The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Court vacates one of the Profile Defenders libel takedown orders


Two weeks ago, Paul Alan Levy and I blogged about dozens of suspicious court cases, with missing defendants, aim at getting Web pages taken down or deindexed. Many of the orders mentioned a defendant's address, but one of the things that made them suspicious is that there didn't seem to be any public records linking any of the defendants to their purported addresses.

The goal of the orders is apparently not to get money from any real defendant, or even to enforce an injunction against any real defendant; it is, rather, just to get an order that could be sent to Google (or some other Internet company) to get a page taken down or deindexed. And that could easily be achieved by filing a lawsuit against a fake defendant and getting a stipulation ostensibly signed by this defendant agreeing to the injunction; judges, seeing that the parties apparently agree, would then often issue the order quickly and with little further effort on anyone's part. We have much more here, including why we think at least some of the orders are linked to a "reputation management company" called Profile Defenders.

I'm delighted to report that late last week, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas vacated the order in one of these cases, Callagy v. Roffman (No. 160603108). The plaintiff's lawyer told us that the company they used for that case was Profile Defenders, but they had no idea that the defendant in that case was apparently nonexistent (and it's certainly possible that they indeed had no idea of this).

Also late last week, the same judge scheduled a hearing in Murtagh v. Reynolds (No. 160901262), in which no order had yet been issued; the order scheduling the hearing notes that the plaintiff must present "strict proof of service" for the case to go forward. I haven't been able to reach the plaintiff in that case - or the ostensible plaintiff, as in some cases the plaintiffs have said that they hadn't authorized a lawsuit, and in some cases the plaintiffs may have been as fake as the defendants, since the only important thing to the filers was to block access to particular websites mentioned in the order, regardless of who the named plaintiffs or defendants had been. I therefore can't speak with confidence about whether Murtagh was a Profile Defenders case; but the procedural structure of the case is similar to the others I've seen, as is some of the legal boilerplate.