Koch Industries v. John Does 1-25
MEMORANDUM DECISION granting 12 Motion to Quash; granting 12 Motion for Protective Order; granting 12 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Dale A. Kimball on 5/9/2011. (ce)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
KOCH INDUSTRIES, INC.,
Case No. 2:10CV1275DAK
JOHN DOES, 1-25,
Judge Dale A. Kimball
This matter is before the court on Defendants’ Motion to Quash Subpoenas, Issue
Protective Order, and Dismiss Complaint. The court held a hearing on the motions on April 28,
2011. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by Juliette P. White and Judith Powell, and
Defendants were represented by Deepak Gupta and Lester A. Perry. The court took the motion
under advisement. The court has carefully considered the pleadings, memoranda, and other
materials submitted by the parties, as well as the law and facts relating to these motions. Now
being fully advised, the court renders the following Memorandum Decision and Order.
Koch Industries is a Kansas corporation that owns multiple companies involved in a wide
variety of industries, including oil, coal, chemicals, fibers, pollution control equipment, forest
and consumer products, and commodity trading. Koch describes itself as “one of the largest
private companies in the world.” Koch owns a number of federal trademark registrations for the
Koch name and mark.
As part of the promotion of Koch’s business, Koch maintains a website under the domain
name kochind.com. In addition to describing its many companies, Koch’s website expresses
Koch’s policy viewpoints on several political issues. The website also includes periodic
editorials taking issue with such things as the conclusions of scientists regarding climate change
and the Obama administration’s environmental policies. Furthermore, Koch uses its website to
respond to critics of its political viewpoints. Because of the nature of Koch’s businesses, the
website provides only information and there are no products for sale on the website.
During the course of this litigation, Defendants identified themselves as anonymous
members of Youth for Climate Truth, a group concerned about global climate change. This case
arises from a press release created by Defendants purporting to announce a decision by Koch
Industries to stop funding organizations that deny climate change. The press release was emailed
to various new organizations and included a link to a website created by Defendants, www.kochinc.com. Defendants’ website had the same look as the actual Koch Industries site but included
the fake press release. Defendants’ website also contained a link to the actual Koch website.
Defendants’ press release announced that Koch would “restructure its support for
organizations that undertake climate change research and advocacy.” The release claimed that
the company would withdraw funding from groups “whose positions on climate change could
jeopardize America’s continued global competitiveness in the energy and chemical sectors.”
Such sentiments were in stark contrast to the policy viewpoints usually expressed by Koch. The
press release and website were designed to appear as though they were created by Koch and did
not mention the name of Youth for Climate Truth or any of its members.
Defendants’ fake website at www.koch-inc.com was up for a few hours. Despite its brief
existence, however, the press release and website drew a fair amount of media attention. The
New York Times and The Hill quickly wrote articles identifying the press release and website as
hoaxes. The Economist and other publications also wrote articles identifying the press release
and website as spoofs. There is no evidence that any media organization was fooled by
Defendants’ actions. Koch Industries, however, states that it was required to spend time and
money responding to numerous inquiries and investigating Defendants’ conduct.
Because of the fake press release and website, Koch Industries brought the instant lawsuit
asserting causes of action for federal trademark infringement, violation of the Anticybersquatting
Consumer Protection Act, federal unfair competition, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse
Act, common law trademark infringement and unfair competition, and breach of the terms and
conditions of Koch Industries’ website.
After filing the Complaint, Koch filed an ex parte motion for accelerated pre-conference
discovery to seek the identity of the anonymous Defendants. Koch sought to serve subpoenas on
Fast Domain, the domain registration company Defendants used to register the domain name
koch-inc.com, and BlueHost.com, the web-hosting company Defendants used to set up the fake
website. This court granted Koch’s motion and the subpoenas were served.
Because of the media’s coverage of the court’s order allowing the issuance of subpoenas
to uncover the identity of the anonymous Defendants, Defendants learned of the lawsuit and filed
the present motion. In filing the motion, Defendants disclosed the name of the group behind the
fake press release and website. Defendants, however, seek to keep the names of the individuals
involved anonymous. Although the web companies complied with the subpoenas, the identities
of individuals who may have been disclosed through such compliance have not been disclosed
publicly or to the court.
Defendants’ Motion to Quash Subpoenas, Issue Protective Order, and Dismiss Complaint
Defendants’ motion seeks two forms of relief: the protection of Defendants’ identities and
the dismissal of Koch’s Complaint. These two requests are governed by differing standards.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss is subject to the standard requirements for evaluating a motion to
dismiss. Defendants’ request to quash the subpoenas and protect individual identities from
disclosure is subject to a separate standard applied in cases involving First Amendment concerns.
The parties fundamentally disagree as to whether Defendants’ conduct is political speech
protected by the First Amendment or unprotected commercial speech. Because Defendants’
motion to dismiss raises the issue of whether Defendants’ conduct constitutes commercial speech
and can potentially be dispositive of the discovery motion, the court will analyze the motion to
A. Motion to Dismiss
Defendants argue that Koch’s Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted and the court should dismiss this action. Koch, however, claims that it has established a
prima facie case against Defendants on each of its causes of action. Koch’s Complaint asserts
causes of action that can be addressed in three main groups: (1) federal and common law
trademark infringement and unfair competition; (2) violation of the Anticybersquatting
Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”); and (3) violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
(“CFAA”) and breach of contract.
1. Trademark Infringement and Unfair Competition (Counts I, III, and V)
Defendants argue that Koch’s first, third, and fifth claims alleging trademark
infringement and unfair competition under state and federal law should be dismissed because
there was no commercial use of the trademark; rather, the trademark was solely used to make a
political statement. Koch asserts, however, that its Complaint pleads a prima facie case of
trademark infringement and its claim should not be dismissed because it does not know the full
extent of Defendants’ unauthorized use of Koch’s marks at this stage of the litigation. Koch’s
Complaint alleges that Defendants issued the press release and set up the false website “to
deceive and confuse the public, to disrupt and harm Koch’s business and reputation, and to draw
attention to and funding for Defendants’ activities.”
“The Lanham Act is constitutional because it only regulates commercial speech, which is
entitled to reduced protections under the First Amendment.” Taubman v. Webfeats, 319 F.3d 770,
774 (6th Cir. 2003). Thus, the threshold question in assessing Koch’s claims is whether the
Defendants’ speech was “commercial and therefore within the jurisdiction of the Lanham Act.”
Id. The Tenth Circuit has held that a plaintiff seeking to invoke the Lanham Act “must show that
the alleged infringer used the plaintiff’s mark ‘in connection with any goods or services.’” Utah
Lighthouse Ministry v. F.A.I.R., 527 F.3d 1045, 1050 (10th Cir. 2008). That requirement is
“commonly described as the commercial use requirement.” Id. at 1051-52.
In Utah Lighthouse Ministry, an anti-Mormon entity sued a pro-Mormon organization
that set up a look-a-like website to parody and criticize the anti-Mormon entity. Because the
look-a-like site was not selling goods or services, the Tenth Circuit found it was not commercial
in any sense. Id. at 1052.
The Tenth Circuit emphasized that the scope of the Lanham Act is strictly limited to its
function of policing commercial competition for consumers’ benefit. “The Lanham Act is
intended ‘to protect the ability of consumers to distinguish among competing producers,’ not to
prevent all unauthorized uses.” Id. (quoting Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, 505 U.S. 763, 774
(1992)). The Tenth Circuit, therefore, rejected the argument that it is sufficient for the use to be
in connection only with the trademark owner’s sale of goods or services:
In our view, the defendant in a trademark infringement and unfair
competition case must use the mark in connection with the goods
and services of a competing producer, not merely to make a
comment on the trademark owner’s goods and services. . . . Unless
there is a competing good or service labeled or associated with the
plaintiff’s trademark, the concerns of the Lanham Act are not
Id. at 1054 (emphasis added).
In this case, Defendants’ press release and fake website did not relate to any goods or
services and were only political in nature. Not only did the press release and website not relate to
Defendants’ goods and services, they did not relate to Koch’s goods and services. The press
release addressed only Koch’s views on political issues, it did not address Koch’s commercial
goods and services. At most, the press release related to how Koch spends its profits and with
whom it does business.
Koch asserts that the confusion caused by the fake website is sufficient to establish
commercial use under the Lanham Act. To support this theory, Koch relies on three cases in
which courts allowed trademark claims to go forward where the defendant’s use of the plaintiff’s
mark might have diverted the public from the plaintiff’s website. See People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals v. Doughney, 263 F.3d 359 (4th Cir. 2001) (“PETA”); OBH, Inc. v.
Spotlight Magazine, Inc., 86 F. Supp. 2d 176 (W.D.N.Y. 2000); Planned Parenthood Fed. of
Am., Inc. v. Bucci, 1997 WL 133313 (S.D.N.Y. 1997).
The Tenth Circuit has rejected this theory, also known as the “interference” theory, and
the very three cases on which Koch relies. See Utah Lighthouse, 527 F.3d at 1053 & n.6
(criticizing PETA, OBH, and Bucci). “Such an interpretation,” the Tenth Circuit reasoned,
“eliminates the requirement of an economic competitor and is therefore inconsistent with the
purpose of the Lanham Act ‘to protect the ability of consumers to distinguish among competing
producers.’” Id. at 1053 (quoting Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, 505 U.S. 763, 774 (1992)).
The court also criticized “[t]he ‘interference’ theory … on the ground that it would ‘place most
critical, otherwise protected consumer commentary under the restrictions of the Lanham Act.’”
Id. (quoting Bosley Med. Inst., Inc. v. Kremer, 403 F.3d 672, 679 (9th Cir. 2005)). Accordingly,
the Tenth Circuit confirmed that “the defendant in a trademark infringement and unfair
competition case must use the mark in connection with the goods or services of a competing
producer, not merely to make a comment on the trademark owner’s goods or services.” Id. at
1053 (emphasis added).
Koch’s interference theory, therefore, is not actionable in the Tenth Circuit. Utah
Lighthouse Ministry clearly requires some commercial use in connection with the interference or
confusion alleged by Koch. Moreover, the court fails to see any allegation that Defendants’
conduct interfered with Koch’s business activities. Defendants’ press release related only to
Koch’s political views and activities. There was not even any reference to any of Koch’s
products or business practices. Furthermore, none of the media outlets who received the press
release believed it. The only press coverage of Defendants’ conduct referred to it as a hoax.
Therefore, Defendants have not alleged any facts demonstrating confusion.
Koch next argues that it meets the commercial use requirement by asserting that
Defendants issued the press release and set up the website with the intent to draw attention to and
funding for Defendants’ activities. This theory, however, is not factually plausible. Koch
attached fake press release and a printout of the website to its Complaint. Defendants did not
identify their group in their press release or on the fake website. Defendants only identified their
group during this litigation. Defendants’ anonymity is inconsistent with Koch’s allegation that
they sought attention for fundraising purposes. Moreover, the press release and website provided
no means for making a contribution to the anonymous entity. And neither the press release nor
the website provided a link to Defendants’ real website.
The Lanham Act regulates only economic, not ideological or political, competition. Utah
Lighthouse, 527 F.3d at 1053. “Competition in the marketplace of ideas” is precisely what the
First Amendment is designed to protect. Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 794 (1983); see
Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ---, slip. op. at 5-6 (March 2, 2011). On its Lanham Act claims, Koch
lacks any evidence or plausible theory as to how Defendants could have profited commercially
from an anonymous spoof website that sold no products and solicited no donations, that was
disclosed only to reporters, and that was only online for a matter of hours. Defendants’ speech
proposed no commercial transaction. Instead, it sought to draw public attention to Koch’s
controversial stance on a political issue. Koch’s trademark and unfair-competition claims,
therefore, fall outside the scope of the Lanham Act and are foreclosed by the act’s
commercial-use requirement. See Utah Lighthouse Ministry v. Found. for Apologetic Info. &
Research, 527 F.3d 1045, 1051-54 (10th Cir. 2008); Cleary Bldg. Corp. v. David A. Dame, Inc.,
674 F. Supp. 2d 1257, 1267-68 (D. Colo. 2009) (dismissing similar claims for lack of
commercial use under Utah Lighthouse Ministry). Accordingly, the court grants Defendants’
motion to dismiss Koch’s Lanham Act claims.
Defendants assert that the court should similarly dismiss the state common law causes of
action for trademark infringement and unfair competition. The same First Amendment
limitations govern these state-law claims. As this court previously recognized, “Utah law
governing unfair competition, infringement of a patent, trademark, or trade name requires
‘intentional business acts or practices,’ similar to the requirements of the Lanham Act.” Utah
Lighthouse Ministry, Inc. v. Discovery Computing, Inc., 506 F. Supp. 2d 889, 902 (D. Utah 2007)
(quoting U.C.A. § 13-5a-102 (4(a)). Just as Koch cannot satisfy the Lanham Act’s “commercial
use” requirement, “similarly, Plaintiff’s state law claims are deficient in making the same
showing.” Id. Accordingly, the court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss Koch’s state claims
for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
2. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act
Koch’s second claim alleges that Defendants violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer
Protection Act (“ACPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d). To establish liability under the ACPA, Koch
must show that Defendants “used or registered the domain names with a bad faith intent to
profit.” Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 527 F.3d at 1057. In the absence of such a profit
motive—i.e., where the use of a trademark constitutes “bona fide noncommercial or fair use,” 15
U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i)(IV)—the ACPA does not apply. Id. at 1058 (holding ACPA
inapplicable where there was no “inference that the Defendants intended to profit”).
Koch argues that it is premature and unreasonable for Koch to be required to introduce
evidence of Defendants’ intent and motive at the motion to dismiss stage. Koch asserts,
however, that by alleging that Defendants used Koch’s mark to call attention to and promote
Defendants’ agenda and to obtain funding for their activities, it is enough to support an ACPA
claim at this stage.
Congress designed the ACPA to “target a narrow class of cyber-squatters consisting of
those who have the bad faith intent to profit, and not to tread on the rights of those with any other
motives.” Mayflower Transit, LLC v. Prince, 314 F. Supp. 2d 362, 370 (D.N.J. 2004). The
statute sets out a list of nine non-exclusive factors that “a court may consider” in determining
whether the “bad faith intent to profit” standard is satisfied. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i). These
factors attempt “to balance the property interests of trademark owners with the legitimate
interests of Internet users and others” to engage in activities “such as comparative advertising,
comment, criticism, parody, news reporting, fair use, etc.” Lamparello, 420 F.3d at 319 (quoting
H.R. Rep. No. 106-412).
The factors provided by the ACPA are “given to courts as a guide, not as a substitute for
careful thinking” about the ultimate issue in a cybersquatting claim—“whether the conduct at
issue is motivated by a bad faith intent to profit.” Lucas Nursery & Landscaping, Inc. v. Grosse,
359 F.3d 806, 811 (6th Cir. 2004). Moreover, the factors “should be examined in tandem with
the ‘safe harbor’ in the ACPA which provides that bad faith intent shall ‘not be found in any case
in which the court determines that the person believed and had reasonable grounds to believe that
the use of the domain name was . . . lawful.’” Mayflower Transit, 314 F. Supp. 2d at 369
(quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(1)(B)(ii)).
The Tenth Circuit addressed the “bad faith intent to profit” requirement of the ACPA in
Utah Lighthouse Ministry. While at the district court level this court applied all nine of the
ACPA factors to the conduct at issue, on appeal, the Tenth Circuit explained that an examination
of all nine factors was not necessary. Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 527 F.3d at 1058. The court
explained that the “quintessential example of a bad faith intent to profit”—and the activity
primarily targeted by the ACPA—is the act of “purchas[ing] a domain name very similar to the
trademark and then offer[ing] to sell the name to the trademark owner at an extortionate price.”
Id. In addition, a bad faith intent to profit exists when “[a] defendant intend[s] to profit by
diverting customers from the website of the trademark owner to the defendant’s own website,
where those consumers would purchase the defendant’s products or services instead of the
trademark owner’s.” Id. The absence of these motives “readily defeat[s] an inference that the
Defendants intended to profit” and renders additional application of the ACPA factors
unnecessary. Id. at 1058.
Koch attempts to distinguish Utah Lighthouse Ministry on the grounds that it was decided
at the summary judgment stage. But, another district court in the Tenth Circuit has applied Utah
Lighthouse Ministry at the motion to dismiss stage where there was no plausible allegation that
the defendant had an intent to profit. Cleary Building Corp. v. David A. Dame, Inc., 674 F.
Supp. 2d 1257, 1267-68 (D. Colo. 2009). The Clearly Building court recognized that, at the
motion to dismiss stage, “it is not appropriate for this Court to weigh the factors. However, it is
appropriate to look at the unique factors in this case to determine whether Plaintiff has pled
sufficient facts to state a plausible claim that Defendant had a bad faith intent to profit.” Id. at
1265. The issue becomes, then, whether Koch has alleged facts stating a plausible cause of
action under the ACPA.
In this case, Koch does not allege that Defendants registered koch-inc.com with the intent
to sell it for profit. Nor does Koch allege that Defendants intended to profit by diverting
customers from Koch’s own site. The hoax website was not designed to sell anything and neither
does Koch’s actual website. There was no commercial purpose to the hoax website, only a
political purpose. Koch alleges that Defendants profited from the site by using Koch’s mark to
call attention to and promote their agenda. Given that Defendants set up and operated the
website completely anonymously, the only agenda they could have been promoting was the
message, not any entity. The website, for the few hours it was up and running, did not solicit
funding or provide any method by which donations could be made. Defendants’ anonymity
would have made donations impossible. Therefore, Defendants’ conduct is not the type of harm
that the ACPA was designed to protect.
Koch has not alleged facts sufficient for the court to find it plausible that Defendants used
Koch’s domain name “with a bad faith intent to profit.” Id. at 1263. Koch states that the court
cannot make determinations regarding intent or bad faith at the motion to dismiss stage. But,
there is no alleged conduct that relates to “profit.” Even if the complaint is viewed in the light
most favorable to Koch, “it is clear that [defendants were] making a noncommercial use of
[p]laintiff’s marks.” Id. at 1265 (dismissing similar cybersquatting claim under Utah Lighthouse
As discussed above in connection with the Lanham Act claims, Koch’s “interference” and
“fundraising” theories are not in accordance with Tenth Circuit law. Moreover, Koch’s theories
are not factually plausible because Defendants’ conduct did not relate to Koch’s business, only
its political viewpoints, and was done completely anonymously. The website here—which had
no commercial purpose and was established solely to bring attention to Koch’s political stance on
climate change— falls “beyond the scope” of the ACPA. See Lamparello v. Falwell, 420 F.3d
309, 318 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting S. Rep. No. 106-140). Accordingly, the court grants
Defendants’ motion to dismiss Koch’s ACPA claim.
3. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Contract Theories
Koch also alleges that Defendants have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
(CFAA)—a criminal statute that penalizes individuals who “hack” into protected computer
systems. Koch relies on 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g), a provision of the CFAA that authorizes civil
actions for loss or damage caused by computer hacking. The CFAA imposes criminal and civil
liability upon a hacker who accesses a computer system “without authorization or exceeds
authorized access,” 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2), 1030(a)(4).
Koch asserts that in creating the fake website Defendants acted without authorization and
inconsistent with the company’s grant of access. Even if Defendants had some limited
authorization, Koch contends that they acted beyond the authorization granted by breaching its
Koch’s website. Defendants argue that both theories lack merit and ask this court to dismiss both
causes of action as a matter of law.
To state a plausible claim under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, one must be guilty of gaining
“unauthorized access” or “exceeding authorized access” to a protected computer system. But in
this case, Defendants created a mockup of Koch’s website using information that Koch made
“publicly available on the Internet, without requiring any login, password, or other individualized
grant of access.” Cvent, Inc. v. Eventbrite, Inc., --- F. Supp. 2d ----, 2010 WL 3732183, at *3
(E.D. Va. 2010). “By definition, therefore, [the defendants] could not have ‘exceeded’ [their]
authority to access that data.” Id.
In Cvent, a federal district court recently rejected a similar attempt to stretch the CFAA to
the use of publicly available information on a website. There, as here, the plaintiff sought to
future competitors are permitted to access our site or information.” Id. But, as with Koch’s
website, the defendant took “no affirmative steps” to prevent such access. Id. The website was
“not password-protected, nor [were] users of the website required to manifest assent to the Terms
of Use, such as by clicking ‘I agree’ before gaining access to the database. Rather, anyone …
did “not appear in the body of the first page” of the website; instead “[t]he link to access the
Terms [was] buried at the bottom of the first page.” Id. Accordingly, the site was “not protected
The Cvent court observed that the plaintiff’s claim was really a claim that a user with
authorized access had used the information in an unwanted manner, not a claim of unauthorized
access or of exceeding authorized access. Id. A majority of courts have concluded that such
claims lie outside the scope of the CFAA. See id.; LVRC Holdings LLC v. Brekka, 581 F.3d 1127
(9th Cir. 2009); Orbit One Communications, Inc. v. Numerex Corp., 692 F. Supp. 2d 373, 383
(S.D.N.Y. 2010); Lewis-Burke Assocs., LLC v. Widder, --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2010 WL 2926161, at
*5-6 (D.D.C. 2010).
Similarly, in this case, Defendants were given unimpeded access to the information on
Koch’s public website. Koch’s complaint is not that Defendants obtained the information
without authorization, but rather that they ultimately used the information in an unwanted
manner. The CFAA addresses only the act of trespassing or breaking into a protected computer
system; it does not purport to regulate the various uses to which information may be put.
Koch also attempts to argue that it has alleged loss under the CFAA, but loss under the
CFAA “has consistently meant a cost of investigating or remedying damage to a computer or a
cost incurred because the computer’s service was interrupted.” Nexan Wires, S.A. v. Sark-USA,
Inc., 319 F. Supp. 2d 468, 475 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), aff’d, 166 Fed. Appx. 559 (2d Cir. 2006);
accord Commc’ns Westwood Corp. v. Robincharux, 2007 WL 756528 (E.D. La. 2007). It is
insufficient to “claim to have lost money . . . because of the way the information was later
used.” Nexan, 319 F. Supp. 2d at 477. “The CFAA does not contemplate consequential
damages … unrelated to harm to the computer itself.” Am. Ins. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Rickman,
554 F. Supp. 2d 766, 772 (N.D. Ohio 2008).
In addition, “[a]lthough this case arises in a civil context,” the court’s conclusion as to the
extent of conduct prohibited by the CFAA “is equally applicable in the criminal context” and
must be interpreted consistent with the “rule of lenity,” avoiding “surprising and novel”
interpretations that “impose unexpected burdens on defendants.” LVRC Holdings LLC, 581 F.3d
1127, 1134-35 (9th Cir. 2009) (applying the rule in a civil CFAA case). If Koch’s legal theory is
Koch does not approve—could expose a political critic to criminal prosecution. Such a result is
clearly beyond Congress’ intent in passing the CFAA.
Even assuming that liability under the CFAA could be premised on a contractual theory
fail under traditional contract principles. There can be no contract absent “a manifestation of
assent to an offer, such that an objective, reasonable person is justified in understanding that a
fully enforceable contract has been made.” Cal Wadsworth Const. v. City of St. George, 898 P.2d
1372, 1376 (Utah 1995); see Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 19(2) (1981). That
requirement is no less applicable on the Internet. “Reasonably conspicuous notice of the
existence of contract terms and unambiguous manifestation of assent to those terms by
consumers are essential if electronic bargaining is to have integrity and credibility.” Specht v.
Netscape Communications Corp., 306 F.3d 17, 35 (2nd Cir. 2002).
bottom of the page, and there was no prominent notice that a user would be bound by those
terms. Koch’s Complaint neither alleges nor produces evidence of any manifestation of assent to
those terms. The website does not provide any method for manifesting such assent. Seeking to
avoid Specht, Koch points to unpublished district court cases that enforced online agreements in
the context of commercial transactions—in which goods or services were exchanged over the
Internet. These are significantly different than the present case. Koch does not identify a single
case imposing “contractual” speech restrictions on noncommercial web users.
The court, therefore, concludes that Koch has not alleged a plausible claim that
Defendants engaged in unauthorized access of a protected computer system, manifested assent to
consent could be manifested. Koch’s failure to articulate any plausible theory on these points
demonstrates that its CFAA and breach of contract claims cannot survive a motion to dismiss.
Accordingly, the court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss Koch’s CFAA and breach of
contract causes of action.
B. Motion to Quash Subpoena and Motion for Protective Order
Before authorizing subpoenas seeking to strip speakers of their First Amendment right to
anonymity, courts require plaintiffs to make a preliminary showing that their complaint has merit.
Dendrite v. Doe, 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super Ct App. Div. 2001); Doe v. Cahill, 884 A.2d 451,
461 (Del. 2005). A growing number of courts have recognized that civil subpoenas seeking
information regarding anonymous speakers raise First Amendment concerns. See SaleHoo
Group, Ltd. v. ABC Co., 722 F. Supp. 2d 1210, 1214-15 (W.D. Wash. 2010). “If Internet users
could be stripped of [their] anonymity by a civil subpoena enforced under the liberal rules of civil
discovery, this would have a significant chilling effect on Internet communications and thus on
basic First Amendment rights.” Doe v. 2the Mart.com, 140 F. Supp. 2d 1088, 1093 (W.D. Wash.
Accordingly, courts have “outlined strict rules for allowing a subpoena that has the effect
of unmasking the identity of anonymous online speakers.” Doe v. Shurtleff, 2008 WL 4427594,
at *6 (D. Utah 2008). Such rules serve the important purpose of “assess[ing] the viability of [a
plaintiff’s] claims before casting aside [the speaker’s] anonymity, which once lost cannot be
recovered.” SaleHoo Group, 722 F. Supp. 2d at 1215. Although courts have adopted slightly
different versions of the test, “[t]he case law . . . has begun to coalesce around the basic
framework of the test articulated in Dendrite.” Id. at 1214 (citing Dendrite, 775 A.2d 756 (N.J.
Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001)). The Dendrite court held that “[i]n addition to establishing that its
action can withstand a motion to dismiss …, the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence
supporting each element of its cause of action, on a prima facie basis, prior to a court ordering
the disclosure of the identity of the unnamed defendant.” 775 A.2d at 760.
Because the court has granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and determined that Koch’s
Complaint does not state any claims upon which relief may be granted, the court quashes the
subpoenas this court previously allowed to be served and grants Defendants’ request for a
protective order preventing the disclosure of any individual’s identity that may have been
disclosed through the third parties’ compliance with the subpoenas.
For the reasons stated above, Defendants’ Motion to Quash Subpoenas, Issue Protective
Order, and Dismiss Complaint is GRANTED.
DATED this 9th day of May, 2011.
BY THE COURT:
DALE A. KIMBALL
United States District Judge
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