The 7.2 million jury verdict was handed down this afternoon in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of West Virginia. Former Miss West Virginia, Allison Williams, filed a lawsuit in 2005 against 59 defendants who posted advertisements on pornographic websites that falsely indicated that a pornographic video available for downloading depicted “Allison Williams, Miss West Virginia.” Williams’ Complaint alleged defamation, false light invasion of privacy, misappropriation of name and likeness, and violation of the right of publicity.
Williams discovered the defamatory videos during her first weeks of law school at the West Virginia University College of Law as she was searching the Internet for a favorable newspaper article to give her mother. Included in some of these sites are photographs of Ms. Williams wearing her pageant crown juxtaposed with a video of an unidentified woman, purportedly Ms. Williams, engaged in sexual acts. Some of the photographs were doctored to make Ms. Williams’ eye color match the unidentified woman in the video. Williams felt compelled to disclose their existence to the Miss West Virginia and Miss America Organizations in an effort to avoid character investigations that could jeopardize her pageant related scholarships. CNN reported that Williams received a lot of negative attention after word of the video circulated, online and in real space.
The case is Allison Williams v. Advertising Sex LLC. It made new law when the judge ruled that e-mail may be used as an alternate means of serving process upon an evasive foreign defendant so long as the plaintiff demonstrates that e-mail is a reliable channel for communicating with that defendant. Williams had petitioned the court to serve several Australian-based defendants by e-mail after repeated efforts to serve process in person and by registered mail had failed. She successfully invoked Rule 4(f)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which permits service “by other means not prohibited by international agreement as may be directed by the court.”