Perez Hilton Prevails in Email Privacy Arbitration

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 11, 2013 4:11 PM

After five years of legal wrangling, Perez Hilton (real name: Mario Lavandeira) has won an email privacy battle in arbitration, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

A disgruntled reader sued Perez after he published a nasty email she sent him, along with her name and unredacted email address. (Back in the day when we still read his site, Perez would occasionally publish these types of messages -- usually containing anti-gay rants -- under the heading "You Are an Idiot.") The sender, Diane Wargo, wanted Perez to cough up $25 million because she received threatening email messages and lost her job after he published the post.

That didn't go so well for her.

Wargo claimed that the Terms of Use on PerezHilton.com constituted a contract to keep her personal information private. The arbitrator, however, concluded that the contents of Wargo’s email — which also insulted Angelina Jolie — were not private because Wargo “submitted material” containing precisely the kind of material the website is in the business of publishing: celebrity gossip and rumors.

“The section of the conditions dealing with submitted material made clear that visitors to the site gave [Perez Hilton] a license to publish such content, explicitly including the name of the provider, to all the world” the arbitrator wrote. The site’s privacy provisions, by contrast, were primarily to assuage concerns about selling visitors’ information for commercial use.

While websites’ terms of service have been a popular topic thanks to buzz around the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’s criminal penalties, this lawsuit also demonstrates how a company’s computer usage policy can impact a civil claim.

Here, the arbitrator noted that the root cause of Wargo’s termination was her “flagrant violation of her employer’s policy against personal use of the email and Internet access it furnished to distribute non-business related and offensive material.” Under the unclean hands doctrine, Wargo couldn’t recover for injuries based on her own violation of workplace policies.

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