Monday, May 16, 2011

Civil Remedies for Online Harassment and Cyber-Bullying

While victims of online harassment or cyber-bullying may find a lack of criminal statutes that protect victims, there are civil remedies for the victims of computer harassment or computer trespass.

The Virginia Computer Crimes Act creates a civil cause of action for criminal violations of Computer Harrassment, Computer Trespass and Computer Invasion of Privacy. See, e.g., Va. Code § 18.2-152.12. This means that individuals aggrieved by online harassment can sue and potentially recover damages from the individuals engaged in the harassment. Obviously, the ability to sue and recover money damages depends upon locating the individuals that engaged in the criminal behavior and those individuals having sufficient assets to pay a judgment against them.

When the online harassment is motivated by racial, religious or ethnic animosity, an aggrieved individual can sue for damages, and can also seek an injunction, punitive damages and recovery of their attorneys’ fees and costs. See, Va. Code § 8.01-42.1. In this way, the civil process does provide a means for individuals to act as a kind of private attorney general and prosecute offensive conduct. While a civil case will not result in the incarceration of the responsible individuals, it may result in the victim recovering tangible assets from the responsible party.

In addition, where the online harassment is motivated by racial, religious or ethnic animosity, the incident is likely to be reported to the Virginia State Police, which maintains a central repository for the collection and analysis of hate crimes. Va. Code § 52-8.5.

Under the right set of facts victims may also utilize traditional civil theories against perpetrators, including defamation, business conspiracy, intentional interference in contracts and other applicable claims.

The attorneys at Gross & Romanick, P.C. have considerable experience in this new and developing area of law. Having handled matters ranging from the defense of copyright violations charged by the Recording Industry of America to criminal matters involving illicit computer content, we are well positioned at the intersection of law and technology to assist our clients in all manner of cases.