Magazine Subscribers Ask Court To Revive 'Shine The Light' Lawsuits

Three magazine subscribers are asking a federal appeals court to reinstate their lawsuits accusing the publishers of violating a California law dealing with the sale of customer lists.

Men's Journal subscriber David Boorstein and Time subscriber Nicholas Murray say in new court papers that their cases were wrongly dismissed last year, when trial judges ruled that the two consumers hadn't suffered any economic injury and therefore lacked “standing” to sue. Charlotte Baxter, who brought suit against Runner's World, argues that her case was wrongly dismissed, although for slightly different reasons.

Men's Journal, Time and Runner's World were three of almost a dozen magazines sued last year for allegedly failing to comply with California's "Shine the Light" law. The 2003 California measure says companies selling customer lists must allow state residents to either opt out, or learn who is purchasing their names.

The Shine the Light law also specifies that businesses must provide contact information -- such as a toll-free number or street address -- for consumers who wish to learn who has purchased data about them. The California law provides for damages of up to $3,000 per violation.

Boorstein and Murphy now argue to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that they should have been able to seek an order requiring the magazine companies to comply with the law, regardless of whether they suffered any monetary loss. They also say in their appellate papers, filed last week, that they sustained “informational injury,” in that the magazines “failed to provide information that [they were] required to provide.”

The lawsuit against Runner's World was dismissed on the ground that the publisher, Rodale, said on its site that people could opt out of having their information shared by contacting the company. The site also provided a phone number, street address and Web form for that purpose. Baxter argues in her appeal that those instructions aren't adequate because the company didn't inform subscribers that it must either allow them to opt out of information-sharing, or to disclose upon request who has purchased their names.

Other companies sued last year for allegedly violating the Shine the Light law include Cosmopolitan, Wired, Reader's Digest, CBS Interactive, XO Group, Eventful, and Skymall. All of the cases were dismissed before trial.

The consumers who sued Cosmopolitan and Wired have appealed to the 9th Circuit and are expected to file their arguments next month. A lawsuit against CBS Interactive was dismissed by a state court judge and is expected to be appealed, says the consumer's lawyer, Ari Scharg of the Edelson law firm. Most of the remaining cases were dismissed or withdrawn.

A state lawmaker recently proposed expanding Shine the Light to allow consumers to also obtain a host of digital data -- including information tied to their computers' cookies and IP addresses -- from Web site operators. That proposal, the Right to Know Act (AB 1291) is backed by the ACLU, but opposed by business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, Direct Marketing Association, NetChoice, which represents AOL, eBay, Overstock, among others, and TechAmerica, made up of companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook. State lawmakers are slated to hold a hearing on that measure in early May.

 

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