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The Story of Dealing With 33 Attorneys General 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the people-get-mad-on-the-internet dept.
microbee writes "Early this year, Topix, a popular community forum, faced investigation from 33 state Attorneys General for the practice of charging a fee for 'expedited review' of content that was flagged as inappropriate. The case was settled on August 9th, with Topix dropping the fees in question. Now TechCrunch is running an article by Topix CEO Chris Tolles, in which he talks about his experiences dealing with so many Attorneys General. Quoting: 'This is going to happen more — The States' Attorneys General are the place that complaints about your company will probably end up. This is especially true if you host a social or community based site where people can post things that others may dislike. And, there's no downside to attacking a company based in California for these guys (MySpace, Facebook, Craigslist have all been targets in the past couple of years). Taking complaints from your citizenry and turning them into political capital is simply too good an opportunity for these guys to pass up.'"
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The Story of Dealing With 33 Attorneys General

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  • by houstonbofh (602064) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:09PM (#33326784)
    At some point there will have to be a decision on where an "Internet company" really is. You simply can not be subject to all the laws of all the places on the Internet.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Put the company outside the jurisdiction of concern.
      • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @04:57PM (#33327564) Journal

        Under current laws internet companies are treated the same as mail-order companies -

        They are subject to the laws of whatever state they reside (say: Vermont) plus the central, general government if their goods (say teddy bears) cross state lines. (If they don't cross lines, then only Maine has authority.) In my example the business would not be subject to foreign government outside of Vermont, just the same way a Polish business is not subject to the governments of Germany or France or other EU states.

        And there's a good reason for that: No seller or citizen (like me) should be subject to a government where he has no representation.

        • by westlake (615356)

          They are subject to the laws of whatever state they reside (say: Vermont) plus the central, general government if their goods cross state lines. In my example the business would not be subject to foreign government outside of Vermont, just the same way a Polish business is not subject to the governments of Germany or France or other EU states.

          You've forgotten that goods crossing international borders have always been subject to export controls and export duties, import controls and import duties.

          The wood

          • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @06:16PM (#33327972) Journal

            >>>You've forgotten that goods

            Good grief. You didn't understand a single word I wrote. I wasn't talking about the good. I was talking about the company. The man who owns Vermont Teddy Bears is subject to VT and US regulation, but not California or any of the other states. Those governments haze zero jurisdiction over non-citizens.

            As for other brilliant ideas, like New York State wanting me to collect taxes from my ebay buyers and file a tax return, they can rot in hell. I owe zero allegiance to that government, nor do I have any voice speaking for me in its legislature.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by KiahZero (610862)

              Then you can choose not to have contacts with those states. New York isn't forcing you to sell your products to residents of New York.

              If you have contacts with a forum state, you're subject to that state's jurisdiction in matters related to those contacts.

              • by Svartalf (2997)

                In all honesty, I don't know why you got modded "interesting".

                The jurisdiction of a state ends at it's state lines- period. A law in New York does not apply to me unless I'm physically IN the state, regardless of what the state says on the matter. Civil stuff won't have you extradited to that state- and there's strict limits to what they can/can't do to you when you weren't in the state to begin with. They also have strict limits on what they can/can't do to you if you're not currently within the state w

              • >>>If you have contacts with a forum state, you're subject to that state's jurisdiction in matters related to those contacts.

                Only to a certain extent. They can block my ebay advertisement from being viewed in New York, or block my shipment from entering New York, or arrest my buyer for making an illegal purchase, but they have as much authority over my body as the government of China (i.e. zero). They have no authority to arrest non-citizens.

                And if NY doubts that, then they can send the NY militi

            • by kabloom (755503)

              Well, at this point it was just an investigation, but presumably the Attorneys General have the power to bring a case against Topix in federal court for some alleged violation of federal law.

        • by ensignyu (417022)

          Hmm, what about services? Since most non-retail websites are more like a service, assuming they even charge money rather than operating on ad revenue.

          And then there's virtual goods, which you might manipulate entirely on a single server farm in, say, Vermont, even if you live in another state.

        • by sg_oneill (159032)

          Not if your trading internationally.

          In international trade its the clients state that has juristiction (under Gutnick et al). So for instance if your dealing with an Australian customer, Australian law is what applies. If your dealing with Brits, brit law applies. If you dont like, dont enter a contract with them.

          That was established in the Gutnick decision where it was held that the place of publication in defamation is wherever the reader was. The principle was loosely portable outside of that.

    • Just require users to swear they are all in one state.

      Magic

      • by Skapare (16644)

        Just tell users if they want your online services, they have to come to your server in (whatever state or country). Isn't it great that the internet allows people to go to so many places where so many companies are.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:28PM (#33326942)

    The AGs should not be able to do this until they can demonstrate laws were broken. Otherwise they are making up the rules as they go along. Rules that have not been approved by a law making body.

    Topix should be able to petition a judge to shut down any talk of remediation until the AGs present formal charges.

    • by Peach Rings (1782482) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:35PM (#33327008) Homepage

      AGs shouldn't be able to do anything at all. The California attorney general has jurisdiction. The rest of the world (except the federal government) has no say whatsoever.

      • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday August 21, 2010 @03:58PM (#33327162) Homepage

        Well then I guess they only provide services to people in the state of california. In reality they don't, you know it, I know it, they knew it. It's the same reason why FB has drawn the ire of both the german and canadian governments. Because the internet removes borders, and as such they become subject to the laws of other places.

        • It's amazing how dumb people can be (at least in regards to the law and jurisdiction).

          Let's say an owner is located in UK but his website is visible all across the EU. That means he's subject to the laws of UK, the EU, and nothing else. It does not matter that his site is visible in France, Germany, Poland, and so on..... he is not subject to their laws. LIKEWISE: An owner located in CA but visible all across the US is subject to the laws of CA, the US, and nothing else. It does not matter that his s

          • Being visible to is one thing. What if he starts offering his site in French as well? What if - prior to the adoption of the Euro - he offered his services available by payment in French Francs? Can you still argue that It's just a site in the UK that is only subject to UK legislation?

            I agree that a line should be drawn, otherwise pretty much every site is going to be breaking a law -somewhere- and being subject to that law by default would be insane; but I'm not so sure that the line should be drawn so

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Xaositecte (897197)

              Being visible to is one thing. What if he starts offering his site in French as well? What if - prior to the adoption of the Euro - he offered his services available by payment in French Francs? Can you still argue that It's just a site in the UK that is only subject to UK legislation?

              Yes.

              If the owner of the site decided to start accepting Chinese currency and offering his site in Chinese, he would still not be subject to Chinese laws. There's going to be an arbitrary line drawn either way, and we cannot have a chaotic mishmash where nobody is sure what jurisdiction applies to a website.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              >>>Can you still argue that It's just a site in the UK that is only subject to UK legislation?

              No British citizen who lives on British soil should ever feel the cold steel of a French guillotine, especially if he's never left the British Isles. Furthermore, it is not logical for a Englishman to be answerable to a Fucking Legislature where he has no voice. Can you imagine that chaos that would cause?

              "We the French assembly have determined that all web owners that displayed nudity, even prior to pass

              • Furthermore, it is not logical for a Englishman to be answerable to a Fucking Legislature where he has no voice. Can you imagine that chaos that would cause?

                It would cause no particular chaos. You would be answerable (presuming a law was broken) but that doesn't mean you don't have a voice there. You can get representation to show up in their courts (potentially arguing that the seat of the court be moved to your state).

                This is exactly the situation that applied in the BREIN vs Sunde et al (The Pirate Bay

                • >>>It would cause no particular chaos. You would be answerable... ...to a Foreign Legislature and a Law where you had no voice in its crafting (i.e. to representation). That is not democracy. It is Tyranny.
                  It would be equivalent to the US starting to arrest Europeans for violating the Patriot Act..... and they have no voice in Congress to say, "I am against this law." That is the exact opposite of Democracy.

              • by macaddict (91085)

                Furthermore, it is not logical for a Englishman to be answerable to a Fucking Legislature where he has no voice. Can you imagine that chaos that would cause?

                We don't have to imagine it. It was called The American Revolution! ;-)

              • by theNAM666 (179776)

                Exaggerated? You're off the board of reason ability!

                It is rather unlikely that any French legislative body is going to be concerned with basic nudity. It is equally unlikely that anyone is going to be talking about an extradition treaty with Iran, over civil matters, any time soon.

                But if you create a website hosted in the UK, who's intent is to sell Nazi memorabilia to France, there's at least an argument that France should be able to ask the UK to consider curtailing that activity.

                As for "zero repres

        • by sjames (1099)

          That's exactly what they do though. The users travel to California using their packets as an intermediary.

          • When the telephone was invented, the US Supreme Court already ruled that just because a person's voice carries into a foreign state does not mean he/she is subject to that other state's laws. The person is only subject when his body enters the other state.

    • The first line from the CEO should have been "what can I do to make you guys go away."

      The second line should have been "I'll put this lube on right now so it'll be easier."

  • Today's reality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cdrguru (88047)

    Today if you are a white male anyone can pretty much say whatever they want about you without it being considered actionable. There is libel and slander, but it is difficult to prove actual malice. Without that it is going to be a tough fight in court to get anywhere with libel or slander.

    However, if you are in what is considered to be a protected group, such as women, African-Americans or other groups like this, it can easily be considered a violation of federal law to post comments which are derogatory

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098)

      Ah yes. It is terrible to be a white man in the US. Let me give you a clue: you have no idea what it is like to be a woman, a black person, or a Muslim. Stop comparing your plight to theirs, it makes you look ridiculous. Furthermore, while a gay person might have Barney Franks to go to, you, as a white male, can go to 81% of the Senate and 76% of the House to find someone white. An only slightly smaller fraction of that would be white and male. So no, you're not being prosecuted or mistreated. You're still

  • by johnhp (1807490) on Saturday August 21, 2010 @04:54PM (#33327544)
    A friend of mine came to me when she found disparaging things were posted about her on one of the Topix threads, and wanted me to help her to use her debit card to pay for having it removed. Being unfamiliar with Topix's extortion, I was naturally very surprised to see that they offered this "expedited investigation" or whatever it was called. I convinced her to wait a few days and see whether the normal channel of removal worked.

    Oddly enough, it did work. I was able to flag the post over the course of a couple of days, and it was eventually removed. So don't say that they *never* removed posts based on the free system. They did at least once.
  • Seriously, can we stop with the French throwbacks, and say things the English way? What's wrong with General Attourneys?

    • Seriously, can we stop with the French throwbacks, and say things the English way? What's wrong with General Attourneys?

      Yes, that would make the singular and plural possessive cases easier.

      For example, an AG and her staff are having lunch and the waiter arrives with sandwiches.

      Should you tell him "that's the attorney's general ham and cheese"? Or should you say "that's the attorney general's sandwich"?

      In TFA, should it be "the 33 attorneys' general lying venality"? Or "the 33 attorneys general's mendacity?"

  • Topix is a horrible, searcn-engine spamming, pop-up and advert-ridden site whose very existence depends entirely upon leeching other sites' content.

    Not worth the mention here or anywhere.

  • "...Taking complaints from your citizenry and turning them into political capital is simply too good an opportunity for these guys to pass up.'"

    I'm as suspicious of politicians as the next guy BUT Taking complaints from your citizenry and acting on them is kind of in the job description.

    Besides, it might of occurred to the company in question, that taking payola to take down what might be considered liabelous posts exposed them to even more liability since they could no longer claim a lack of resources

  • Subject (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Legion303 (97901)

    "Taking complaints from your citizenry and turning them into political capital is simply too good an opportunity for these guys to pass up."

    On the other hand, a company doing shitty things that piss off consumers is a good way to get attention from attorneys general.

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