E-Discovery: Subpoenas to Facebook and MySpace for Private Messages Quashed

Crispin v. Christian Audigier, Inc.

(C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010)


A federal district court recently held that private messages exchanged on Facebook and MySpace cannot be subpoenaed under the 1986 Stored Communications Act. The case is Crispin v. Christian Audigier, Inc., __ F. Supp. 3d __ (C.D. Cal. May 26, 2010).


The plaintiff, Buckley Crispin, alleges that between November 2005 and January 2006, he granted defendant Christian Audigier and Christian Audigier, Inc. (“CAI”) an oral license to use certain of his works of art in a limited manner in connection with the manufacture of certain types of garments. The agreement purportedly required Audigier and CAI to pay a specified sum for the right to reproduce each work of art on street-wear apparel and also required that they include Crispin’s logo on each garment. Crispin alleges that Audigier and CAI have not only failed to include his logo on a substantial quantity of apparel bearing his artwork, but at times they attributed the artwork to another artist or to Audigier himself. Crispin alleges that Audigier and CAI also violated his rights by sublicensing his artwork without obtaining his consent. He asserts that the artwork has now been used on jewelry, watches, shoes, pet accessories, luggage, sunglasses, swimwear, denim, wine bottles, and a variety of other products that are purportedly outside the scope of the limited oral license.


Defendants served subpoenas duces tecum on three social networking websites: Facebook, Media Temple, Inc, and MySpace, Inc. The subpoenas sought Crispin’s basic subscriber information, as well as all communications between Crispin and tattoo artist Bryan Callan, and all communications that referred or related to Audigier, CAI, the Ed Hardy brand, or any of the sublicensee defendants. Audigier and CAI contend that this information is relevant in determining the nature and terms of the agreement, if any, into which Crispin and Audigier entered.


In a lengthy decision, U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow reversed a ruling from a magistrate judge that found that defendants were entitled to subpoena private messages exchanged on Facebook and MySpace. The court held that private messages exchanged on Facebook and MySpace are no different than email exchanges governed by the Stored Communications Act. Because the Stored Communications Act prevents “providers” of communication services from divulging private communications, such as electronic messages, to certain entities and individuals, the court quashed the subpoenas with respect to the private messaging. With respect to the Facebook wall postings and MySpace comments, the court remanded the matter to the magistrate judge for further evidentiary development of whether certain of the sought after information was publicly available.


For a copy of the case, click here


Carrie Appler and Rick Cohen





case provided courtesy of Lexis 


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