The Continuing Expansion of Cyberspace Trespass to Chattels

Laura Quilter
The revival of the trespass to chattels doctrine in the context of cyberspace has had unexpected and far-reaching consequences. Trespass to chattels, a doctrine developed to protect physical property, was first applied in cyberspace cases to combat spam, unwanted commercial bulk email. However, recently courts have expanded the doctrine to reach activities that lie at the heart of the Internet-noncommercial e-mail and spiders, automatic programs that search the Internet. This expansion
more » ... expansion threatens basic Internet functions and exposes the flaws inherent in applying doctrines based in real and tangible property to cyberspace. This Note charts the continuing expansion of the trespass to chattels doctrine. In eBay, Inc. v. Bidder's Edge, Inc. and two other cases, 2 spiders searching Internetaccessible databases were held to be trespassing the database servers. In Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 3 the court enjoined sending noncommercial e-mail because it was a trespass to Intel's e-mail servers. This rapid expansion of the trespass to chattels doctrine demonstrates the malleability of the doctrine as applied to cyberspace. This expansion has stretched the definition of "trespass" and "chattel" and has eliminated the traditional requirement of harm. The outcomes and reasoning in the most recent cases also illustrate the impropriety of a property doctrine that analogizes telecommunications devices to land and construes electronic contact as trespass to physical property.
doi:10.15779/z38168z fatcat:pchojj6mbndxnivaciv3zkzifu