On Tuesday, PeopleConnect Inc., which operates Classmates.com, was denied their motion to dismiss in an ongoing case brought against them by Barbara Knapke, after proposing seven arguments for why the case should be dismissed. The court was not persuaded by their arguments and ruled in favor of the plaintiff, who alleged that the company used her likeness and name without consent.
The defendants made seven arguments in favor of dismissal claiming that the plaintiff agreed to arbitration, that her claims were barred by Communications Decency Act, Copyright Act, Ohio Right of Publicity Law, First Amendment immunity and the Commerce Clause.
The court said that “there is no evidence that Knapke gave her counsel any authority to bind her to Classmates’ terms of service,” rejecting the arbitration claim. The court also rejected the Communications Decency Act claim, since Classmates.com could not represent themselves as an “interactive computer service provider.” Also, the “non-consensual use of Knapke’s name and likeness for advertising” does not warrant a preemption of the Copyright Act, the court said.
The court then determined that Ohio law is most appropriate, since the plaintiff lives in Ohio and interacted with Classmates in that state. They held that Knapke successfully alleged a “use” of her image and that it has “commercial value.” Classmates.com argued protection under the First Amendment, but the court concluded that the speech at issue is commercial, “speech that does no more than propose a commercial transaction,” rather than protected speech. However, despite protections that come with commercial speech, “the Right of Publicity Law directly and appropriately advances Ohio’s substantial interest in enabling its citizens to protect the non-consensual commercial exploitation of their likeness.”
Classmates.com is represented by Jenner & Block, LLP.