The AutoAdmit Lawsuit
posted by Daniel Solove
Ever since the Washington Post exposé about the AutoAdmit discussion board, it has been in a downward tailspin. According to the Washington Post article of March 2007:
She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, has published in top legal journals and completed internships at leading institutions in her field. So when the Yale law student interviewed with 16 firms for a job this summer, she was concerned that she had only four call-backs. She was stunned when she had zero offers.
Though it is difficult to prove a direct link, the woman thinks she is a victim of a new form of reputation-maligning: online postings with offensive content and personal attacks that can be stored forever and are easily accessible through a Google search.
The woman and two others interviewed by The Washington Post learned from friends that they were the subject of derogatory chats on a widely read message board on AutoAdmit, run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent. The women spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution online.
A short while ago, Anthony Ciolli (the Penn law student who helped run the board) had his offer of employment rescinded at a law firm.
The latest — a complaint filed against a number of people associated with AutoAdmit by two law students who claim that their “character, intelligence, appearance and sexual lives have been thoroughly trashed by the defendants.” The case is Doe v. Ciolli, 307CV00909 CFD, and the complaint has been filed in the District of Connecticut. The complaint claims the following causes of action: copyright infringement, appropriation of name or likeness, public disclosure of private facts, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.
The WSJ blog has more about the story here. According to the WSJ blog:
“It’s bringing the right to protect yourself against offensive words and images into the 21st century,” said David N. Rosen, a New Haven, Conn.-based attorney for the students and a senior research scholar in law at Yale Law to the Law Blog in an interview. “This is the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe,” he said of the postings about the women on AutoAdmit. Rosen is joined by Mark A. Lemley, of counsel at San Francisco litigation boutique Keker & Van Nest and a professor at Stanford Law School who teaches computer and internet law. They are taking the case pro bono. Here, they have posted a notification on the lawsuit on AutoAdmit.
The issues in this case are of great interest to me, as I have a book forthcoming this October called The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (Yale U. Press, Oct. 2007).