Meta Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Counterfeit Ads

On April 22, artist JL Cook filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta, alleging that the company is failing to take adequate steps to prevent counterfeit ads from appearing on its site.

Cook is an artist who sells sculptures of snakes on her site However, she claims that counterfeit sellers are stealing her images and creating ads for knock off works on Facebook using them.

To further her frustration, she claims that her efforts to stop this infringement have been largely in vain. Not only do the scammers simply reupload the same ads shortly after removal, but ads that are shared by users remain on those pages even after the original ad is removed.

Furthermore, Cook claims that Facebook failed to terminate repeat infringers, meaning that the counterfeiters were free to repeatedly infringe the same images over and over again.

The lawsuit is proposed as a class action, including all U.S. creators whose creative works were featured in Facebook advertisements without permission. They estimate that class to be in the thousands.

Normally, a company like Facebook would be protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from such arguments. Under the DMCA, providers such as Facebook are protected from copyright infringement claims, as long as they remove infringing material when properly notified, terminate repeat infringers and do not play an active role in the infringement itself.

However, Cook’s allegations speak to those requirements, both claiming that “removed” content isn’t truly removed and that they have failed to terminate repeat infringers. As such, they argue they should not be eligible for protection under the DMCA.

Facebook has not responded to the lawsuit, nor has it responded to media requests about it.

Why This Lawsuit Could Be Important

This case has largely slipped under the radar in terms of news coverage. Only a few sites have reported on it, and I would have missed it myself if not for outreach from Cook herself.

However, the case will likely be an important one to watch as it moves forward. The reasons are fairly simple.

First, though Facebook’s cachet may have waned some in recent years, it remains the largest social network on the planet. It is estimated to be used by more than half of the people with internet access on the planet

As such, it’s DMCA and copyright policies have a tremendous bearing on how other sites handle theirs. This is especially true when you factor in that Meta also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

In short, any changes that come from this lawsuit, will likely be adopted by other key players and will likely become de facto internet standards, for better or worse.

This is further complicated by the fact that the DMCA was written in 1998. Much of the language was written well before widespread adoption of social media, and much of that language was vague even then.

Though litigation in this space is becoming more common, there still is not a great deal and much of what we have seen has been against internet service providers, such as Cox Communications.

This case, especially if it does become a class action lawsuit, could be important for setting boundaries that sites like Facebook have to follow when dealing with copyright-infringing material.

The Complicated Backdrop 

The lawsuit also has a legislative backdrop behind it. In March, two senators debuted the Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies Copyright Act of 2022, better known as the SMART Copyright Act.

The act aims to reform the way the DMCA notice-and-takedown system operates by requiring sites, like Facebook, to adopt standard technical measures (STMs) to prevent the reupload of allegedly infringing material.

STMs were part of the original DMCA, however, in the nearly 25 years since the DMCA was passed, no STMs have become truly standard. The SMART Copyright Act aims to address this by having the U.S. Copyright Office specify designated technical measures (DTMs) that providers would be required to use to prevent the reupload of infringing material.

This eye on DMCA reform has been around for a very long time, with many creators calling for a “takedown and staydown” system instead of the “notice and takedown” that we have today. 

It’s very possible that the outcome of this lawsuit might have a bearing on this and other pushes to reform the DMCA, especially if there is a perceived problem at Facebook that legislators feel is not being adequately addressed under the current law.

Bottom Line

This case was just filed, so there’s no real way to know where it will go from here. However, it arrives at a very significant intersection, one that includes the largest social media platform in the world and an ongoing push for DMCA reform.

Whatever does happen in this case will likely take on an outsized importance, and that makes it one worth watching closely.

Simply put, DMCA reform is one of the biggest discussion topics in copyright right now and a lawsuit aimed at the largest social media platform on this topic at this key moment has the potential to change the landscape.

In the end, whatever happens with this case, it will be one to watch closely.

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