I Have Returned

I’d like to reassure any readers who were wondering if I’d given up the blog, that I have not. I was truly out of the box for the last few weeks on a medical leave, but I am now back and ready to go. And as you can imagine, much happened during my absence. For example, a U.S. Distrcit Court in Illinois issued an interesting ruling. A plaintiff brought a case against an online service called Versuslaw, Inc. Versuslaw allowed users to search names and be linked to court documents where the plaintiff was mentioned. The plainitff contended that this service impaired his ability to get a job. He brought the case under several theories, including a claim that Versuslaw violated his right of publicity. The right of publicity prohibits anyone from using someone else’s name or likeness to sell a product. The plainitff claimed that when his name was entered, in the search box, a link appeared to a Versuslaw Web site, where the searching party could purchase the document. According to the plainitff, that was a commercial use. The court wasn’t buying it. The court documents are a matter of public record and public interest. Allowing anyone to assert a right of publicity claim against any service that faciliatated the production of those public records would freeze access to the records. And that would be a First Amendment problem. We live in an open democratic society, and the events that occur in court rooms are a matter of public record. That isn’t always convenient for the litigants, but I can’t imagine any other way.