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Despite bringing what’s probably the first lawsuit over allegedly stolen Facebook “likes,” Stacey Mattocks could be on the verge of having to reimburse Viacom’s BET Network some $420,000 in legal expenses.
In July 2013, Mattocks, an insurance agent, sued with details about her struggles after she launched a Facebook page for The Game, about the lives of professional football players. When she set up the Facebook page, the series had been canceled by The CW, but the social media campaign helped to convince BET to pick up the show. Her Facebook page was growing at 100,000 “likes” per week as the series returned to television, eventually reaching more than six million social media fans.
BET originally agreed to pay her $30 per hour to work as a social media “freelancer,” and later offered her an $85,000-a-year salary, but despite wining-and-dining as alleged in her complaint, she thought the offer was too low. Later, however, after Facebook temporarily disabled her account when she refused to transfer ownership of the fan page to the network, she realized that working with BET was a safer course of action. She signed a “Letter Agreement,” spelling out access and administrative rights for the page. The parties were hardly ever on the same page, however, and eventually the relationship crumbled, her page terminated, and a lawsuit alleging conversion, tortious interference, breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and copyright infringement ensued.
In August 2014, U.S. District Judge James Cohn ruled against Mattocks, saying she “cannot establish that she owns a property interest in the ‘likes’ on the FB Page.”
Now, as Mattocks is about to bring her dispute to an appeals court, a magistrate judge on Friday recommended BET be awarded its attorney’s fees in the amount of $415,288.23 and costs in the amount of $4,751.47. The recommendation, which goes to Cohn for approval, shrugs off the novelty of the claim, its importance to others and the closeness of questions of law to focus predominately on whether defendants satisfy a Florida statute shifting legal fees to sanction parties who unreasonably reject settlement offers.
In this instance, the judge finds that a $15,000 offer made by BET satisfied this requirement and rejects Mattocks’ argument that the offer wasn’t a serious one. At a later point in the case, BET also offered to settle the dispute for $99,000, but the magistrate judge believes the expenses should begin from the first offer. As such, for about a year’s worth of BET’s legal services handled by attorneys and one paralegal at the firm of Gray Robinson as well as five attorneys, one paralegal, and one project manager at Jenner & Block, Mattocks could be facing a nightmare legal tab.
Perhaps she’ll be saved by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week, set an October 6 date for oral arguments.
“This appeal presents novel issues of law regarding intangible property rights and the value thereof – specifically, Facebook ‘Likes obtained by someone who creates and operates a Facebook fan page,” states her opening brief.
The issues being presented relate to evidence of Facebook’s decision to disable Mattocks’ page and transfer “likes” to BET, the determination she breached the “Letter Agreement,” and whether there was an error in the determination she did not have a protectable interest in the “likes” she had obtained on her Facebook Page. Here’s the entire brief.
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