Will MySpace Suicide Case Set Dangerous Legal Precedent?

By Mark O’Neill

A dangerous legal precedent could be set if a woman is convicted of harassing a clinically depressed girl on MySpace to later commit suicide. This is because the only crime in which prosecutors could charge the woman with was violating the MySpace Terms Of Service contract (TOS) which you agree to when you set up your MySpace profile for the first time.

Although what Lori Drew allegedly did to Megan Meier was despicable, it is a bit of a stretch to charge her with “unauthorized access” to MySpace’s computers. Since no cyber-bullying laws exist, they are using the fact that Drew used an account with false details to harass Meier – which is a violation of the MySpace TOS contract – to charge her under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In other words, because she failed to give her real name on her online profile, she’s screwed.

Why is this dangerous? Because if Drew is convicted for violating the TOS of MySpace, then ANYONE in the future caught violating the TOS of any website can also theoretically be charged under the same law. As the Wired Story says, some TOS prohibit you from saying negative things about the company. So if you say anything bad about MySpace, can you be charged with a crime? Other TOS’s have also banned linking. Is that a crime too?

How many online social network users use false names? Are all these people in violation of the law too? Do they all have to be arrested for violating MySpace?

More to the point, how many people actually read a TOS before clicking “I accept”? So how many people could commit a crime without realizing it?

As I said, if Drew is guilty, then I don’t condone what she did in any way. But in their over-zealousness to get a conviction for the Meier family, prosecutors may have gone a bit too far.

So next time you are presented with a TOS on the screen, you might want to hesitate a few moments longer before clicking “I accept”.

Via Wired





12 Responses to Will MySpace Suicide Case Set Dangerous Legal Precedent?

  1. This is all completely ridiculous. You can't press criminal charges on someone for violating terms of service. I mean, the Internet IS serious fucking business, but people are just making themselves look stupid when they try to convict someone of an Internet crime with a piece of legislation from 1986. It's only been amended three times since then: once in '94, once in '96, and then once in 2001 (but by the Patriot Act). Now, it may just be me, but I think that places it just a tad out of date.

  2. This is all completely ridiculous. You can’t press criminal charges on someone for violating terms of service. I mean, the Internet IS serious fucking business, but people are just making themselves look stupid when they try to convict someone of an Internet crime with a piece of legislation from 1986. It’s only been amended three times since then: once in ’94, once in ’96, and then once in 2001 (but by the Patriot Act). Now, it may just be me, but I think that places it just a tad out of date.

  3. Tricky… I think the prosecution might be stretching things a bit here, and I hope the case isn't successful.

    Looking deeper though, what happened wasn't right. An adult should never be allowed to treat a child in such an intentionally destructive manner. I haven't heard of any "Megan" laws being proposed, has anyone else?

  4. Tricky… I think the prosecution might be stretching things a bit here, and I hope the case isn’t successful.

    Looking deeper though, what happened wasn’t right. An adult should never be allowed to treat a child in such an intentionally destructive manner. I haven’t heard of any “Megan” laws being proposed, has anyone else?

  5. I think there is more to this than just TOS. This is also a case of harassment with malicious intent which falls under a number of other laws. The AUSA's probably have a whole list of other indictments attached to this as they know some may get thrown out. That's the way the system works. Federal prosecutors don't go into court with a single charge. They usually go in with dozens of charges/indictments. Al Capone's legal defense got around the racketeering, murder and other indictments but the tax evasion indictment prevailed.

    This article was written by someone who obviously doesn't understand how the system works and didn't do his homework. So he spun FUD out of it. There's not not going to be some TOS violation that we have to fear. The legal system will whittle this down to a case starting with TOS but will eventually evolve to what it is, an adult predator using the internet to prey on a minor.

  6. I think there is more to this than just TOS. This is also a case of harassment with malicious intent which falls under a number of other laws. The AUSA’s probably have a whole list of other indictments attached to this as they know some may get thrown out. That’s the way the system works. Federal prosecutors don’t go into court with a single charge. They usually go in with dozens of charges/indictments. Al Capone’s legal defense got around the racketeering, murder and other indictments but the tax evasion indictment prevailed.

    This article was written by someone who obviously doesn’t understand how the system works and didn’t do his homework. So he spun FUD out of it. There’s not not going to be some TOS violation that we have to fear. The legal system will whittle this down to a case starting with TOS but will eventually evolve to what it is, an adult predator using the internet to prey on a minor.

  7. My knowledge of criminal statutes is a bit crap, but because I work in IP I do know much more about contracts. In my unqualified opinion, web site Terms of Service is a binding contract between two parties, the consumer and the provider. It is not a contract between the consumer and the Federal government.

    And it seems to me that MySpace would have to press charges for this violation of the ToS, not Federal prosecutors. Is MySpace doing that? Maybe I missed it. So under what authority can the Feds charge her? Wire fraud is a massive stretch as this would require evidence of either extortion for monetary gain or some other deliberate criminal activity for the purpose of making money. Any newbie lawyer should be able to win this lady's case.

    Anyway, what a bunch of totalitarian, police- and nanny-state crap. Where can I unsubscribe from the American dream? Oh, wait, I already have – I moved to London. Nevermind, America.

  8. My knowledge of criminal statutes is a bit crap, but because I work in IP I do know much more about contracts. In my unqualified opinion, web site Terms of Service is a binding contract between two parties, the consumer and the provider. It is not a contract between the consumer and the Federal government.

    And it seems to me that MySpace would have to press charges for this violation of the ToS, not Federal prosecutors. Is MySpace doing that? Maybe I missed it. So under what authority can the Feds charge her? Wire fraud is a massive stretch as this would require evidence of either extortion for monetary gain or some other deliberate criminal activity for the purpose of making money. Any newbie lawyer should be able to win this lady’s case.

    Anyway, what a bunch of totalitarian, police- and nanny-state crap. Where can I unsubscribe from the American dream? Oh, wait, I already have – I moved to London. Nevermind, America.

  9. In a sense, it makes sense. Think of all the criminals who have done despicable things but were only convicted of unrelated charges. For example Al Capone was not convicted of Volstead Act violations or or murder. He was convicted of tax evasion. He was sent to prison, including Alcatraz!, for essentially the rest of his life. I think one can argue that tax evasion is a lesser crime than murder — you're just depriving the government of income and not violating anyone's life or liberty. And other tax evaders have not been sent to a maximum security prison for the rest of their lives.

    Yes, she violated the MySpace TOS, but she did it for the purpose of harassing a minor and encourage her to commit suicide. Is telling someone to kill themselves and then they it considered murder? I guess that is up for a jury to find out. And if it takes a TOS violation to get the case to trial, then so be it.

    If she is convicted and does hard time in prison, I would hope that judges and juries (except the OJS jury) would have enough sense to not equate "murder" with "saying negative things about a corporation". Should someone do hard time for saying "Comcast sucks"? No, of course not. Should someone do hard time for harassing someone and encouraging them to commit suicide? Definitely.

  10. In a sense, it makes sense. Think of all the criminals who have done despicable things but were only convicted of unrelated charges. For example Al Capone was not convicted of Volstead Act violations or or murder. He was convicted of tax evasion. He was sent to prison, including Alcatraz!, for essentially the rest of his life. I think one can argue that tax evasion is a lesser crime than murder — you’re just depriving the government of income and not violating anyone’s life or liberty. And other tax evaders have not been sent to a maximum security prison for the rest of their lives.

    Yes, she violated the MySpace TOS, but she did it for the purpose of harassing a minor and encourage her to commit suicide. Is telling someone to kill themselves and then they it considered murder? I guess that is up for a jury to find out. And if it takes a TOS violation to get the case to trial, then so be it.

    If she is convicted and does hard time in prison, I would hope that judges and juries (except the OJS jury) would have enough sense to not equate “murder” with “saying negative things about a corporation”. Should someone do hard time for saying “Comcast sucks”? No, of course not. Should someone do hard time for harassing someone and encouraging them to commit suicide? Definitely.

  11. I blogged about this too and came to the same conclusion that this is a bad law to use to prosecute Lori Drew. The woman is scum and deserves some jailtime, but using hacker laws (which work just fine to prosecute hackers) to get a conviction for harrassment is silly.

    but seriously, Los Angeles, where they are prosecuting this case, has a really bad track record for convicting anyone of any important cases. Lori Drew will walk just like OJ.

  12. I blogged about this too and came to the same conclusion that this is a bad law to use to prosecute Lori Drew. The woman is scum and deserves some jailtime, but using hacker laws (which work just fine to prosecute hackers) to get a conviction for harrassment is silly.

    but seriously, Los Angeles, where they are prosecuting this case, has a really bad track record for convicting anyone of any important cases. Lori Drew will walk just like OJ.