On April 19, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a motion to dismiss in a putative class action alleging a California-based website operator violated various Ohio, Indiana, and California state laws by appropriating individuals’ names and likenesses and using this information in online teaser profile advertisements. Plaintiffs contended that the “teasers” violated their rights of publicity, and that memberships give users access to data including location history, family members, court records, employment information, and more. Plaintiffs further stated that “they ‘did not consent to the commercial use of their personal information and personas to promote subscriptions to a website with which they have no relationship.’” Defendant moved to dismiss on numerous grounds, including lack of standing.
In denying the motion to dismiss, the court ruled that plaintiffs have Article III standing to sue and that plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded a cognizable injury in “that their names, likenesses, and related information have commercial value and were being used for a commercial purpose.” The court also reviewed the adequacy of pleadings with respect to the alleged state violations and concluded, among other things, that the defendant’s teasers “are not subject to statutory exceptions for newsworthiness or public interest information.” As to the defendant’s alleged violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), the court considered whether the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) “immunizes [defendant’s] behavior from UCL liability.” According to the defendant, the CCPA generally obligates businesses to notify California residents when personal information is being used, it also “contains an express exemption for the use of publicly available data.” Because this conduct is allegedly permitted by the CCPA, the defendant argued, it cannot violate the UCL. The court disagreed, writing that “all that these provisions of the CCPA do are exempt publicly available data from special notification and disclosure rules that the statute itself imposes on companies that collect Californians’ data. . . . They do not expressly or impliedly set aside privacy-based tort claims or related UCL claims.”