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Court: Arizona State Can’t Sue Anonymous Instagram Account

May 17, 2022

The Arizona Board of Regents cannot move forward with a lawsuit against the owner of an anonymous Instagram account that posted content about COVID-19 parties at Arizona State University, which officials argued could be mistaken for official university communications.

The lawsuit was shot down by a lower court last year, a decision affirmed Friday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Board of Regents claimed trademark violation in filing the lawsuit and appeal.

The Instagram account in question, known as asu_covid.parties, posted claims, beginning in 2020, that COVID-19 was a hoax. It also promoted a party where the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine—an unproven coronavirus treatment—would supposedly be handed out and made posts comparing Arizona State leadership to Nazis, according to coverage from the Arizona Daily Star.

The three-judge panel said it was unreasonable to believe such posts would come from ASU.

Officials argued that use of ASU’s logo and colors could be interpreted as official posts from the university, which led them to sue a John Doe and Facebook, which owns Instagram. Facebook was later dropped from the lawsuit after it took action to remove the page and bar the creator.

“With respect to all of [the Arizona Board of Regents’] claims, amendment would have been futile given the implausibility of the allegations and of a finding of likelihood of confusion,” the justices wrote in their decision. “Of Doe’s eighteen posts included on the Instagram page, only one post included the use of ABR’s mark and trade dress. That one post contained profanity and a reasonable consumer would not think that a university would use such language when addressing the public. Reviewing the posts in their totality does not change the result, but rather reaffirms it.”

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