Articles about "Libel"


Boston Herald loses libel case, says it will ‘ultimately prevail’

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly | Media Nation

A jury in Massachusetts awarded Joanna Marinova $563,000 for a 2009 Boston Herald story that claimed she’d had sex with an inmate in a prison waiting room, David E. Frank reports.

Dan Kennedy has a good backgrounder on the case.

The Herald’s law firm told Frank the article “was meticulously researched, carefully written and extremely well-documented” and said the paper “fully expects to ultimately prevail in this matter.” Read more

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National Enquirer funds playwriting foundation after false Philip Seymour Hoffman report

The New York Times

The National Enquirer and its publisher, American Media Incorporated, will fund a new group called the American Playwriting Foundation, “which will give out an annual prize of $45,000 for an unproduced play,” Jim Dwyer reports.

The foundation was set up by David Bar Katz, who the Enquirer falsely reported was in a relationship with Hoffman. “As part of the agreement, The Enquirer has also purchased a full-page advertisement in the main news section of Wednesday’s New York Times,” Dwyer writes. Katz and Hoffman were friends, and he found the actor’s body earlier this year.

Katz at Hoffman’s funeral on Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The Enquirer quoted someone who claimed to be Katz, who sued. The Enquirer removed its story, but its essence appears to be archived on this site.

Neither the Enquirer nor Katz’s lawyer told Dwyer the amount of the settlement, but it’s “enough for the foundation to give out these grants for years to come,” Katz’s lawyer said. Read more

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Courtney Love

Jury finds Courtney Love did not defame in first American Twibel trial

SPIN

After a seven-day trial and a few hours of deliberation, the jury ruled in favor of Courtney Love in the first defamation trial in the U.S. involving a tweet.

According to SPIN Magazine, the jury was not convinced Love published the tweet with a reckless disregard for the truth:

While the 12-person jury agreed that Love’s public statement was false and likely injurious to [Rhonda] Holmes, they were not convinced that Love didn’t believe it to be true. They were asked: “Did Rhonda Holmes prove by clear and convincing evidence that Courtney Love knew it was false or doubted the truth of it?” And the answer was, “No.” And regarding a statement she made to reporter Alan Cross about an unnamed attorney (Holmes), the jury decided that Cross had no reason to know Holmes was indeed the subject thereof.

In the 2010 tweet, Love posted a tweet insinuating Holmes, her former attorney, had taken a bribe. Love later stated she intended her post to be a private message.

Love was not present when the judgment was issued; many did not expect a verdict until next week.

Related: How Courtney Love and U.S.’s first Twitter libel trial could impact journalists Read more

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Courtney Love in concert Philadelphia. (Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)

How Courtney Love and U.S.’s first Twitter libel trial could impact journalists

How does defamation law apply in the context of Twitter?

We may find out very soon thanks to Courtney Love, who is the first person to defend an allegedly defamatory tweet in a U.S. courtroom when the Gordon & Holmes v. Love trial began yesterday.

A handful of Twitter libel, or Twibel, cases have been filed in the past (see below), but none have actually gone to trial in the U.S. yet.

The tweet

In 2010, Courtney Love accused her former attorney Rhonda Holmes of bribery, tweeting, “I was f—— devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote.” Love posted the tweet after Holmes, her attorney at the time, declined to help Love bring a fraud case against those managing the estate of Love’s late husband, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain.

The tweet has since been deleted, but the case lives on — and so do the potential legal implications for publishers. 

Last month, Love argued that her tweet was not defamatory because it should be considered an opinion — given the hyperbole and exaggeration associated with the Internet. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson rejected Love’s argument and set the case for trial. Now a jury will determine how defamation should be applied in the context of the casual online communications found on Twitter.

Other issues this jury will likely grapple with, and that Holmes will need to prove, include whether her published statement is true, whether she intended to publish the tweet publicly, whether her followers knew that the tweet was about Holmes, and what damages Holmes should be awarded based on the reach of Love’s tweet.

While the court’s decision will only impact a specific jurisdiction, this decision could be influential in future Twibel cases — which is why publishers should keep an eye on both the decision and the court’s analysis of defamation in the context of libel. In addition to applying traditional defamation standard to Twitter, the Love decision may illuminate new legal considerations for publishers given the changing publishing context.

What is Twibel?

Simply put, Twitter plus libel equals Twibel. Libel is the written form of defamation, where a false published statement harms the reputation of another. You can get a more in-depth primer on defamation in the News University course, Online Media Law: The Basics for Bloggers and Publishers.

What to watch for

Publishers should keep a close eye on how this court applies traditional defamation to Twitter in a few key areas.

  • Public vs. Private figures: How will the courts determine status (who is a public figure) in the context of Twitter? What role does the number of followers play in determining this?
  • How will this status affect when a plaintiff must establish that the publisher acted with actual malice?
  • What is “a matter of public concern” in the context of Twitter?
  • Will the context of a tweet meet the threshold for a defamation claim?
  • What do the remedies for defamation look like in the age of Twitter? How can we best encourage free speech while deterring defamatory speech on Twitter?
  • If a goal of defamation is to strike a balance between freedom of expression and preserve the reputation of people, especially in the social media space, is lengthy (and usually expensive) litigation the most effective path to achieve this result? If a tweet is considered to be defamatory, how are damages assessed?

Twitter has made posting potentially defamatory content much easier. Coupled with the continued increase in Twitter use, it was only a matter of time before Twibel libel would enter the courtroom for legal interpretation.

Love’s case potentially could become the social media generation’s New York Times vs. Sullivan and set a precedent for future Twitter cases.

The Supreme Court’s landmark case New York Times vs. Sullivan was the first case to consider the First Amendment implications of defamation. At the crux of this, is how defamation standards balance the First Amendment’s promise of free speech and the public’s interest in protecting a person’s reputation.

Much has changed in both technology and defamation law in the more than 40 years that have passed since Sullivan. And very soon we may have a landmark case in the area of Twibel.

Twitter’s role in Twibel

In this case, the Twitter user and not the social media site is liable for the defamation. As a third-party publisher, social media sites like Twitter are protected by Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act and not liable for defamatory content that people post using its site.

Twibel history in the U.S.

This isn’t the first time Love has been the party in a Twibel lawsuit. Back in 2009, Love was the first defendant to be sued for tweeting nasty things about her fashion designer after a business dispute for $4,000 went awry. A week before trial, Love settled the claim for $430,000.

In July 2009, Horizon realty sued Amanda Bonnen for defamation claiming $50,000 in damages for tweeting, “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks its okay.” In 2013, an Illinois court dismissed the case between two private figures, a renter and her landlord, because the “tweet was too vague to meet the legal standard for libel.”

In 2011, Dr. Jerry Darm sued blogger Tiffany Craig in Oregon for $1 million for a tweet that said, “[A] little bit of research into @drdarm revealed a pretty nasty compaint filed against him for attempting to trade treatment for sex in 2001.” The parties settled before trial.

Ellyn Angelotti is an attorney and teaches on the Poynter faculty in the area of social media and digital trends. She recently published Twibel Law: What defamation and its remedies look like in the age of Twitter in Suffolk University’s Journal of High Technology Law. Read more

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UNC journalism students get libel insurance

The Daily Tar Heel

University of North Carolina journalism students now enjoy some financial protection in the event of libel suits, thanks to a year-long multimedia insurance policy purchased by the school, according to a report in The Daily Tar Heel.

“The insurance covers lawsuits related to libel, copyright infringement and invasion of privacy,” Haley Waxman writes. Read more

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Twitter users face libel claims for spreading false accusation

The Economist | Guardian | New York Times
The BBC falsely accused retired British politician Alistair McAlpine of child sexual abuse, and paid a hefty £185,000 fine to settle the matter earlier this month. But now McAlpine is also pressing for compensation from thousands of people who tweeted about the BBC story at the time.

In the United States, such a charge would be unlikely to stick. Our laws, for instance, may protect claims made with an honest and reasonable belief that they were true at the time. British law is notoriously friendly to claimants, such that foreigners sometimes try to get British jurisdiction for their libel suits even when the case has little connection to the country.

About 1,000 tweeters implicated McAlpine, and another 9,000 retweeted their messages, The Economist reports. McAlpine’s lawyers have told those with fewer than 500 followers they can make amends with an online apology and a donation to charity.

But they are pursuing compensation from the more high-profile tweeters. Read more

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