New Ruling Regarding Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies

In September 2022, the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a new Texas law that allows lawsuits against social media companies. This ruling is viewed as a victory for those who believe these platforms have unfairly censored certain viewpoints. However, in October, the same court temporarily blocked the law and the legal battle is expected to continue. 

5th Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Texas Social Media Law

On September 16, 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in favor of a new Texas law that allows social media companies to be sued for censorship. Known as Texas House Bill 20 (HB20), this law was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in 2021 and has been hotly contested by tech trade groups, who believe that it will prevent social media platforms from removing hate speech and other extremist views. Florida also passed a similar law, but it was ruled unconstitutional by a different federal appeals court. The Texas law is only applicable to social media platforms with over 50 million active monthly users.

5th Circuit Court Temporarily Blocks HB 20

On Wednesday, October 12, the same federal appellate court temporarily blocked Texas’ HB 20 social media law from going into effect. This ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by tech trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) against Texas’ attorney general. These groups argued that the law represents an infringement on the First Amendment rights of their member companies and that it would force them to permit content that violates their rules.

The state of Texas agreed with the court’s motion, provided that the tech groups do not seek additional time to file a petition with the Supreme Court. The deadline for filing such a petition is December 2022. NetChoice and CCIA plan to appeal the ruling, arguing that the 5th Circuit ruling contradicts a May ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In that May ruling, the court stated that prohibiting the banning of political candidates from social media platforms is a violation of the constitutional rights of tech companies.

Opposition to the New Texas Social Media Law

HB 20 is an extremely controversial law that is strongly opposed by tech companies and groups that represent them, such as NetChoice and CCIA. The opponents of this law argue that it is unconstitutional, as social media platforms have a First Amendment right to prohibit speech and content that they find objectionable based on their terms of service. These critics argue that the law would force social media platforms to allow spam and dangerous content like hate speech.

Lawsuits Under HB 20

According to HB 20, social media users would be allowed to sue social media platforms for their content moderation decisions. If successful, the plaintiffs in these lawsuits could also recover their attorney’s fees. Essentially, large social media companies could be sued for removing content that they believe violates their terms of service. If someone wants to file a lawsuit and cannot afford or find a private lawyer to do so, the Texas Attorney General may file the lawsuit on their behalf. However, with the legal battle over this law far from over, these lawsuits are unlikely to occur anytime soon.

Intellectual Property Rights and Social Media

The legal dispute over HB 20 brings up questions related to intellectual property rights and social media. While not directly related, businesses and individuals need to be aware of these rights. Social media is a powerful marketing and branding tool for companies, but the intellectual property rights implications of these platforms are complicated.

Copyright Infringement on Social Media 

Copyright violations are one of the most common forms of intellectual property infringement on social media. Companies or individuals who publish the copyrighted content of another party without that party’s permission are guilty of copyright infringement. A common example is a third party publishing a copyrighted image without permission and without giving credit to the owner of that image. 

Businesses and individuals who discover that another party on social media has illegally shared their copyrighted content have legal options. This may begin with a cease and desist letter that demands the other party remove the content. If the other party fails to comply, the owner of the copyrighted content may have the right to file a copyright infringement lawsuit to have it removed.

Trademark Violations on Social Media

Trademark violations are another common type of intellectual property violation on social media. For instance, a competing company in the same industry might illegally use a trademark that bears too much resemblance to an existing mark. This can confuse the target audience of both companies, as potential customers need to understand the copycat mark for the original company. This can damage the owner of the true trademark by taking away business that is rightfully theirs.

Victims of trademark infringement on social media should consider taking the following steps to protect their intellectual property rights:

  • Record evidence of the violation by capturing the screen or printing the page where the infringement occurred, with the date and location of the posting displayed.
  • Submit a cease-and-desist letter with carefully worded language.
  • Report the violation to the social media platform.
  • Consider speaking with an experienced intellectual property lawyer for legal guidance.


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