New CA Law Making Online Impersonation a Misdemeanor Comes Into Effect January 1

Hard to believe that the last California statute prohibiting impersonation dates back to 1872. SB 1411, a bill passed last June, updates the law and makes malicious “e-personation” a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in county jail. It is codified at Penal Code Section 528.5.

More specifically, the new law makes unlawful to “knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means … for purposes of harming, intimidating, threatening, or defrauding another person.” Emphasis Added. In addition to criminal penalties, the law expressly provides ground to bring a civil suit for compensatory damages, injunctive relief or other equitable relief to anyone who suffers damage or loss as a result of the online impersonation. Other states (like New York and Texas) already have similar laws on the books.

Practice Note: Attorneys who represent celebrities and victims of online harassment and identity theft will particularly want to know about this law, which adds to the arsenal of remedies against California impersonators. Also good to know: If you are dealing with imposters on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, eBay or other prominent sites, you can usually get the fake account deleted fairly expeditiously by using the site’s take-down mechanism. Many sites now have such procedures in place, not only for DMCA purposes, but also to request deletion of abusive or fake pages.

Finally, it is important to note that the new California law only targets “credible” impersonators of an “actual person.” @ChuckNorris_ and @drtobiasfunke are probably safe.

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