judge Mildred
    Lillie. (C|Net 06/09/99)

    The C|net article is here [news.com]. Seems to me that the case law is very unsettled. (Not that I have a clue about law!) Which makes the pending battles over UCI TA [infoworld.com] legislation all the more important and dangerous.http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/display Story.pl?/features/990531ucita_home.htm

  • yeah, well, maybe where you're from.. I think the attitude says it all. Not all of us categorize people from a given region into one stereotype. I have tended to see it taught elsewhere in Virginia -- where the education and water aren't so keen...
  • I know from my law class that lex loci commissi delicti is one platform of our legal system; it translates something roughly to the effect of "in the place of action" -- laws are to be tried in the last location where an action takes place, if it crosses over county/city/state lines, etc. I don't know/think that this is law, as much as it is theory, I'm no lawyer.

    I did find this link [comparativelaw.org], however, that talks about the varying degrees to which some states follow this theory.
  • * AOL Subscribers probably explicitly consent to jurisdiction in Virginia as part of their subscription agreement.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the case in question. In the AOL terms-of-service (ie, your use contract with AOL), you can consent to jurisdiction in Virginia for disputes arising out of your contract with AOL.

    This case is about a third party suing someone for comments posted through AOL. AFAIK, AOL isn't even a party to the litigation.
  • fatwah (death sentence)

    *Bzzt* Nope. A fatwah is a "statement" about a question of faith in Islam, IIRC - and quite a few other religious leaders appear to have stated that Khomeini's letter wasn't a real fatwah, but that Western media have presented it as such.

    A more real example of a fatwah is the one from Algerian religious leaders which allowed women raped by the "revolutionaries" take an abortion (which normally is prohibited in Moslem countries).

  • This has some disturbing connotations, if taken to its logical conclusion. How long before writing foul language to a newsgroup in America results in extradition to Australia, or posting dirty stories results in incarceration in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or elsewhere?

    Allowing one jurisdiction to start reeling in users whose alleged "crime" was committed sitting at a computer in a distant geographical location is a very, very slippery slope to an ugly future, where the most repressive and restrictive jurisdiction prevails everywhere.

    Unfortunately this isn't the first time this has happened -- back in the BBS days there was a California man who stood trial in (I think it was) Kentucky or Tennessee for violating local obscenity laws, even though the postmaster who had accessed the "obscene" material had deliberately dialed into the BBS (located in California). I do not recall how the case ended up, but it wouldn't surprise me if it had been cited to justify this instance of jurisdictional abuse.

    This kind of ruling gives governments a very heavy hand in choosing not only who they want to punish, but under what set of mutually inconsistent rules.
  • Some of us scream about the deterioration of "society." From the old perspective, yes, many of our tried and true institutions (ways of ordering the chaos around us) are crumbling. This is because they are no longer relevant to modern day life. They must be abandoned if real progress (wtf does that mean?) is to occur.

    Yes, but some would argue that there are a few "conditions" that completely transcend this chaos, and our attempts to control it. Great societies have fallen because they fell into a state of neglect. Their citizens, having become greedy, lazy, and unable to maintain a sense of self-discipline, made them an easy target for takeover. There are some things we CANNOT abandon no matter how hard we try, because they come with the package - the one we know as humanity.
  • "the coffee wasn't spilled, it was in fact so hot, it dissolved the bottom of the cup, and that's how she was burned."


    She put the coffee between her legs, she squeezed it a bit too hard, the top came off, which allowed the container to become compressed, and that made the coffee spill.

  • AOL resides in VA.
  • >This is going to be something of a landmark case,
    >quite possibly. In the case of a criminal or
    >civil complaint about activity on the internet,
    >which jurisdiction should be used? The accused's
    >location (I would assume from where the internet
    >activity was made), the alleged victim's location,
    >the accused's ISP location (as in this case), or
    >even federal (inter-state) or international

    The ISP's location was just a side-bar in this case. It's something that's useful to grab eyeballs to the story. However, the real issue was that the person filing the suit also resides in VA.

    There is nothing new here. Nothing internet specific. No earth-shattering precedents are set here. This is another case of media sensationalism polarizing the slashdot readership.

    It's starting to become almost enteraining.
  • > Do the laws of other states apply to what I do
    > while I'm in my own? No.

    If you commit a crime against someone in another state that causes them damage in that state then, yes, you can be tried in that state. And that's exactly what this case is about.

    I'm not a lawyer... I don't even play one on TV. Still, I imagine watching the slashdot readers argue over something like this (from a lawyers perspective) is probably like when I watch a bunch of non-programmers discuss programming design.
  • They are both in Virgina. Sorry I wasn't a little clearer. I meant to point out that AOL actually resides in the same state as the person filing the suit.

    This is an important point in Virginia since VA has stricter laws on this sort of things than most other states. In another state, this all would have been a slam dunk. In VA, we needed that extra little AOL being in VA thing.
  • "...2) You've set foot in four states at the same time (Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah)? Feh! I can do all fifty, AND have it legally accurate in a court of law...."

    Well given the fact that Wyoming doesn't come close to bordering Arizona I'd say that's a much more impressive feat than yours. (Hint: The Four Corners you are referring to are Colorado, Arizona, Utah and, New Mexico.)

    This message brought to you by the Society of Better Map Reading.

  • So religious beliefs aren't a good reason to ban something, but your community's beliefs on pornography are? Many people's judgements about pornography come directly from their religious convictions. Many communities try to ban literature which is erotic but also has literary merit as well. Where do you draw the line? And before you say that pornography is against the law in some cases, consider that the the Satanic Verses is against the law also (in Iran, at least). It's not that I'm particularly in favor of pornography, I just don't think that the line between repressing religion and repressing pornography is as clear as you think.

  • We are having a free exchange of ideas and ideals - right this very minute. No one is forcing you to look at pornography, even if those packets are mixing with my words right now. Sure, there are bad parts of the 'net, but there are also a lot of really useful parts. And you only get to the bad stuff out there if you decide to go there. I'm sorry that some parts of the 'net don't meet your high standards for free speech, but I think you have to take the positive as well as the negative consequences of free speech.

    I agree that the folks opposing the dissemination of porn aren't just uptight prudes who don't "get" the Internet. Some of them are intelligent people with a lot of integrity and strong convictions, and I respect them for that. But the fact remains that I don't want anyone else to decide what information I can receive, no matter how well-intentioned they are. As soon as you let one person control your access to information, then you really can't trust what you know at all, can you? The bottom line is that I don't trust anyone else to form my perceptions of the world for me.

  • I agree that these jurisdictional issues need to be resolved, but the fact is, in this case we're talking about a crime in VA or a crime in TX. The laws are clear in both states, The person needs to be tried in one of them. Let it be VA, let it be TX, if the person is guilty just get him or her off the net. There's too many people opening their yap without using common-sense restraint and if we can get this one to stop we're one closer to a more rational net.

  • AC or not this person is right on the money.

    This is the kind of law the Internet needs. If people are say untrue, malicious, libelous things, they should be ready to pay the conseuquences. I dont see what is so bad about being extradicted to VA if you've broke an VA law using a VA server. This person could have probably tried these people in Texas as well, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

    People need to be responsible for what they say. If it means being tried in a court in the state of your ISP, so be it. Remember you dont have anything to worry about if you didn't do anything wrong.

    There's a lot of knee-jerking on /. about AOL and Free Speech. We're not talking about either of those. We're talking about a possible crime, and a person being brought to trial for that crime in the state in which the Judge feels it was committed. Let the jury decide.

  • the question was not about AOL's legal presence, but of the legal presence of an AOL subscriber - an entirely different legal situation
  • What the California judges ruled was that even if the ISP is in the same state as the person making the complaint, a court in that state does not have jurisdiction over a user from another state who has no other presence except his ISP
  • I don't remember which state it was, but a Federal judge ruled just a few days ago that simply having your site hosted on a computer in a jurisdiction in which you had no other "legal" presence did not create such legal presence, and without that legal presence, you could not be requred to reply to a suit in that jurisdiction.

    Sounds to me like Virginia is trying to overrule the Federal courts - or someone is up for re-election.
  • There will ALWAYS be trouble in the Balkans and in the Holy Land.. ALWAYS.

  • "Look at the figures: most of the revenue being made via the Internet at this time are going into sites delivering Pornography"

  • 1. if i were named in such a suit and refused to appear, wouldn't VA need an extradition order or something to get me into the VA court? would the VA Militia invade Michigan to drag me off to a prison cell next to Manuel Noriega? how can a moronic decision in a distant state do anything more than keep me from ever vacationing there?

    if enough folks became VA scofflaws, the VA tourist bureau would take notice.

    2. does the sovereign state of VA have standing in the case because the AOL server is located in VA? if that's the case, then we should inform anyone running a server in VA that we can't do business with them because of this stupidity. this will encourage those running servers in VA to relocate. once AOL & a bunch of other big guys move their servers to DC or MD, the VA chamber of commerce would take notice.

    What I want to know is: what can VA do to me if I never go there? what can VA do if the server is out of state?
  • I beleive that this is an excellent law. If you went on a crime spree across the United States, and ended up in California-you will be sent back to each state and tried for those crimes. It does not matter where you end up-you 'physically' committed the crime elsewhere. There is no difference here-the data is 'physically' on the server in that state. It does not matter where you are now-you had to be on that server, in that state somehow-whether it was by FTP, Telnet, etc.. And that is when and where the crime was committed.

    As for your Swizerland scenario-the same would apply, except past examples have shown us that you would probably hold the owner of the usenet server accountable, and not the person who actually posted it (I'm not agreeing with this)-but yes, if the crime was commited on a server in Swizerland, I think that you should be tried under Swiss jurisdiction. BUT, I also think that it could go one way or the other-they had a decision, the state that the person was in at the time the crime was committed, or the actual state that the crime was committed in-they made a decision and either one would probably have the same effect. It could be worse, you could be tried for the same crime twice under two juridictions-but they took care of that a long time ago ;)
  • OK-I can see your point about over-seas/outer country conflicts with this law-but to get back on track, this law is apparently only within states in the US-and like I said before, if it was against the law to post certain opinions on a usenet server in Moronia, then I believe it would be the admins responsibility to moderate what is going on-In the US, these "deformation of character" lawsuits have just begun with online content, therefore it has not gotten out of hand-and we have freedom of speech (somewhat). An admin of a usenet server would not have to keep strict moderation on a list here in the US (yet).
  • The only problem with that theory is the likely possibility that, when dialing into AOL, you are simply accessing a frame relay (or other data) network that passes all information back to Virginia.

    It's much like what Tymnet and so forth used to do. You'd just call in and announce where you were going, and Tymnet would pass your data directly to the destination server without modification.

    If the opposite ruling were true--that you could only be prosecuted where you are--but the "electronic presence" held, long distance phone fraud would be impossible to prosecute (IMHO) because you're not "talking" to your local switch, instead you're talking to the person at the end of the line because no "server" in between changes up the data.

    (Copyright 1999, ARR. See author for republishing rights)
  • > It's the same as being able to drag someone
    > into court from another state simply because
    > they sent a letter there...

    They can do that now, if the letter was part of
    the commission of a crime (fraud, blackmail,
    false advertising, etc.) In that type of crime,
    however, you would have actually had to have had
    a real presence in that jurisdiction.

    This is going to be something of a landmark case,
    quite possibly. In the case of a criminal or
    civil complaint about activity on the internet,
    which jurisdiction should be used? The accused's
    location (I would assume from where the internet
    activity was made), the alleged victim's location,
    the accused's ISP location (as in this case), or
    even federal (inter-state) or international

    Pros and cons can be made for any of these cases,
    depending on what aspect you find most important
    (overall consistency vs. local variation).

    I'm not saying I agree with the ruling (if it
    is enforced, watch all of the national ISPs flock
    IMMEDIATELY to the state with the most favorable
    legal environment).
  • > Actually, both could. Double jeopardy applies
    > to multiple trials by the same soverign, and
    > Nevada and California are separate sovergeins
    > (the imperial pretensions of some California
    > agencies notwithstdanding).

    I though double jeopardy applied if a court of
    competent jurisdiction makes a ruling. If either
    California or Nevada tried the case and reached
    a verdict, then the other could not try for the
    same crime.
  • by Willy K. ( 19859 ) <wkoffelNO@SPAMalum.mit.edu> on Friday June 11, 1999 @07:36AM (#1854937)
    I'm a little uneasy about this decision. First of all, this means that precedent is set for other such cases of electronic storage being at some point under the jurisdiction of the state in which servers reside. There are millions of servers out there and with routing and storage the way it is, most internet users don't have the know-how or the means to track things like usenet posts or other sorts of uploads.

    It seems that suddenly we can open up a whole new world of law, where a computer crime can be tried in whatever state seems to have the laws that are most in favor of the prosecution. The entire realm of computer crimes could be slowed to a halt while courts decide where all these cases should be tried.

    Finally, the second poster here had a very good point. What about other countries? What if some American libels me on a newsgroup and some usenet server in Swizerland gets ahold of it. Can I try him under Swiss Law if I live in Swizerland? What about if I'm his next door neighbor? There's a lot of issues to be sorted out with this kind of decision, and I'm not convinced that the judge in this case was internet savvy enough to think about some of the technical and community ramifications of such a judgement.
  • I tried to find the UN rules regarding an official declaration of war, and what happens if it's refused, but couldn't. If anybody does find them, wanna post the link?

    Anyway. Rumour has it that there's actually 3 independant countries in Australia (possibly it's all urban legend, but it could be fun), 1 in Western Australia which makes money by being a tax haven, one in Gippsland who floats toy boats down his river to display his naval might, and dunno where the third is.

    Now. Theoretically, the Gippsland guy got autonomny becuase the local shire wasn't fixing his waterways so that floods didn't rip the shit out of his lands, yet wouldn't let him fix them himself. So he officially declared war on Australia, via the UN, listing that as one of this complaints.

    Australia ignored him (unsurprisingly)

    After 3 weeks, he was allowed to declare himself a seperate country, and seceeded from Australia. Australia either
    - Can't do shit because it's all official UN or...
    - Can't be bothered doing shit as it's only one guy or (more likely)...
    - This is all crap anyway

    What's this mean? Well, if you have enough valid complaints against US, file an official declaration of war with the UN, and hope US doesn't bomb the crap out of you for it. If you wait long enough, declare your bedroom a seperate country, with your server in it. Make your own internet laws.

    And then try to enforce them.

  • Snicker - someone seems have forgotten that not everyone lives in the USA...

    >You know it seems to me that this wonderful >country we all live in has been getting worse and >worse.
  • I'm a little uneasy about this decision

    Lucky you, just a littly uneasy. I am downright pissed off!

    It seems that suddenly we can open up a whole new world of law, where a computer crime can be tried in whatever state seems to have the laws that are most in favor of the prosecution.

    Well, the problem itself is not new. E.g. if you, a Californian, kill another Californian in Nevada, either California or Nevada can try you for murder (either, but not both, though). Of course, in Internet age the problem becomes much more severe and it is not helped by clueless courts.

    What if some American libels me on a newsgroup and some usenet server in Swizerland gets ahold of it. Can I try him under Swiss Law if I live in Swizerland?

    You can, if you can convince the Swiss court that it has jurisdiction. I don't know about Switzerland, but various countries have different ideas about the jurisdiction of their courts. Even if you convince the court it has jurisdiction, and win the case (probably by default), your problems are not over. You have a judgement against that pesky American and what are you going to do with it? You'll probably want to enforce it, but you'll need an *American* court to enforce it and in this specific case the American court is likely to lecture you on First Amendement and tell you to go jump into the lake (living in the US does have some advantages, after all).

  • The "long arm" statute is only enforceable within VA. ... Even if they want you, all you have to do is refuse to appear. The judge will issue a bench warrant and as long as you don't have to go to VA you're fine. One state's bench warrant doesn't have to be honored by any other.

    (1) The entire point of a long-arm statute like this one is to subject nonresidents to jurisdiction. Subject to some constitutional limitations, they are enforceable.

    (2) The judge will not issue a "bench warrant" if you don't appear to defend yourself in a civil case; he'll just rule that you automatically lose.

    (3) If you don't show up and therefore lose, the plaintiff can get his judgment against you entered wherever you live (except for possibly the Cayman Islands or some such) and use it to go after your assets (house, car, bank account, etc.).

  • by alkali ( 28338 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @08:07AM (#1854948)
    In fact, the case was heard in federal court, under so-called "diversity" jurisdiction.

    [In the U.S., federal courts may hear cases to be decided under state law if the parties are "diverse", i.e., if one party is a resident and the other parties are not (here, here, the plaintiff was a Virginia resident and the defendants were Texas residents). If you are sued in a court of a state you don't live in, and you want the case to be heard in federal court, you may "remove" the case to the federal court. The case has to meet a certain size cutoff (currently, at least $75K must be in dispute).]

  • by alkali ( 28338 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @08:24AM (#1854949)
    Some posters have suggested that these kind of statutes are new, or reflect American or Virginian overreaching. So far as I know, all jurisdictions -- you too, Canada! -- permit residents to sue nonresidents under some circumstances. The "long-arm jurisdiction" statute at issue here, Va. Code 8.01-328.1 [state.va.us], is a pretty typical example. Here is the relevant provision of the Virginia long-arm statute:

    A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who acts directly or by an agent, as to a cause of action arising from the person's:

    3. Causing tortious injury by an act or omission in this Commonwealth . . . .

    The judge in this case found jurisdiction under this provision on the ground that the defendants committed an "act" in Virginia by publishing on AOL's Virginia-based server. That's pretty questionable in and of itself, but what makes it even worse is that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been held to require that nonresidents have some certain level of "minimum contacts" with a state before they may be subject to that state's jurisdiction. It certainly seems questionable whether that standard was met here.

    Incidentally, if you ignore a lawsuit against you in another jurisdiction as one poster has suggested -- "default" is the technical term -- the plaintiff can generally have the judgment entered in whatever jurisdiction you keep your wealth and use it to go after your assets there. (In particular, U.S. states are required by the Constitution to give the judgments of other state courts "full faith and credit.") A court will generally only refuse to enter the judgment where it is "repugnant to public policy" of the jurisdiction; for example, U.S. courts won't enter a British judgment if the underlying claim is a libel claim which would be barred by the First Amendment in this country.

  • by alkali ( 28338 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @11:06AM (#1854950)
    While the overwhelming majority of the activities of today's federal government exceed its constitutional authority, ...

    To put this another way, if you hold that the the Supreme Court cases decided in the first half of this century that considered the extent of Congress' power to regulate "interstate commerce" were wrongly decided -- and there is a small but serious minority of legal scholars who so hold -- then you would conclude that the overwhelming majority of the activities of today's federal government exceed its constitutional authority. But no one should think that the courts "know" that the government is acting unconstitutionally all the time, but don't do anything about it.

    also, It seems to me that the case could have been first removed to federal court on grounds of diversity of citizenship (unless the plea specifically asked for less damages than required for removal), then transferred to federal court in the defendant's home jurisdiction in Texas.

    It was in federal court -- presumably by way of removal, as you suggest -- but I don't know what the grounds for transfer to Texas would be. Venue seems to lie in Virginia pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391(a)(2) [cornell.edu]. The doctrine of forum non conveniens (Lat., "The forum is not convenient") doesn't seem to be applicable, as the plaintiff lives there and at least some material events related to the case occurred in that district.

  • This case is not about AOL. This case is not about the internet. I am a law student and I just studied this crap in school.

    There are two separate issues, one is a constitutional due process issue of personal jurisdiction, and the other is a state long arm statute.

    The state long arm statute requires that the "act or omission" that causes harm take place in Virginia in order for suit in Virginia to be proper. That is what the whole deal with the AOL server being in Virginia pertains to.

    As for Personal Jurisdiction, this is a constitutional requirement imposed by the 5th AMD.
    The article mentions three reasons that this satisfies the Due Process Clause. First, the plaintiff lived in VA, second the harm would occur there, and third the defendant knew the plaintiff lived in VA. Had these things not been satisfied the judge would have gone the other way.

    Most of the post-apocalyptic hysteria regarding this is jumping the gun. This isn't really that big a deal. Wait until the circuit courts get their hands on it. District courts don't make the law, the appellate cts do. And in this field nothing changes until the Supreme Court says so.
  • by adimarco ( 30853 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @08:00AM (#1854954) Homepage
    Here's the problem:

    Current political structures are dependant upon the concept of geographical location and borders. Laws, government, etc. only apply within a set geographic region that you call your territory.

    The net transcends the concept of physical location. On the net, your 'location' becomes your IP, it's really the only valid descriptor of location on the net, and it shares no ties to real physical location.

    Attempts to apply legal models centered around physical geography to something entirely outside the realm of physical geography will only produce more confusion, and more instances like this.

    To take it a step further, we are now moving into the information age with an alarming pace. All societal transformations of this magnitude (the industrial revolution, for example) have taken hundreds (if not thousands) of years to occur. This one will happen primarily in a few decades. One generation.

    There will be growing pains.

    Some of us scream about the deterioration of "society." From the old perspective, yes, many of our tried and true institutions (ways of ordering the chaos around us) are crumbling. This is because they are no longer relevant to modern day life. They must be abandoned if real progress (wtf does that mean?) is to occur.

    Open your eyes ;)

    Anthony DiMarco
  • Though the article stresses that it was the location of the server that was the deciding factor in this case, there is more to this case than that. The article stated:

    "...jurisdiction was justified for three reasons: Bochan lived in Virginia; the harm, if any, would be suffered there; and the La Fontaines knew Bochan was a Virginia citizen, despite their contentions to the contrary. As a result, they could "reasonably foresee" being sued in Virginia, Judge Ellis said. "

    This paragraph shows the application of standerd personal jurisdiction doctrine. Take the server away and even the fact that this happened on the Internet and you get the same result as in this case. If you commit an act that causes harm in another state you can be brought to trial there.
  • by AmJur2d ( 49306 ) on Friday June 11, 1999 @08:27AM (#1855014)
    This ruling is nothing new. It's just the straightforward application of an _existing_ legal rule relating to intentional torts committed in interstate commerce. Some years ago, a Florida publisher published defamatory statements about a California resident in a magazine distributed in interstate commerce. The Californian haled the Florida company into a California court on the defamation suit. This case goes back at least twenty years (1972, if I am not mistaken).

    Nor is this the first time it's happened on the Internet. I personally know of a woman from Minnesota who was sued by someone in Alabama (in Alabama state court) over something defamatory she put on the web. She failed to appear in Alabama and lost a default judgment and is now fighting (and losing) to keep the plaintiff from executing the judgment against her in Minnesota.

    This has nothing to do with "freedom of speech" or anything like that. It's not even news (except perhaps to the woefully uneducated American public that pays no attention to legal matters 98% of the time anyway). This is a well-established legal rule, the application of which in this situation is completely unsurprising.

    Now, let's correct some misconceptions:

    * In theory this means that anyone who libels AOL can be sued in Virginia -- even if the libellant is without the United States. There may be problems with service of process, of course.

    * "Internet Culture" (assuming there was such a thing) is utterly irrelevant.

    * The theorem that the law doesn't apply to the Internet is COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.

    * AOL Subscribers probably explicitly consent to jurisdiction in Virginia as part of their subscription agreement.

    * Virginia is not overriding the federal courts. They're exercising long-arm jurisdiction consistent with the constitution over an intentional tort committed against a domiliciary of the state of Virginia, consistent with well-established law. Every state has a long-arm statute of some sort; most states have one identical in effect to Virginia's. The same thing would have happened if it was Netcom or Earthlink instead of AOL except we'd be talking about a California court.

    The Internet is not a haven for lawlessness. It's high time you twits figured that out.
  • 1) If you send the guy who shares the cubicle with you an email that routes through Guam, do international long distance postage rates apply?

    2) You've set foot in four states at the same time (Wyoming, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah)? Feh! I can do all fifty, AND have it legally accurate in a court of law.

    3) You can tell your live-in girlfriend that having a long-distance relationship is too taxing for you.

    4) You can be tax exempt for subscription fees for porn sites under "Business Expenses" because it passed through your corporate server.

    5) Open up a telnet connection to a server in Cambodia, leave it active, and declare your bedroom to be an official embassy!

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.