Friday, February 24, 2012
Sued for Refusing to Help a Cyberstalking Victim
By Victor Fiorillo
Earlier this week in Philadelphia’s Federal Court, 25-year-old Temple grad Cailin Arena and her friend Patricia McWilliam of South Carolina sued a John Doe they say has been cyberstalking them and publishing their copyrighted photos and writings without their permission. In the same suit, they name Internet giant Google—which hosts the perpetrator’s blog, Korean Dating Bloggers, as well as a fraudulent Google Plus account set up in Arena’s name—for failing to do anything about it.
In recent years, the women have traveled to Korea and Japan to teach English to grade-school students in those countries. Arena, who has been dating a Korean man since 2010, is currently teaching in Japan, where her boyfriend resides, while McWilliam teaches in Seoul, South Korea. Both women have blogged extensively about their overseas experiences, and these blogs, which they’ve deleted, appear to be the original source of the screen-grabbing stalker’s material.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed by Arena’s father, Montgomery County attorney Charles Arena, the problems began on January 3, 2012, when John Doe sent an anonymous email to Arena’s supervisor containing a link to sexual content and stating that Arena was responsible for it, and another email to Arena, which read, “Sorry to say but you’re an ugly brown something. You probably also smell bad. Have fun in Japan, I hear the radiation isn’t bad in Fukushima. Why not buy some vegetables from there for you and your ugly brown children.” Also that day, John Doe is said to have posted racist commentary about Arena in an online forum associated with her job.
One week later, John Doe created Korean Dating Bloggers, using Arena’s full name and her employer’s name as a website tag, so that his blog would come up in Google searches for her. On the site, he posted screen shots from her now deleted blog, copyrighted pictures she says he stole from her actual Google Plus account, and negative commentary about her. He also created an impostor Tumblr account and Google Plus profile in her name. He reached out to contacts in her actual Google Plus circle, linking them to Korean Dating Bloggers. The allegations relating to John Doe’s actions toward McWilliam are similar.
The plaintiffs contend that the defendant’s use of their copyrighted material violates the Digital Millennium Copyright and that Google has a responsibility to remove it. They and their attorneys have repeatedly contacted Google headquarters, demanding a resolution.
At first, Google responded that they do not remove allegedly defamatory, libelous or slanderous material unless requested by a court order, even though the plaintiffs’ claims were regarding copyright, not defamation.
Then, Google responded with a message that the plaintiffs call “nonsensical.” In it, Google stated that the company decided not to take action “based on our policies concerning content removal. We would like to assist you, but we don’t currently disclose this information. Should it become publicly available in the future, you may find it on our site at http://www.google.com/about.html.” Getting nowhere with Google, they filed the suit.
As for the identity of the blogger, the plaintiffs believe they know who he is and that he resides in Pennsylvania. They hope that the court will compel Google to reveal his true identity and intend to file more actions today. “The law hasn’t caught up with technology,” says Charles Arena. “This is scary. What do you do when someone seeks to do irreparable harm to you online?”
A Google spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.