In this case, the appellate court was asked to decide whether a musician stated a claim for libel per quod against the popular video viewing Web site, YouTube. When YouTube decided to block access to Joyce Bartholomew’s video, it posted a statement that the video had violated YouTube’s terms of service, a statement which also provided a hyperlink to a list of examples and tips, a list YouTube called its “Community Guideline Tips.” In her complaint, Bartholomew alleged that both the statement notifying users that her video had been taken down and the Community Guideline Tips subsection harmed her reputation. Continue reading
If it is True and a Matter of Public Interest, Facebook Does not have to Remove the Post
Plaintiffs are Jason Cross, also known as Mikel Knight, a country rap artist, and two entities affiliated with him. Defendant is Facebook, Inc. (Facebook). The dispute arises out of a Facebook page called ―Families Against Mikel Knight,‖ which page, plaintiffs claimed, incited violence and generated death threats against Knight and his team. Plaintiffs sought to have the page removed, Facebook refused, and plaintiffs sued, in a complaint that alleged six causes of action. Continue reading
It May Be Free, But the Info on Spokeo Still Needs to be Accurate
Spokeo, Inc., operates a website by the same name that compiles consumer data and builds individual consumer-information profiles. At no cost, consumers can use spokeo.com to view a report containing an array of details about a person’s life, such as the person’s age, contact information, marital status, occupation, hobbies, economic health, and wealth. More detailed information is available for users who pay subscription fees. Continue reading
“Private” Facebook Posts are “Private”
FACEBOOK, INC., Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Respondent; LANCE TOUCHSTONE, Real Party in Interest – (9/26/17)
Here, in Facebook v. Touchstone, a subpoena seeking to obtain “private” Facebook information is at stake. In this regard, real party in interest Lance Touchstone is awaiting trial in respondent San Diego County Superior Court (the trial court) on a charge of attempting to murder Jeffrey R. (the victim). (Pen. Code, §§ 664/187, subd. (a).) After the shooting incident, the victim has been active on his personal Facebook, Inc., (Facebook) account. Continue reading
Be Careful When Posting Negative Yelp Reviews to “Get Even.” It May Just Land YOU in a World of Legal Trouble.
In this case, Montagna filed a lawsuit against Sandra Jo Nunis and several Doe defendants alleging a single cause of action for trade libel. According to the first amended complaint, Montagna, an accountant, prepared a tax return for Nunis in 2015. Montagna initially quoted Nunis a “minimum” fee of $200 for the preparation of her return, based on her representation that her income was comprised exclusively of wages reported on a W-2 form, and she would require only a simple return. However, both Nunis’ income and the resulting tax return were allegedly more complicated than she had represented. Continue reading
If you have been in a car accident, be aware that there is a little known or utilized piece of evidence in later model cars, a “black box.” Technically, it is called the Event Data Recorder (EDR). While it doesn’t necessarily record everything, it may record such things as acceleration, deceleration, impacts, braking, if seat belts were used, speed at the time of the crash, steering angle and if the airbags were deployed. This “objective” data, might help to clarify witness statements. However, be aware that in some instances the data can be overwritten. So you might have to move quickly to preserve it.
Reasonable Efforts to Maintain Secrecy is a Question of Fact
Whether reasonable secrecy efforts were made is a question of fact. (San Jose Const., Inc., 155 Cal.App.4th at 1543 (“[W]hether SJC made adequate attempts to keep its prospective project information secret is for the jury to measure.”); In re Providian Credit Card Cases (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 292, 306 (“[W]hether a party claiming a trade secret undertook reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy is a question of fact….”); Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., 782 F.Supp.2d 911, 960 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 5, 2001) (“The determination of whether information is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy is fact specific.”). Here, for example, is the office or location in question; is office is “off limits;” do the computers have a password; is access restricted to certain people; are there non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements, even oral ones, in place? Importantly, secrecy efforts need only be reasonable under the particular circumstances involving a specific party, industry and situation. (DVD Copy Control Assn., Inc. v. Bunner (2003) 31 Cal.4th 864, 881(“The secrecy requirement is generally treated as a relative concept and requires a fact intensive analysis.”); see generally CACI No. 4404.) Here, the trade secret plaintiff may not be in the aerospace industry or computer software engineering firm. In this case, we may be talking about small, mom and pop operations. In such a circumstance, whether the security which was implemented by the trade secret Plaintiff was reasonable is a question of fact for the jury.
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Whether Information is Generally Known is a Question of Fact
Whether the subject information is generally known to the public or competitors is a question of fact. (Thompson v. Impaxx, Inc. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1425, 1430 (“The issue of whether information constitutes a trade secret is a question of fact.”).) Again, as the Altavion court held, “…even if some or all of the elements of Altavion’s design were in the public domain and thus unprotectable, the combination was a protectable trade secret if it was secret and had independent economic value.” (Emphasis original) (Altavion, Inc. v. Konica Minolta Systems Laboratory Inc. (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 26, 47.)
So, the first inquiry is whether or not the information is “generally known” to the public or competitors. However, even if some aspect is “generally known,” a novel or unique combination of the information may remove it from the “generally known” into a trade secret.
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5. Trade Secrets do Not Need to be in Writing
Trade secrets need not be in writing. (Morlife, Inc, 56 Cal.App.4th at 1522 (“to afford protection to the employer, the information need not be in writing but may be in the employee’s memory”); Brocade Communications Systems, Inc. v. A10 Networks, Inc., 873 F.Supp.2d 1192, 1215 (N.D. Cal. June 12, 2012) (“It is this combination of elements that makes the information valuable and not generally known to the public. Moreover, the mere fact that the information is not in a written list is not dispositive of sufficient particularity.”) Here, many trade secret Defendants attempt to make much of the fact that some of the information in contention was in the Defendant’s “head.” However, as cited above, this is not dispositive and, at best, raises an issue of material fact as to what exactly was in the Defendant’s head and what combination of facts, whether in his head or not, fall under the Trade Secret claim.
What if the information is “generally known,” can that still be a trade secret? The next post will cover this question.
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4. Public Information as a Trade Secret
Importantly, a trade secret may consist of public information and/or elements, combined with information and/or elements that are not generally known, as long as the combination is unknown, kept secret, and has independent economic value. (Altavion, Inc., 226 Cal. App. 4th at 48 (“even if some or all of the elements of [the plaintiff’s] design were in the public domain and thus unprotectable, the combination was a protectable trade secret if it was secret and had independent economic value”) (original italics); 02 Micro Int’l Ltd. v. Monolithic Power Sys., Inc., 420 F.Supp.2d 1070, 1089-1090 (N.D. Cal. March 9, 2006) (court affirmed jury instruction which stated, “Combinations of public information from a variety of different sources when combined in a novel way can be a trade secret. It does not matter if a portion of the trade secret is generally known, or even that every individual portion of the trade secret is generally known, as long as the combination of all such information is not generally known.”); SkinMedica, Inc. v. Histogen Inc., 869 F.Supp.2d 1176, 1194 (S.D. Cal. April 23, 2012) (“A trade secret may be comprised of partly or entirely non-secret elements and still merit protection.”) Often, the Defendants in a trade secret case, as those in the San Jose Const. case, complain that the information sought to be protected by Plaintiff was, in some manner, public. But, again, that is not fatal to a trade secret case. Rather, it is about having all the pieces of the puzzle to the exclusion of all others.
Must Trade Secrets be in writing? The next post will cover this topic
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