Posts In "Defamation"

Defamation




What’s in a Tweet? #Social Media, #Free Speech and #Schools

Our Law Law Land readers have been well-educated on the law of defamation as it relates to Twitter, and on the opinion of one of our bloggers that “Twitter sucks.” (I used to agree, and even though I’m coming around to Twitter slowly, I must say I still prefer Facebook as my time-vacuum, overshare medium of choice.) So when you all read about Kansas high schooler Emma Sullivan tweeting about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot,” you knew she wouldn’t be liable for defamation because she was expressing an opinion, not making a statement of fact.

Maybe Governor Brownback’s staff should read our site a little more often too. The fact that Sullivan’s tweet didn’t meet the test for defamation didn’t stop them from notifying Emma Sullivan’s school principal about her tweet (sent to her legion of 60 followers!). In turn, the principal notified Sullivan that she needed to write an apology to the governor by Monday, November 28. On Monday, the Shawnee Mission School District issued a statement that Emma Sullivan did not need to write an apology to the governor but saying this issue presented “many teachable moments” about the use of social media. Sullivan, for her part, came forward — with, what else, a tweet — to state for the record that she would not apologize to the governor (“I’ve decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard! #goingstrong”). Then an apology on Facebook ended up coming from the governor himself, who evidently decided not to run for reelection on his staff’s “silence the teenagers” platform when he declared, “My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”

Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, people’s reactions have ranged from celebration of Emma Sullivan’s exercise of her free speech rights, to criticism of the Big Brother-esque nature of Brownback’s staff’s vigilance of his name in social media, to the sentiment that Sullivan was being rude, to agreement that Brownback “does suck.” (Oh, to go back to those innocent days where you believed your online postings were “private!”) So, given that she is a student, what limits are there on Sullivan’s speech? Continue reading the full story . . . »


In Defense of Lindsay Lohan (But Not of Her Legal Claims)

I love Lindsay Lohan. Really, I do. I think she’s funny, smart, and an all around good time waiting to happen. Sure, as an actress, she’s had her share of ups and downs. But who hasn’t? As a singer…well…mostly just downs. She’s also been unrelentingly stalked by paparazzi for the entirety of her adult life, getting caught in far more than her share of compromising moments in the process. Well I say, leave Lindsay alone! If I had cameras following me since before I started shaving, I can assure you, it would not be pretty either (riotously entertaining, yes, but not pretty). So I try to cut Lindsay a lot of slack. But man, oh man, is her latest escapade testing the limits of my adoration.

Fresh off settling her lawsuit against E*Trade for a Super Bowl ad featuring a “milkaholic” baby named Lindsay and threatening (via Momager Dina Lohan) to sue the producers of Glee for some off-color Lohan-based Spanish lessons, Lindsay recently filed suit against rapper Pitbull for using her name in his song “Give Me Everything.” The offending lyric in question: “Hustlers move aside, so I’m tiptoein’, to keep flowin’ / I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” Frankly, it is difficult to fully convey the absurdity of this lawsuit. Nevertheless, my enduring loyalty demands that I try.

Holding my nose and looking a little deeper, I see there are two claims apparently being made here: defamation and right of publicity. (From the outset, I should note that Pitbull’s stated defense of  “I thought it would be helping [her] career and keeping [her] relevant”doesn’t fly.) But let’s parse each claim and see if there’s any chance that my hero will succeed. (Spoiler Alert!!! No, there is not.) Continue reading the full story . . . »


In My Opinion, Twitter Sucks (But They Can’t Sue Me for Defamation for Saying So)

I don’t like Twitter. There, I said it. I know, I know, it’s so revolutionary, it’s bridging social gaps, it’s God’s gift to the information age, blah blah blah. That’s all well and good, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just an outlet for self-righteous blather. As if the whole world needs to sit up and hear about what YOU think about foreign policy or what YOUR opinion is about the new Britney Spears album. If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it, but don’t be surprised if I don’t, because I probably don’t care.

Not only are most tweets nothing but pompous drivel, they are boring. Boring and utterly pointless. Take this random tweet I just found, after about one second of looking, for your reading pleasure: “Going to have a normal day today. A little cleaning, kids are playing outside, and maybe the park. Nothing too ambitious. I think we all need it.” Awesome.

Now, you probably think I’m a bitter cynic. You probably don’t like me. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it (but please, in the name of all that is holy, don’t tweet about it). And at this point, maybe your natural inclination is to say, “OK, James, but what makes you so special that I, dear reader, should care about you? After all, isn’t this whole article just a big long diatribe about your personal opinion?” Well, maybe a little. But it’s my article, so deal with it. Besides, it’s supposed to be ironic, so it’s funny, like a joke. More importantly, there’s a very real legal issue brewing beneath the surface here.

Lately, there has been a rash of defamation lawsuits based on allegedly defamatory tweets. This is not surprising given Twitter’s meteoric rise in popularity. For a recent example, look no further than the lawsuit just brought by Notifi Records CEO, Ira DeWitt, against former New Edition singer Johnny Gill for alleged defamation on Twitter. The singer is alleged to have attacked the reputation of DeWitt and her company by tweeting that she was “deranged” and “f**king nuts,” that Notifi was a fake company, and that she had a “hard on” for the producer of an unreleased Gill single.

There is no doubt that Mr. Gill’s alleged tweets aren’t very nice. But are they actionable as defamation? Probably not. Continue reading the full story . . . »


How the First Amendment Protects Your Right to Be a Jerk

Sadly, “shocking” racist or bigoted celebrity tirades no longer make for shocking news. Even if the Constitution can’t protect them in the court of public opinion, celebrities like Mel GibsonMichael Richards, andTracy Morgan are lucky enough to live in America, where the First Amendment protects them from legal consequences for the absurd things that come out of their mouths. John Galliano, on the other hand? Not so lucky. He could face jail time for his recent anti-Semitic and racist rants.

The former creative director of French fashion house Christian Dior was arrested in February for allegedly shouting anti-Jewish and racist insults at a couple at a bar in Paris. He also allegedly exchanged slaps with the couple. Galliano was immediately fired from his position at Christian Dior and ostracized from the fashion community. Shortly after the incident, Galliano ended up in rehab (which is now apparently a cure for everything from alcoholism to racism to not being able to stop once you pop). In court, Galliano claimed that he was an alcoholic and drug addict, and that these addictions caused him to make the racist rants (of which he supposedly has no memory). Galliano is being charged with making “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” — a type of prohibition which was widely adopted throughout Europe in the aftermath of the Holocaust — and could face up tosix months in prison.

Although Galliano is, in practice, unlikely to see a jail cell even if he’s convicted, the fact that it’s a possibility at all is more-than-mildly perplexing to us Americans who are used to having free reign to make comments like that — usually either on a stand-up stage, while being arrested for something else, or on Fox News — without the threat of prosecution. So when can you go to jail for speech in America? Continue reading the full story . . . »


Double Trouble: What Black Swan, The Exorcist, and Maria from West Side Story Have in Common

Even before Natalie Portman won her Best Actress Oscar for her role in Black Swan, critics and audiences alike were buzzing about her disturbing performance as a dedicated-but-delusional prima ballerina. Recently, however, the discussion of Portman’s performance has taken a turn towards the controversial, as Sarah Lane — an American Ballet Theater soloist and one of Portman’s Black Swan dance doubles — has emerged with allegations that Portman did just 5% of the full body dance shots seen in the finished film.

Lane claims she is the victim of a “cover-up” by the filmmakers. Although she commends Portman for trying “to go method” and losing “a lot of weight” for the film, Lane blasts her single’s dancing (if Lane is Portman’s double, doesn’t that make Portman Lane’s single?), saying Portman didn’t look “at all” like a professional dancer and couldn’t even dance in pointe shoes. Lane’s comments came just days after Portman’s choreographer-slash-baby-daddy Benjamin Millepied boasted to the Los Angeles Times that Lane did only a very minimal amount of dancing in the film and that “Honestly, 85 percent of that movie is Natalie.” Since Lane made her “5%” claim, however, the film’s producers, director and co-stars have come to Portman’s defense, with director Darren Aronofsky issuing a statement yesterday saying that of the 139 dance shots in the film, 111 — or, 80% — are Portman untouched, and when you consider screen time, 90% of the dancing is Portman.

Even if all the “did she or didn’t she” discussion surrounding Portman’s Oscar and dance performance misses the real issue — namely, that this should have been Annette Benning’s year — it did get me thinking about the use of doubles in film, and what potential legal claims actors and their doubles might have when situations like this arise. Continue reading the full story . . . »


The Shirley Sherrod Story Is Back…and Everything We Said Before Stands

If you’re a dedicated politico or a devoted reader of Law Law Land, you’ll remember the saga of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official who was unceremoniously fired by the Obama administration in July 2010 after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an incendiary video to his site in which the African-American Sherrod seemingly confessed to discriminating against a farmer because he was white. Within days, it emerged that Breitbart had actually selectively edited down a longer video, in which Sherrod’s “confession” set up a broader lesson about personal and racial reconciliation, with Sherrod eventually befriending the farmer and saving his farm. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promptly offered Sherrod her job back, while the NAACP — which had initially publicly condemned Sherrod — quickly released a statement saying it had been “snookered.” But the damage was done, and Sherrod declined to return to the USDA.

At the time, pundits seemed to treat an eventual lawsuit from Sherrod as an inevitability. Liberal bloggers released reports suggesting that a lawsuit was basically imminent, while conservative legal commentators quickly explained why they thought that seemingly imminent lawsuit would fail. And then, of course, nothing happened. But no longer.

This weekend, while attending the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Breitbart was served with a lawsuit from Sherrod, bringing claims for defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. If you’re interested, you can check out the complaint — which, interestingly, does not name as a defendant Fox News, which initially picked up Breitbart’s blog post and fanned the flames of the incipient firestorm of controversy.

But more importantly, you can remind yourself why our own Rachel Valadez argued that, even if the legal road ahead of her would prove long and challenging, even Tea Partiers should want Sherrod to sue…and win. Continue reading the full story . . . »