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On May 26, a federal court issued an opinion in a discovery dispute that applies outmoded federal electronic privacy laws from the 1980s to Facebook and MySpace. The ruling could permanently change the way “social networking” sites are viewed by businesses and those involved in litigation. The decision also appears to offer the first in-depth analysis on the effect of “privacy settings” found on many social networking sites and whether information is protected from discovery by federal privacy laws.

The U.S. district court’s decision partially reversed and partially vacated a magistrate judge’s order declining to quash subpoenas for certain materials held by a third party in a copyright infringement case. See Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010). The decision appears to be the first to apply the Stored Communications Act (SCA), enacted in 1986, to content on today’s social networking sites. See 18 U.S.C. 2701 – 11. The plaintiff, an artist named Buckley Crispin, claimed that the defendants, Christian Audigier Inc. and its sublicensees, used his artwork in violation of their oral agreement. The defendants sought information from MySpace and Facebook, including Crispin’s subscriber information and all communications by Crispin referring to any of the defendants. A federal magistrate declined to quash certain of the defendants’ subpoenas, rejecting among other arguments that the information they sought was protected by the SCA.

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