Not a good idea for anyone, really, but an especially bad idea for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [Ken at Popehat; Paul Alan Levy (reminding that "the government itself cannot be defamed")]
Down the same alley: when the mayor of Peoria seized on a misdemeanor law banning “impersonating a public official” as grounds for sending police after a clearly satirical Twitter account, he bit off more than he might be able to chew [Ars Technica, earlier]
To curtail parody, stop being so parody-able in the aftermath of your decision to send cops after your Twitter critics [Radley Balko, more, earlier] Related: “Watch Repairer Goes Legal Over Tame Yelp Review, Streisand Effect Takes Over” [Geigner, TechDirt]
….what’s true about Detroit is true about all of us. This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get back up, slip again, and send the video to our personal injury lawyer. And when we do – the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.
At RedState, Leon Wolf has been parodying the work of Senatorial daughter and talk-show personality Meghan McCain. McCain’s lawyer, Albin Gess of Snell & Wilmer, wrote RedState editor Erich Erichson to threaten litigation over the posts, which prompted this magnificent letter in response (PDF) from Georgia attorney Christopher Scott Badeaux, representing Wolf. It also guaranteed more critical attention to McCain herself and her work, including this cruel entry by Ken at Popehat.
What Ken calls “the use of money and power to achieve censorship” — particularly in jurisdictions where judges are averse to awarding sanctions and anti-SLAPP protections are weak — is a continuing problem long overdue for open public discussion.
Leading birthers Joseph Farah and Jerome Corsi are suing Esquire for $120 million because the magazine published a satirical article headlined, ‘BREAKING! Jerome Corsi’s Birther Book Pulled From Shelves!,’ Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici reports.” [Atlantic Wire, Daily Caller]
Liability is predicated on “intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud another person – not necessarily the person you are impersonating.” [Michael Arrington, TechCrunch] Despite talk of using the statute against stalkers, Choire Sicha predicts a somewhat different application: “harm as in ‘brand dilution’ — that is what will be prosecuted. Of course there is no carve-out for playful, political or non-murderous uses of online impersonation.” The bill’s text, notes Arrington, doesn’t address such free speech issues as satire and parody, though it does restrict itself to impersonations that are “credible.” Compare: much-demonized Koch Industries goes to court to identify originators (apparently political critics) of website imitating its own [Web Host Industry Review]
“Nicholas Brilleaux, publisher of Hammond Action News, got a big victory yesterday when a Louisiana judge dissolved an order prohibiting him from posting a satirical news story about a fictional giraffe attack on his blog.” [Citizen Media Law, OnPoint News, earlier]
A judge has ordered a satirical website to remove an article about a fictional attack by a giraffe at a Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana wildlife center. The center had argued that the article was not clearly labeled as satire and had been taken for real by some readers. A lawyer for the center says his client is asking “to have the story permanently removed from the site and to prevent Hammond Action News from ever distributing it.” Having handed down a temporary restraining order, the judge will consider the permanent removal request March 15. [The Advocate; Hammond Action News]
P.S. Commentary on the story from Ken at Popehat, who links another local story reporting that president of wildlife park threatened college-student satirist with “criminal charges, FCC charges, fraud charges, an IRS complaint, a governor’s office complaint, and a federal lawsuit” (h/t commenter Doug).
Peabody Energy, by way of St. Louis law firm Senniger Powers, has sent a nastygram (PDF) demanding the takedown of an enviro-activist website that critically mimics the “Consortium for ‘Clean Coal’ Utilization,” of which Peabody is a part. Along with trademark infringement claims, the letter advances a congeries of other legal theories (defamation, tortious interference with contracts) and insists on the total removal of the site. [Citizen Media Law, EFF, Riverfront Times]
Another indication that British courts may be steering defamation law away from its highly pro-plaintiff posture of the past: “In a groundbreaking libel decision, the judge said that ‘irony’ and ‘teasing’ do not amount to defamation.” The entertainer Elton John had sued over a spoof “diary” that depicted his involvement in a major AIDS charity as insincere and self-serving.
“It’s significant,” said media law expert Mark Stephens of the ruling. “What [Mr. Justice] Tugendhat has done is move us closer to the US system where you can’t get damages for satire and humour, except in the most exceptional cases.”
If only we could all resolve threatening letters from lawyers as neatly as the editors at MAD magazine were once able to do:
The book [MAD About Star Wars] is liberally sprinkled with sidebar anecdotes telling stories of MAD and Lucas’s relationship to each other (for example, the Lucasfilm legal department sent a threatening letter to MAD about one of their parodies; the same parody generated a personal fan-letter from George Lucas — MAD simply sent copies of each letter to the other sender and the problem went away)…
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