MySpace Suicide Case Could Open Door To Criminal Prosecution For Many

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MySpace Suicide Case Could Open Door To Criminal Prosecution For Many

Fri May 16, 2008 @ 01:22PM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Myspace_ip_20060905 A suicide that resulted from alleged MySpace cyberbullying has caught the eye of civil libertarians.

Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after one of her cyber-boyfriends online, 49-year-old Lori Drew, pretended to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans and told her that the world would be a better place without her. Allegedly, Drew was getting even after the girl had a falling out with her daughter. Meier suffered from depression.

Now, eager to punish Drew for her deception, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are charging Drew with one count of conspiracy and three violations of the anti-hacking Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

What makes this interesting from a legal perspective is that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is a decades-old statute intended to prevent "hacking." Prosecutors are interpreting the statute to mean that anybody who violates the terms of service of any website can be charged with a felony.

"This is a novel and extreme reading of what [the law] prohibits," says Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "To say that you're violating a criminal law by registering to speak under a false name is highly problematic.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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