Lumen Research In the News — Texas AG sues CA company over falsified court orders business model

Lumen is an academic research project, based at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, that collects and studies requests to remove online content and links thereto. Lumen’s primary goals are to educate the public about and to facilitate research on such requests.

Over the last year, the Lumen team has been working with Professor Eugene Volokh, of UCLA School of law and the eponymous blogger of the Volokh Conspiracy. Professor Volokh has published a blog post about his work and some downstream consequences of it that may be of interest to Lumen fans; including a nice shout-out to Lumen.

By way of background, Professor Volokh is investigating the burgeoning trend of individuals and companies using court orders to have negative or critical reviews and writings removed from the web, most often from Google Search results — the ultimate in modern practical obscurity. However, at least in the United States, Google will not remove material in response to a complaint premised solely on allegations of defamation, and requires a court order before proceeding, an (in theory) challenging and often expensive process. While increased reliance on the courts for removal of online material is interesting in its own right, Professor Volokh is especially interested in the phenomenon of individuals and companies fraudulently obtaining or creating the court orders that they then send to websites and search engines.

Members of the Lumen team first started paying attention to this issue when TechDirt wrote about the organization PissedConsumer, (with whom Lumen has since then been corresponding) and their efforts to shine a light on and stop “Bogus Defamation Suits From Bogus Companies Against Bogus Defendants. Professor Volokh, along with Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, another Berkman Klein Center friend, first got involved later in 2016, regarding the bizarre facts of the case Patel v. Chan. See also the discussion here, and one of a similar case here.

As Professor Volokh began to tug on the thread, he uncovered more and more examples of court orders that merited further investigation, whether because they contained a suspicious notary ID, e.g. “12345678”; were signed by a judge with a title that doesn’t exist in the jurisdiction in question; or had a real case number, but one associated with a completely different, often closed, case. Professor Volokh reached out to Lumen in the fall of 2016, and after receiving a Researcher API token, (available on request!) began to dig in to our corpus, where he found even more examples of questionable court orders, as well as the possibility that there might be companies pursuing this as a business model. We have been facilitating his research in Lumen on this topic ever since.

Much of what he found became raw material and evidentiary support for his amicus brief, filed earlier this year, in Hassel v. Bird, a California case having to do with the question of “Can court order Yelp to take down defendant’s post, though Yelp wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit?”

In parallel, Professor Volokh and Lumen have also been in communication with various representatives of law enforcement interested in fraudulent court orders, including the FBI; and Professor Volokh has now written about one such ongoing proceeding.

The Texas Attorney General has filed suit against a company called Solvera Group Inc., accusing it of perpetuating “a scheme in the guise of ‘reputation management’ through filing lawsuits that they knew to contain false information — including fictitious plaintiffs and defendants.” You can see the full filing from the Texas AG here.

The Lumen team is pleased and excited to be part of such important research in the public good. Please email us at team@lumendatabase.org if you’re interested in working with our data to do your own research.

[Originally posted on the Lumen blog.]

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Insights from the Berkman Klein community about how technology affects our lives (Opinions expressed reflect the beliefs of individual authors and not the Berkman Klein Center as an institution.)

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Adam Holland

Adam Holland

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Berkman Klein Center Project Manager; lawyer; coach, sport psychologist; rowing Olympian, jiu jitsu player, SF/fantasy/comics reader. Skill gatherer.