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Letter from MySpace page not private, court rules

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A California court ruled last week that a high school principal who sent a copy of a MySpace journal entry…

A California court ruled last week that a high school principal who sent a copy of a MySpace journal entry to a local newspaper is not liable for invading the Web author’s privacy.

University of California at Berkeley student Cynthia Moreno penned a journal entry on her MySpace page ranting against her hometown of Coalinga, Calif, according to the court opinion. The post was on her page for about a week before she removed it. When a local principal, Roger Campbell, saw the posting he sent it to the Coalinga Record to be published along with Moreno’s full name.

The publication caused a stir in her neighborhood, the opinion says; Moreno’s family received death threats.

Eventually, the family eventually moved away, and filed a lawsuit against the principal and the Coalinga Record. They sued for invasion of privacy and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The claims against the newspaper were quickly dismissed under the state’s SLAPP statute, which allows the media to move to dismiss lawsuits that target speech in an attempt to block it.

Last week, the appellate court in California upheld the lower court’s ruling dismissing the invasion of privacy claim against the principal.

In order to successfully prove invasion of privacy, the court wrote, the plaintiff must show that private information was disclosed. Since, in this case, the information was taken from a MySpace page, the court ruled that it was public. The court went on to state that the publication of Cynthia’s name was not private either, since her photograph and identity were clear on her MySpace profile.

“Cynthia’s affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material,” the court held.

Regarding the Morenos’ claim against the principal for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court held that a jury should decide if the principal’s actions were “extreme and outrageous.”