May 302012
 

Earlier this Month, Facebook filed a request for over $700,000 in legal fees with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals following an unsuccessful lawsuit against the website by users outraged over the use of their names and images in the company’s ads.  The appeal seeks to overturn the U.S. District Court ruling that Facebook isn’t entitled to recoup their legal costs “as a matter of law” following the dismissal of the case, reports Media Post News.

The original litigation was initiated by five users of Facebook who were outraged over the unauthorized use of their names and pictures in ads under the website’s “Friend Finder” feature, which suggests “friends” to other users based on email contacts.  The plaintiffs argued that Facebook’s use of their images without their consent violated California privacy law that “bans companies from using names or photos in endorsements without people’s consent.”  In dismissing the suit, the District Court noted that none of the Plaintiffs were able to show that they suffered economic injury due to Friend Finder; a requirement for standing to proceed in Federal Court.   There was no ruling on whether the Friend Finder ads actually violated CA’s misappropriation laws.

Although costs of litigation aren’t typically recoverable, Facebook’s legal argument is that under the state’s misappropriation statute, the prevailing party is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.  In rejecting Facebook’s argument over fees, the District Court cited the lack of determination as to whether or not there was an actual violation of the misappropriation law, and therefore Facebook could not claim themselves as the prevailing party.  It will be up to the 9th Circuit to decide whether the District Court was correct in their interpretation of the statute.

Facebook’s attorneys argue that the request of $706,000 is a reasonable amount in light of the more than $100M that users had sought in damages when filing the suit.  Under the misappropriation law, each “incident” is capped at damages of $750, meaning the defense attorneys would have to address well over 1,000 separate alleged violations.  The Plaintiffs in the action have also appealed the dismissal to the 9th Circuit, where the matter is still pending.