Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff » Adding clickbait title isn’t false advertising or fraud on author

Adding clickbait title isn’t false advertising or fraud on author

20 September 2017

From Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log:

Dankovich v. Keller, 2017 WL 4081852, No. 16-13395 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 15, 2017)

Interesting dispute: the pro se litigant didn’t like the editing of his essay, including the clickbaity headline added by the editors, and sued for various fraud/false advertising claims. The magistrate judge recommended denial of leave to amend/dismissal of various claims, and the district judge agreed.

Dankovich wrote an essay about his experience as a young prisoner in solitary confinement.  He sent a draft to defendant Eli Hager, an editor at defendant The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that focuses on the criminal justice system. He called the essay The Riving, which dealt with “how quickly solitary confinement can institutionalize and mess with the mind of an adolescent.” Hager requested a few alterations and stated “[j]ust like last time, my higher-up editor will have the final say, so I don’t want to make any promises. But I definitely CAN promise that if you keep working on these pieces and future submissions, you will definitely be published here.” He responded, and then Hager sent him “the latest” version and said that it had moved to the top of the queue for publication. The Marshall Project, in collaboration with defendant VICE, published the essay under the title I’m Losing My Mind after Refusing to Plead Insanity for Murdering My Mom. Dankovich also alleged other changes to the text of his essay, including that he pleaded no contest to the murder of his mother when he pleaded guilty, and that “around”—not “on” — his eleventh birthday he was taken to the hospital for physical abuse by his mother.  (The plea information was apparently later corrected.)  Dankovich objected to the published version but Hager told him that VICE Media wrote the headlines and wouldn’t be changing this one.

. . . .

The statement, “My editor just informed me that she liked your piece (‘The Riving’) so much that she’s moving it to the top of our production queue,” wasn’t a statement that the piece would be published as submitted, nor was the statement that “[a]ll of the different parts are still yours, but they’ve shifted around a lot of lines to make things pack more of a punch” false in context, which included Hager’s statements that he wanted Dankovich to see the edits “since it’s your piece” but that “this kind of editing happens with all of our pieces.” The statement “[a]ll of the different parts are still yours” was thus, in context, not a representation about the published version would be “all his.”  Dankovich’s subjective interpretation was wrong, but that didn’t make out a fraud claim.

. . . .

Initially, Dankovich only pled §43(a)(1)(A) claims, but wanted to argue false advertising: “Defendants continue to advertise a completely false statement which Plaintiff has never written or uttered with Plaintiff’s name online, advertisement which furthers The Marshall Project’s business and political goals.”  The initial complaint argued that the headline was falsely attributed to him.  Considered as false advertising, this fell short: there were no facts alleging that any false statements were made in “commercial advertising or promotion.”

Link to the rest at Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log

The name of the blog where the OP appeared refers to 15 U.S.C. 1125 (Section 43 of The Lanham Act), which prohibits False Designations of Origin, False Descriptions, and Dilution.

To give you a flavor of The Lanham Act, here’s how it starts:

(1) Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which—

(A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or

(B) in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities,

Since PG is certain this little taste will give rise to an uncontrollable craving for more Lanham Act, here’s a link to the entire masterpiece. If that’s not enough, Ms. Tushnet’s blog has more and there’s Lanham Act: Litigator’s Casebook (the ebook is free).

Of course, everyone knows The Lanham Act was named for Representative Fritz G. Lanham of Texas.

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff

3 Comments to “Adding clickbait title isn’t false advertising or fraud on author”

  1. You really should have added “You’ll never believe that…” to the front of the headline.

  2. i thought it should say… “PG read an article and you won’t believe what happened next”

  3. Although on substance, that title is pretty misleading and disrespectful to the author. of course, the Riving was a stupid title. How did this not get settled with a new title?

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.