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Facebook Squelches ‘Friend Finder’ Class Action

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Celebrities can cash in big time if a company uses their image without permission. But what happens if Facebook displays pictures of its users without asking them?

In an order issued yesterday in San Francisco, a federal judge tossed out a suit by Facebook users that said the company owed them money for using their pictures to promote its ‘Friend Finder’ service. Facebook typically promotes the service by displaying a photo of a user’s friend along with a message like “George and three others found their friends using Friend Finder!”

The plaintiffs had argued that the use of their name and photos to promote Friend Finder amounted to an unauthorized endorsement. The judge disagreed and said that the Friend Finder ads did not cause any economic loss to the Facebook users, noting that their pictures were only displayed to their existing friends. This ruling follows a similar one from earlier this year but this time comes with “prejudice” — meaning the plaintiffs do not get to try again.

The decision also comes after Facebook has notched two other recent class-action victories in California, a state where individuals enjoy very strong publicity rights thanks to Hollywood’s celebrity-based economy. In September, a court in L.A. dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Facebook violated a state law by displaying pictures of teenagers next to advertisers without their parents’ consent. And in May, a federal court threw out a privacy class action that accused the company of wrongfully sharing user information with third parties.

Facebook’s litigation ordeal is far from over, however. In recent months, a series of new complaints have poured in related to the company’s alleged unauthorized use of cookies to track users after they logged out of the site. And Facebook is still locked into a nasty trademark squabble with a Chicago company over whether it has the right use the word “timeline” to describe its new chronological scrapbook feature.

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