The Connecting Directors site has a story about a class action lawsuit ruled against Afterlife Network Inc. for “obituary piracy.” The $20 million ruling goes against the Canadian obituary website accused of posting the obits and images of deceased individuals without the permission of families with the intention to sell paid advertisements.
“Anybody else in the future who copies an obituary and puts it on a website ought to expect that a claim could be brought against them,” warned Erin Best, the civil litigator based in St. John’s, N.L who took on the Afterlife case.
The obituary piracy epic began when Raylene Manning-Puddister googled her deceased 22-year-old son’s name and was shocked to find the obituary she wrote and the image she took on Afterlife, a website she did not give permission to publish the information.
“His obituary was literally word for word. The same pictures. There wasn’t even any change in what I wrote myself,” explained Manning-Puddister.
We recently speculated about the future of Facebook’s Memorialized pages and the possibility of Facebook sourcing obits from 3rd party websites like AfterLife or Legacy to automatically fill in obituaries. This lawsuit, even though it’s in Canada, sets a precedent for potential similar suits in the U.S. and makes it highly unlikely that Facebook will go this route for automated personalization of Memorial Pages.
In the end, Federal Court Judge Catherine Kane ruled that Afterlife had infringed on copyrights by lifting the obituaries and photos of the deceased from other websites like funeral homes and churches. The ruling awarded $10 million in statutory damages and $10 million in aggravated damages. Afterlife appears to now be defunct and it is not clear if any of the plaintiffs will see any money.