eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc.

Yesterday, we took a look at “Major Tours, Inc. v. Colorel”, which addresses whether a party may obtain a Protective Order relieving it of the duty to access backup tapes, even when that party’s failure to issue a litigation hold resulted in the data only being available on those backup tapes.

Discoverability of social media content has been a big topic this year, with several cases addressing the issue, including this one, previously discussed on eDiscovery Daily.  The holiday week look back at cases concludes with Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010), which addresses whether ‘private’ data on social networks is discoverable.

This copyright infringement claim brought by artist Buckley Crispin against defendant and designer Christian Audigier, alleges that Audigier used artwork outside the scope of the original oral license between the parties and also sub-licensed the artwork to other companies and individuals (named as co-defendants) without Crispin’s consent.  The defendants served subpoenas on social media providers Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple, directing them to turn over all communications between Crispin and Audigier, as well as any communications referencing the co-defendants.

Crispin sought to quash the subpoenas, arguing that they sought private electronic communications protected under the Stored Communications Act of 1986 (SCA), prohibiting Electronic Communication Services (ECS) and Remote Computing Services (RCS) providers from turning over those communications, but the motion was denied because Magistrate Judge John E. McDermott determined that Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple did not qualify for protection from disclosure under the SCA.  Crispin moved for reconsideration with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

District Court Judge Margaret Morrow’s decision partially reversed and partially vacated Judge McDermott’s order, finding that the SCA’s protections (and associated discovery preclusions) include at least some of the content hosted on social networking sites, including the private messaging features of social networking sites protected as private email.  She also concluded that because Facebook, MySpace, and Media Temple all provide private messaging or email services as well as electronic storage, they all qualify as both ECS and RCS providers, with appropriate SCA protections.

However, regarding Facebook wall postings and MySpace comments, Judge Morrow determined that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether these wall postings and comments constitute private communications as the user’s privacy settings for them were less clear and ordered a new evidentiary hearing regarding the portions of the subpoenas that sought those communications.

This opinion sets a precedent that, in future cases, courts may allow protection to social networking and web hosting providers from discovery based on SCA protections as ECS and RCS providers and may consider social media ESI protected, based on the provider’s privacy controls and the individual user’s privacy settings.

So, what do you think?  Is this the most significant eDiscovery case of 2010?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Happy New Year from all of us at Trial Solutions and eDiscovery Daily!