Via Cyberlaw Clinic

By Leo Angelakos, J.D. ’17

On April 6, 2017, Cyberlaw Clinic students attended oral argument in a First Circuit copyright appeal involving a curious set of facts and legal issues. The case pitted Richard Goren, a Massachusetts attorney, against Xcentric Ventures, LLC, the owner of an online consumer review website known as the Ripoff Report. Goren was upset by a review of his services posted on Ripoff Report by Christian DuPont, the defendant in a prior case where Goren had represented the plaintiff. Goren initially sued Dupont in Massachusetts state court, alleging that Dupont’s review was defamatory. Dupont failed to appear, and thus defaulted. After obtaining a default judgment, Goren requested that Xcentric remove the posting. Xcentric refused, citing the Ripoff Report’s strict “no removal policy.”

Here’s where the dispute gets weird. Upset by Xcentric’s response, Goren obtained amended relief from the same state court that presided over the defamation suit. This amended relief purported to assign Dupont’s copyright in the post to Goren, and to make Goren Dupont’s “attorney-in-fact” to effectuate the transfer. After obtaining a copyright registration, Goren sued Xcentric in federal district court, alleging inter alia that Xcentric had infringed Goren’s newfound proprietary rights as the post’s “owner.”

Goren’s strategy was dubious. He attempted to use copyright law as a backdoor to remedy the alleged defamation. This amounted to a misuse of copyright to censor speech, which is ironic given that copyright law is meant to incentivize the distribution of creative works to the public. Unfortunately, Goren’s strategy is not unprecedented. Similar attempts to use copyright as a means of censorship have been rejected in both the Eleventh and Ninth Circuits. See Katz v. Google Inc., 802 F.3d 1178, 1184 (11th Cir. 2015); Garcia v. Google, Inc., 786 F.3d 733, 736 (9th Cir. 2015) (“[A] weak copyright claim cannot justify censorship in the guise of authorship.”)

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Filed in: Clinical Spotlight

Tags: Cyberlaw Clinic

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