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libel slander and defamation

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 30, 2014

  • “Bloggers = Media for First Amendment Libel Law Purposes” [Obsidian Finance Corp. v. Cox; Volokh]
  • Co-workers’ taking of Lord’s name in vain is element in discrimination claim of religious harassment [Oregon; Ruder Ware]
  • “Michigan Court of Appeals Again Protects Anonymous Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Virginia by contrast adopts standard less protective of speech [same] Is D.C. lawyer attempting to unmask Wikipedia editor in defamation suit a “public figure?” [NLJ]
  • Judge Posner blasts class-action firm for supposed misconduct, law firm offers evidence to rebut that and proceeds to sue law firm McGuire Woods for allegedly misrepresenting facts of case at its prominent Class Action Countermeasures blog [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
  • “Lawyer says he will drop suit alleging website unfairly cast him as a ‘tree mutilator'” [ABA Journal (compares townspeople who criticized tree removal to "bullies,") Greenfield, Columbia (Mo.) Tribune]
  • “The victims are ‘too Christian’ to excite the Left, and ‘too foreign’ to excite the Right.” [Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, on Mideast persecution] “God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did” [Nick Cohen on UK's Maajid Nawaz t-shirt controversy via @secularright, Ken at Popehat] Prison for “blasphemous” Facebook posting, in Greece, not Pakistan or Sudan [Guardian]
  • Defendants in Michael Mann’s lawsuit against critics seem to be getting standard “don’t write about getting sued” instructions from their lawyers, but that’s not easy advice to give Mark Steyn [SteynOnline, Jonathan Adler (Mann wins a round opening way to discovery]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2014

  • Setback for climate scientist Michael Mann in defamation suit against critics [Jonathan Adler, Mark Steyn, earlier here and here; update, Mann wins a round] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has taken interest on defendants’ side [Steyn] “Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions” [NYT on Shuler case in Alabama, on which earlier; more]
  • Religious liberty: “When thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.” [Doug Bandow]
  • Nigeria’s new jail-the-gays law is brutally repressive toward speech and association. Oil-rich country gets upwards of $500 million in US foreign aid a year [Reuters, AP and followup, Al-Jazeera]
  • Members of Ramapough tribe in New Jersey sue Hollywood over “Out of the Furnace” depiction [AP]
  • “California’s New Law Shows It’s Not Easy To Regulate Revenge Porn” [Eric Goldman]
  • Catching up on the Ampersand case, where the NLRB got slapped down trying to restrict newspaper owner’s First Amendment rights [Harry G. Hutchison]
  • Video interview with noted civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate [Cato]

Fifty years ago today…

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2014

…the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in what was to become one of its most celebrated tort reform decisions. A profitable national manufacturer had been sued in a distant rural state in which it was decidedly unpopular, resulting in a runaway jury verdict which it sought to challenge on appeal. Pointing out the disadvantages of unpredictable and locally variable tort standards, the corporation’s lawyers pushed for a more uniform and modern standard of liability suited to a nationwide market, which the high court agreed unanimously to develop for the occasion and impose on state courts. And ever since 1964, the winning party in the case — that is to say, the New York Times Company — has taken a sympathetic editorial interest in the plight of other national businesses subjected to runaway verdicts in local courts.

Well, OK, maybe not that last sentence. But the rest of it did happen, in the celebrated case of New York Times v. Sullivan.

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The country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly law of defamation will be a tad less so under legislated reforms now taking effect. Under the Defamation Act 2013, complainants will need to show “serious harm,” peer-reviewed scientific publications and material published in the public interest will gain a new defense, a single-publication rule will be introduced, and new rules intended to combat libel tourism will exclude cases with little connection to England or Wales. [BBC]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2013

  • Arizona water utility sues customer over criticism [Popehat, which also has a free-speech-themed Blawg Review tribute and the year in blasphemy law]
  • Harvey Silverglate, “The Slow Death of Free Speech at Harvard” [Minding the Campus] Cato’s Free Speech Week coverage includes video of recent Jonathan Rauch panel [Tim Lynch]
  • Arrest warrant issued after Connecticut man tells Facebook readers he plans to take toy guns into school to prove point [Volokh]
  • In Florida, it’s illegal for two or more people to join together and spend more than $500 on a state ballot issue [Ilya Shapiro; Jacob Sullum on other grassroots-activist chill effects] Brad Smith on the fight at the Supreme Court between Shaun McCutcheon and the FEC [WSJ]
  • “Florida Condo Developer Sues Residents Over Website” [IJ]
  • Lawmaker to introduce anti-SLAPP bill to curb vexatious plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, and no state needs it more [Philly Law Blog; cf. Michigan which also could use a hand]
  • Will measures to criminalize revenge porn erode Section 230, the provision that shelters online media operators from liability for user-added content? [Mark Bennett, Scott Greenfield] At European Court for Human Rights, notice-and-takedown policy not enough to insulate Estonian website from liability for racist user comments [Stanford CIS]

The curious case of political blogger (Legal Schnauzer) and multiple litigant Roger Shuler [Ken at Popehat; Brian Doherty, Reason] And: Update on Kimberlin lawsuits against critics includes new action filed against 21 conservative media figures and entities [Popehat]

“A federal judge has thrown out a libel lawsuit a son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas filed last year against Foreign Policy magazine, charging that a commentary the journal published leveled unfounded allegations of corruption. … The piece was written by Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.” [Josh Gerstein/Politico, McClatchy]

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  • Golden Age of libel tourism in UK coming to an end? [Media Law Prof]
  • Tactical use of defamation suits not just a US/UK concern [Bangkok Post, Thailand]
  • “So you’ve been threatened with a defamation suit” [Ken at Popehat]
  • Federal judge tosses casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s libel suit against National Jewish Democratic Council [JTA, Las Vegas Review-Journal; earlier on Adelson]
  • “‘Federal Verification Company’ Seeks to Shut Down Online Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Defending rights of anonymous reviewers in Virginia Yelp case [Public Citizen]

“A federal appeals court has tossed a $10 million defamation suit by a resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., that was ranked No. 1 on a 2011 ‘dirtiest hotels’ list by TripAdvisor.” The Sixth Circuit “said the list is opinion protected by the First Amendment.” [ABA Journal, Digital Media Law]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 9, 2013

  • “It’s Not Illegal to Sell Anti-NSA Shirts Bearing the NSA Logo”
    [Volokh]
  • Can an American national be sued in American courts for working to persuade a foreign government to pass an oppressive law? [BTB on Scott Lively Uganda case]
  • “Court Rejects Religious Discrimination Claim Based on Associated Press’s Rejection of Plaintiff’s Religiously Themed Article” [Volokh]
  • Workings of British hate speech law: police visit clergyman who emailed pair of unwelcome religious tracts [Spectator]
  • “HIV Denialist’s Trademark and Defamation Claims Against Critical Blogger” [Paul Alan Levy]
  • Revisiting the practice of suing publishers of drug information in pharmaceutical liability cases [Beck]
  • “Australia’s Press Regulators Look To Enforce Ideological Conformity” [Tuccille, Reason]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2013

  • “Bryon Farmer of the Blackfeet Tribe Jailed For Talking About Corruption In Tribal Government” [Ken at Popehat] “Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas” [same]
  • Persons with federal government contracts can’t give to federal candidates or parties. Too broad? [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato]
  • “Together at last! ‘Some US conservatives laud Russia’s anti-gay bill.'” [@jon_rauch on Associated Press re: "propaganda" measure]
  • More on Second Circuit decision ruling scientific conclusions akin to protected opinion for defamation purposes [Digital Media Law Project, earlier]
  • San Antonio bars appointment to its city boards and commissions of anyone who has ever said anything demonstrating bias “against any person, group or organization on the basis of race” or various other protected categories [Eugene Volokh]
  • Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader wins defamation suit holding gossip site operator liable for user comments [Sporting News] Michigan: “Ionia newspaper editor files defamation suit against critics” [MLive, Popehat with a critical view, update at Popehat following dismissal]
  • “Hate speech” at issue: “Twitter releases users’ identities to French authorities after tough legal battles.” [JOLT]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 2, 2013

  • Paleo-diet blogger wins a round in battle with North Carolina occupational licensing [IJ via Alkon, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • If you live in Connecticut or Montana, you have a U.S. Senator who’d go this far to trample rights [Volokh on Tester-Murphy constitutional amendment, earlier] Related: “In Attack On Commercial Speech, Law Professor Sadly Supports Selective Rights” [Richard Samp, WLF, on Columbia's Tim Wu]
  • Lawyers sue publishers of medical literature for failing to warn about drug side effects [ABA Journal, Drug and Device Law]
  • “Anti-Bullying Bill Could Jail People Who Criticize Politicians” [Ted Balaker, Reason]
  • Regarding the L.A. Times: “So people are really suggesting a city council interfere to make sure a newspaper’s owners have the proper political views. Flabbergasting.” [@radleybalko]
  • “Judge: Rocker must pay Herald $132G in court costs for dismissed defamation suit” [Boston Herald] Second Circuit recognizes scientific-discussion defense to defamation claims [Science World Report]
  • “Does Freedom of Speech Conflict with Freedom of Religion?” [Jacob Mchangama video] “Turkish Blogger Sentenced to 13 Months in Prison for Criticizing Mohammed” [Volokh] So much repression: State Dept. International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 [executive summary]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 21, 2013

A lawyer who’d been widely and scathingly criticized over his handling of a case — unfairly he thought — proceeded to sue bloggers and journalists for defamation, so many that the total of defendants reached 74. It’s over now, but a New York state judge declined to award sanctions, which may possibly say something about the difficulty of obtaining sanctions under today’s prevailing legal standards, especially in New York. [Tom Crane, San Antonio Employment Law Blog; Popehat ("Our legal system is so broken that it can take years to resolve even the most patently vexatious, harassing, and incompetently prosecuted lawsuits like this one.")]

P.S. “Loser pays would have been valuable here. Costs to each defendant would teach a memorable lesson.” [@erikmagraken]

Quoting Ken White at Popehat:

The blog Retraction Watch tracks, and probes, retractions in scientific journals. They say they do so because retractions are a “window into the scientific process,” because doing so helps create a repository of retractions and publicize them, because retractions can be the lead-in for a great story about misconduct, and because tracking retractions can help keep scientific journals honest.

Unsurprisingly, this does not make them popular among some of the scientists they cover. Last month a researcher at a well-known Texas cancer center menaced the site with a lawsuit, soon unleashing the Streisand Effect. And now, in a separate case, a pharmaceutical chemist is threatening to sue them because they reported on one journal’s “Expression of Concern” about one of his pieces, and in the terminology of scientific journals, an “Expression of Concern” is a different thing than a “Retraction,” which, he says, means that the website’s title is exposing him to defamation. Per Ken, this is not exactly the world’s most meritorious theory either.

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Patrick at Popehat takes on the case of a beaded-necklace purveyor whose idea of how to respond to a dissatisfied customer leaves something to be desired (“We will send a copy of your e-mail and all your data to our lawyers. If You keep on with your defamations and write anything on blogs, forums or social networks, We will immediately start a lawsuit against You.”)

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on March 11, 2013

  • “Crime to Create a ‘Hostile Environment’ That ‘Substantially Interferes’ with Person’s ‘Psychological Well-Being’ Based on Race, Religion, Sex, Etc.?” [Volokh] “Minnesota Bill to Ban K-12 Speech That Denies Fellow Students a ‘Supportive Environment'” [same]
  • Blogger dropped as defendant in “pink slime” defamation litigation, but suit against ABC and others continues [Bettina Siegel/Lunch Tray] Suit against ABC based in part on state food-disparagement statute occasionally criticized in this space [Reuters] Dearborn residents: are you sure you want to patronize a restaurant that deploys lawyers to suppress criticism? [Paul Alan Levy, earlier]
  • Libya arrests foreigners accused of distributing Christian literature, charge could carry death penalty [Guardian]
  • Sometimes it seems NYT editors are First Amendment absolutists about everything except political speech First Amendment was meant to protect [SmarterTimes]
  • Global Wildlife Center of Folsom, Louisiana sues a satirical website and then menaces Ken of Popehat;
  • Long piece on Naffe/O’Keefe backstory of Kimberlin/Patterico legal/media war [Chris Faraone, Boston Phoenix, earlier]
  • Update: following outcry, publishing company drops suit against Canadian librarian [CBC, earlier] Also from Canada: Nanaimo, British Columbia: “Mayor ensures ‘Koruption’ stickers never seen again” [Beschizza, BoingBoing] Voltaire wept: Bruce Bawer on the Canada Supreme Court’s “hate speech” decision [Front Page mag, earlier]
  • “Donald Trump, paper tiger?” [Paul Alan Levy]

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Lawyers roundup

by Walter Olson on March 4, 2013

  • Feds investigating prominent Texas attorney and many-time Overlawyered mentionee Mikal Watts [MySanAntonio via PoL]
  • Florida high court: lawyers not privileged to defame parties during informal witness questioning [Delmonico v. Traynor]
  • Client’s story: not only did attorney try to kill me, he also gave me bad advice [Lowering the Bar]
  • Some lawyers for city of Cleveland seek union representation, following municipal attorneys in S.F., D.C. and Houston [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
  • Watch what you say about lawyers, part CLXXVI [NYLJ, "shakedown"]
  • Former ATLA president Barry Nace fights disciplinary proceeding in W.V. [Chamber-backed WV Record]
  • Minnesota lawyer who billed client for time he spent having sex with her won’t be allowed to practice for more than a year [TheLawNet, earlier on this candidate for "ultimate Overlawyered story"]
  • Should she take the job offer from an apparently unethical attorney? If she has to ask… [Elie Mystal, Above the Law]

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