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Can Courtney Love be Sued for Tweeting

Gary Kibel Can Courtney Love be Sued for TweetingGuest post from Gary Kibel, a Partner with the law firm of Davis & Gilbert LLP in New York who practices in the areas of advertising/marketing, new media/technology and privacy law.

What do you call a Twitter user? This is not the opening of an off-color joke, but a key question that may arise in a lawsuit between fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir and Courtney Love over Ms. Love’s tweets.

courtney love Can Courtney Love be Sued for TweetingAccording to Dawn Simorangkir, a number of comments posted on Twitter by Courtney Love besmirched her good name by alleging drug use, selling drugs, prostitution, embezzlement and assault. If Twitter users are ordinary people like you and me, then Ms. Simorangkir can allege defamation.

Here’s your law school 101 lesson: It does not matter what medium is used to make defamatory statements about a person. Libel (for written defamation) and slander (for spoken defamation) can exist online, offline and anywhere in-between. If a person put clearly defamatory words on a billboard and erected it in Times Square, no one would think that the specific use of a billboard as the medium might be a factor in determining whether or not the targeted party could bring a claim.

Are Twitter Users Journalists or Not?

However, Twitter is a micro blogging site. Therefore, perhaps each user of Twitter is a blogger. Some courts have held that bloggers are the equivalent of journalists, and therefore have certain protections afforded to members of the news media. In such an event, Ms. Simorangkir would not only have to allege that the statements were false, but that Ms. Love acted with actual malice in making such statements.

Other courts have taken a contrary position and have held that bloggers are not always journalists. In can be a fact-specific analysis.

The court in the present case may firstly address whether these comments are truthful (which is the most obvious defense to a claim of defamation), are protected opinions of Ms. Love or rise to the level of defamation. Then the court may wade into the issue of whether Twitter users are bloggers with rights akin to journalists.

As a lawyer who specializes in new media and who regularly tweets, my view is that a blogger reporting on newsworthy issues who simply uses Twitter as the vehicle to transmit their content should likely be treated as any other journalist. However, the Twitter user whose tweets consist of an endless string of their mundane activities should not be afforded such protections (…and should probably stop tweeting altogether).

All I know is that if the court holds that each Twitter user is a journalist, I’m going to stick a ‘press’ pin on my lapel and buy me a fedora.

Related
  • Booboobear1616

    I really dont see what difference it makes what you call yourself or how you transmit your message to the public. If you state something with no disclaimers such as “I think…” or “in my opinion…” etc., then you are saying something is a fact. And you should be certain if you’re doing so. Or at least give reasons why you make that claim. That way others can compare it to their own….cont’
    .standardsststandards

  • Booboobear1616

    …..critical standards and decide whether to just accept it as truth. You may argue that people can do that anyway, such as in this case re Courtney Love, but I think most people need that reminder to think for themselves and/or research for themselves.
    It’s the same old belief, for many, thst if it’s written (or a commercial/ad on tv) it must be true.

  • http://twitter.com/JGoldsborough JGoldsborough

    LOL, awesome fedora reference. Didn’t go to law school — just journo school — but isn’t one of the factors also if the court determines that the designer is a “public figure?” My guess is that if she is designing for celebrities, there could be some debate on that topic, no?

    Thanks for the interesting POV. Look forward to the results of this case and going to check out your tweets.

  • http://twitter.com/megfowler Meg Fowler

    I think Courtney Love’s tweets are a crime in general :), but I’m not sure this will hold up, even in our litigious society.

  • http://twitter.com/SociallySavvy4U ManonLeroux

    Although I have not been following Ms.Love tweets, so I would not know if Ms. Simorangkir has responded to any of the allegations but I do know some people would kill (figure of speech or course) for an opportunity like this to exposure. “As is” the comments, after all the micro-blogging platform does provide the perfect space for freedom of speech (just a thought).

  • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

    I have mixed feelings about this post/topic.

    First, thnx for easy definitions of libel and slander.

    Second, (in regards to “user whose tweets consist of an endless string of their mundane activities should not be afforded such protections”) where do you draw the line and who gets to decide?

    Third. Can Courtney be sued? Yes. Is this law suit frivolous? Yes.

    Hey..look at that? I guess Im the one that decides lol

  • http://www.mhandy1.tumblr.com Mike Handy

    Legislation and Libel law was not designed for this type of situation. The libel law needs an update to cover this Bloggers are not journalists (because they do not follow journalistic rules generally) they are really editorialists. From the case law I have seen editorialists tend to fall in a gray area (I could be wrong)… which is where Social Media finds itself.

  • Anonymous

    But did you guys read EVERYTHING she wrote, who all she sent it to, and for how long? She was on an extended rampage to destroy the designer! (see link below for court filing in pdf file) It wasn’t just a few nasty comments. Courtney called up other designers, the BQ’s OWN customers, celeb friends and MORE, to pull out all the stops. And we all know how Courtney will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She makes that claim herself, publically on-line. So I don’t think anyone has to worry about their rights to voice their opinions here. If you want to destroy, in no certain terms, someone by every means you can think of, ehh….maybe. Well, you still could, but the punishment remains to be seen. I VOTE for JAIL TIME!!! check it out: http://www.citmedialaw.org/sites/citmedialaw.org/files/2009-03-26-Simorangkir%20Complaint.pdf

    20 pages of unbelievable stuff, imo!

  • http://www.aureliustjin.com Aurelius Tjin

    In think it can be sued, however is not indicate at the law. But we dont have a right to post any defarmatory statement in social site.

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    Social Media websites are just for sharing knowledge and experience and even for meeting and chatting with friends. But if it is going to be used for illegal works, then it is really non tolerable.

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    Social media sites should be used with a proper concern, they can be used for making friends , displaying adds and events.but if it used for unwanted stuff then it is not worth,.

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