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Who Owns My Text Messages?

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This post is adapted from the answer that I provided to a Quora question, “Who owns our text messages?”

To start, I wondered what it means to “own” a text message. Black’s Law Dictionary provides such definitions as “have good legal title”, “hold as property” and “possess”. I don’t think the questioner had these in mind, so I think it is correct to focus on ownership of any copyright that may subsist in text messages.

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Ninth Circuit Protects Consumers against Text-Message Spam

In Satterfield v. Simon & Schuster, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. Section 227, protects consumers against unsolicited text messages to their mobile phones.

Subject to certain exceptions, the TCPA makes it unlawful “to make a call…using any any automatic telephone dialing system…to any telephone number assigned to a…cellular telephone service…” unless the called party has expressly consented to the call before it was placed.

Plaintiff Laci Sattefield had received an unsolicited text message from defendant Simon & Schuster, which (via a co-defendant marketing company) had obtained Satterfield’s mobile phone number from a provider of ringtones. Satterfield had agreed to terms that allowed the ringtone company and its affiliates to send text messages to her. Simon & Schuster was not an affiliate of that company.

The court’s most important holding was that although the TCPA was enacted before text messages existed, it is reasonable to interpret “call” under the TCPA to include both voice calls and text messages. The Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s summary judgment in defendants’ favor and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

The significance of this case: If your company wants to promote its goods or services via mobile text messages, be sure to obtain recipients’ permission to send those messages before they are sent.

This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.