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A mysterious lawsuit was filed Monday in Los Angeles alleging that an unnamed woman in the entertainment industry was the victim of impersonation. The doubly anonymous complaint — captioned Jane Roe v. Does 1-10 — further claims that unknown defendants spoofed her email and made several phone calls to high-level executives and creatives at several production companies and conducted conversations of a sexual nature.
Impersonation appears to be a hot legal topic. This month alone, people holding themselves out to be reporters at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal prompted a pair of lawsuits. On Tuesday, some legal observers on Twitter were abuzz over a robocall to residents of Alabama from an individual who purported to be a Washington Post reporter willing to pay for dirt on Senatorial candidate Roy Moore. And this week, a federal appeals court considered whether to force the FBI to hand over records concerning how agents have impersonated journalists.
This new Jane Roe lawsuit perhaps adds to concerns about impersonation and comes at a time when sexual misconduct in Hollywood has generated substantial attention.
The plaintiff is represented by attorneys at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a prestigious law firm whose clients include Netflix, Sumner Redstone, Verizon and others. It’s a solid bet that the plaintiff is someone of stature, but citing privacy, she’s attempting to bring the lawsuit anonymously. A judge may force the woman to reveal herself, as California civil procedure mandates that actions must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest, except as otherwise provided by statute.
According to the complaint, the defendants used GoDaddy’s Domains by Proxy services as well as ProofPoint’s email security services to spoof the email she uses to fool various executives in the entertainment industry.
Then came phone calls.
“During the impersonating phone calls, Plaintiff is informed and believes that a female Defendant caller attempted to copy Jane Roe’s voice and manner of speaking using an authentic American accent, and each of the targets believed they were speaking with a woman older than forty years old,” states the complaint. “In all conversations, Defendants almost immediately said they were seeking the private contact information of the next target. Defendants had learned details of business relationships between Defendants’ targets, including films that the target and Jane Roe had worked together on.”
The complaint adds, “Defendants were complimentary of the target’s work and used flattery to try and gain further information regarding the targets. Defendants’ mentioned Jane Roe’s Malibu home multiple times. And, in at least two instances, Defendants attempted to solicit sexual conversations with her targets. Defendants’ conversations have taken an increasingly flirtatious and sexual tenor.”
The lawsuit then states that another impersonator — this time a male — “called several targets claiming to be associated with Jane Roe, and attempting to set up appointments for Jane Roe.”
The plaintiff says she has suffered extreme humiliation from what has occurred.
Of particular note is one of the causes of action she’s using in her lawsuit.
In most states, impersonation is attacked indirectly. For example, in the New York Times lawsuit last week, the paper is attempting to assert trademark dilution in a state court even though trademark disputes are usually handled on a federal level.
But six years ago, California made it a direct criminal offense to “knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person.”
At the time, some legal pundits wondered whether California Penal Code §528.5 was written too broadly or how it might impact those who parodied celebrities on Twitter, Facebook, and other online venues. To our knowledge, there haven’t been any cases exploring this little-known law, with the exception of one case that went to an appeals court.
The anonymous plaintiff who alleges she’s been sexually impersonated is now set to do exactly that. It’s not clear whether this criminal statute provides the basis for a civil claim.
She’s also claiming a violation of California’s cybersquatting statute as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages and further relief. The first step will undoubtedly be an attempt to force GoDaddy and others to hand over information for the purpose of unmasking those impersonating her.
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