Considering recent headlines one might expect that a law intended to combat cyber-bullying would be relatively uncontroversial. However, some are concerned that a recently enacted California law which makes it a misdemeanor to impersonate someone online “for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person” may unconstitutionally punish legitimate satire.
The Yes Men – known for parodying corporations online – and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among those that have come out against the statute. The statute is limited to impersonations that are “credible” and where “another person would reasonably believe, or did reasonably believe, that the defendant was or is the person who was impersonated.” Satirists, though, may not appreciate having to make sure their works are not too convincing in order to avoid the statute’s reach.
The law allows victims of e-personation to seek damages in civil court and provides for penalties up to a $1,000 fine and a year’s imprisonment. In addition to combating cyber-bullying, the statute adds a weapon to the arsenal of businesses being impersonated online in commercial contexts, whether by competitors, disgruntled customers, or others. Such plaintiffs have in the past been able to hold impersonators liable under theories including defamation, commercial disparagement, tortious interference, and trademark infringement.
Previously on Post or Perish: Doctor Prevails in Suit Against Griper