Online attorney directories like Avvo protected under the First Amendment, a federal court held

downloadOn September 12, 2016, an Illinois District Court ruled that the publication of online attorney directories is fully protected under the First Amendment and does not violate an Illinois law that prohibits the use of someone’s identity for commercial purposes without permission.

In this putative class action, Plaintiff alleged that defendant violated the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (“IRPA”), 765 ILCS 1075/1 et seq., by using plaintiff’s identity for commercial purposes without his consent. Defendant operates the website Avvo.com on which it promotes certain legal services and publishes a directory of attorneys in the United States.

Defendant moved to dismiss arguing that its conduct was protected under the First Amendment to the US Constitution and, even if not, defendant’s use of plaintiff’s name was for a non-commercial purpose exempted under the IRPA. According to Defendant, the listings were “simply a computerized version of the paper “yellow pages” listings that received full constitutional protection” “not only because their content is somehow inextricably intertwined, but because, as a threshold matter, they do not constitute commercial speech.”

The Court granted Defendant’s motion: holding “otherwise would lead to the unintended result that any entity that publishes truthful newsworthy information about individuals such as teachers, directors and other professionals, such as a newspaper or yellow page directory, would risk civil liability simply because it generated revenue from advertisements placed by others in the same field”.

Vrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123578, 44 Media L. Rep. 2285 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 12, 2016) is available at https://casetext.com…                Open PDF

 For more information, Francesca Giannoni-Crystal

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