The decision stemmed from an incident in 2006, when Minnesota resident Candice Yath went to a clinic to seek medical treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. Shortly afterward, someone created a fake profile of Yath on MySpace.
That profile carried the name "Rotten Candy," but included a photo of Yath. The page said that "Rotten Candy" had a sexually transmitted disease, cheated on her husband, and was addicted to plastic surgery, according to the court's opinion. The profile, which had garnered six "friends," was removed a few days after it came to Yath's attention.
Yath sued the medical center and other individuals who worked at the clinic for violating her privacy.
Minnesota allows lawsuits for invasion of privacy, but only when someone publicizes private information that, in the words of the court, "would be highly offensive to a reasonable person" and is about a matter that "is not of legitimate concern to the public."
The defendants argued that the information on the MySpace page wasn't "publicized" because Yath had not proven that more than a handful of people saw the site.
But the appellate court rejected that theory, ruling last week that once material is online, "more than one billion Internet surfers worldwide" can potentially view it. Therefore, the court wrote, posting information online potentially generates even more publicity than publishing it in newspapers or broadcasting it on television.
"A town crier could reach dozens, a handbill hundreds, a newspaper or radio station tens of thousands, a television station millions, and now a publicly accessible webpage can present the story of someone's private life, in this case complete with a photograph and other identifying features, to more than one billion Internet surfers worldwide," the court wrote. "This extraordinary advancement in communication argues for, not against, a holding that the MySpace posting constitutes publicity."
Despite that ruling, the court dismissed the invasion of privacy claim because Yath had not proven who created the MySpace profile.