Archive for the ‘settlements’ Category

UK Court Rules 7-Word Tweet Libeled Lord

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Gavel coming down on twitter bird, combined with British flagLord Robert Alistair McAlpine was libeled by a tweet from Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, according to a May 24, 2013 decision of UK’s High Court of Justice.

With a question of damages still pending, the parties terminated the litigation with a settlement on undisclosed terms.

Eric P. Robinson blogged that the case “shows — if anyone still had doubts — that tweets can indeed be libelous.”

“In short — appropriate for Twitter — a libel is a libel, no matter how few characters it contains,” Robinson concluded.

A BBC report in 2012 about alleged sexual abuse in a Welsh foster-care home in the 1970s and 80s communicated an allegation by a victim that one of the abusers was a leading Tory politician, but no particular person was named. Social media speculation following the BBC report then centered around Lord McAlpine.

Then came the libelous tweet from Bercow:

Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*

It turns out Lord McAlpine was not an abuser. The ensuing scandal led to the resignation of the head of the BBC.

It appears Sally Bercow abandoned Twitter.

The case is a good example of how defamation can happen indirectly, and by implication. It also provides a good point of contrast with American law – UK law on libel is much stricter and not subject to the strong protections that we have under the First Amendment on this side of the Pond.

For a full unpacking of the facts and law, read Robinson’s thorough post on Blog Law Online.

Dr. Darm Settles Defamation Suit Against Blogger Tiffany Craig in Portland, Oregon

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Jerry Darm headshotOregon plastic surgeon Jerry Darm (Image: Darm, via YouTube)

Blogger Tiffany Craig (Criminally Vulgar, @tcraighenry) has reported that the lawsuit between her and plastic surgeon Jerry Darm has been settled.

This happened back in October, but you’re just now finding out about it on Blog Law Blog, where, with paywall-less blogging, you get what you pay for.

Darm sued for defamation, but then dismissed the suit. It looks like Darm just bailed after he realized that all that was likely to happen was that he would lose and get stuck with legal fees for both sides, thanks to Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law. The complained-of tweet and blog post are staying up.

The suit appears to have arisen out of this blog post, in which Craig embedded a YouTube video, since removed, of an uploaded Dr. Darm television commercial. Underneath, Craig wrote:

Seen that around? Sure you have. If you watch television in Portland Dr Darm is ubiquitous. Especially on those local channels that show endless reruns of Two and a Half Men. He wants to fix you up good and spend thousands on cosmetic procedures that will get funneled straight into his Lake Oswego home.

What he should have added with his Results May Vary disclaimer is Dr. Darm Handed Over His Medical License Due To Disciplinary Action. …

EFFECTIVE 10/18/01 RECEIVED A LETTER OF REPRIMAND FROM OREGON, REQUIRED TO HAVE A CHAPERONE WHEN EXAMINING FEMALE ADULTS, AND ADDITIONAL CONTINUING MEDICAL EDUCATION COURSES. EFFECTIVE 01/08/09 STIPULATED ORDER OF 10/18/01 IS TERMINATED.
That’s right, he was censured by the state because he was examining female patients without a chaperone. If that’s not bad enough? Apparently needed just a teensy bit more education about how to respect the boundaries of his patients.

Oh and California just decided that he shouldn’t be licensed at all. If he tries to get licensed in California, he has to reapply.

And maybe you’re thinking, “so what if he examined a female patient without a chaperone? How is that a big deal.” You should really read the judgement which says:

“Licensee examined Patient A on August 3, 2000 and September 21, 2000 to evaluate the treatment results. Patient A repeatedly expressed concern about some “spider” veins on her legs, but that she could not pay for additional treatment. Licensee informed Patient A that he would provide her with free treatment at his clinic closing time. On or about November 16, 2000 at about 9:30 PM, Licensee used a laser to treat Patient A’s condition on her legs. At the conclusion of the treatment, as she was reclined on her back, Licensee leaned over Patient A and made intimate physical contact with her and inferred that would be his payment.”

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.
I’m don’t think Results May Vary is quite enough to warn people off being treated by Dr. Darm.

Assuming the quotes are accurate, how could this be defamatory?

A report on the settlement by Alex Zielinski in the alternative weekly newspaper, the Portland Mercury, implies it was this:

Craig … didn’t note that Darm’s license is now renewed in Oregon.

So what? If the reasonable implication of Craig’s post was that Darm wasn’t licensed in Oregon, then, true, that could be actionable. But when I read Craig’s post, I certainly do not come away with the idea that Darm is unlicensed in Oregon. Quite the opposite. Craig’s post seems to imply that he still is licensed in Oregon.

A better candidate for the allegedly actionable content is this:

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.

Indeed, the quoted material Craig uses does not support the literal truth of that statement. Making “intimate physical contact” with a patient and “inferr[ing] that would be his payment” does not literally mean that Darm tried to get the patient to sleep with him. But American defamation law is tolerant of this kind of poetic license. An instructive case on this point is another litigation I blogged about out of the District of Oregon in 2011: Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox. (What is up with the onslaught of Oregon defamation-by-blog cases?) According to heritage Portland newspaper The Oregonian the papers filed by Craig’s attrorney, Linda Williams, argued that “the gist” of the blog post was true and that the statements, in context, were opinions based on verifiable facts.

More:

FTC Wins Settlement from FB

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

wobbly Facebook logoFacebook has entered into a big settlement with the Federal Trade Commission – America’s top consumer cops – regarding privacy of user data. As part of the deal, FB will warn users about privacy changes and must submit to biennial privacy audits for the next two decades.

I love the FTC. They do good stuff. Of course, it’s good to note also that FB has done a lot of backpedaling on privacy issues because of user backlash – a kind of semi-organized consumer pressure that is possible these days because of social networking technologies like, um, Facebook!

Here’s what Zuckerberg said in his blog post about the settlement (which he rosily calls a “settlement”):

… I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes [including] a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago …

[W]e’re making a clear and formal long-term commitment to do the things we’ve always tried to do and planned to keep doing — giving you tools to control who can see your information and then making sure only those people you intend can see it. In the last 18 months alone, we’ve announced more than 20 new tools and resources designed to give you more control over your Facebook experience.

I actually think Facebook is getting quite a bit better – not just about privacy, but about being a better service altogether. I predicted the demise of Facebook earlier this year. If Facebook keeps changing fast enough, it might hold on. But I just don’t think it will. Fundamentally, the company seems out of touch with what people want. Like the Facebook ticker feature that was new this fall – that’s just creepy.

Here are the words from the parties:

Here are some write-ups:

Everybody Loses: Tarazi v. Geller Settles

Monday, October 10th, 2011
Headshots of Tarazi and Geller

Attorney Tarazi and blogger Geller (Photos: Tarazi, Geller)

Ohio attorney Omar Tarazi has settled his lawsuit against Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller. The defamation claim stemmed from Geller’s allegations that Tarazi had ties to terrorists.

Under the terms of the settlement, Geller must delete five posts. No money changes hands.

Both sides are claiming victory – Of course.

In an end to what she termed “litigation jihad,” Geller blogged about the settlement, ”Islamic supremacism has suffered a stunning and well-deserved defeat, and a good, stiff kick in the ass.”

Tarazi was more subdued, blogging, “Pamela Geller finally caved in and agreed to permanently take down all of her defamatory posts regarding me to settle the lawsuit.”

The row came out of the 2009 case of Rifqa Bary, an Ohio girl who ran away from her Muslim parents and converted to Christianity. Tarazi was the attorney for Rifqa Bary’s parents. Bary said that her father had threatened to kill her for apostasy. (Authorities were apparently unable to find any corroboration for Bary’s allegation.) Geller, according to a quote on her site, is the “heroine of the right wing blogosphere.” She is also the executive director of a group called Stop Islamization of America

So, who really won?

Well, for fans of our winner-take-all adversarial system of civil litigation, that’s the shame of settlements. You really can’t say who won. Every time there’s a settlement, both sides can say they’ve reached a favorable outcome. That’s true by definition.

But if you want my outsider opinion, I would say nobody won. In fact, I think they both lost.

Geller is taking down her posts. That means she’s been muzzled. That’s clearly a loss for someone who puts herself out there, according to quotes on her website, as “a paragon of courage and fearlessness” and “an irrepressible firebrand.”

Tarazi, on the other hand, is getting no money out of the suit. The litigation was undoubtedly expensive for him to pursue, and when you ask for $10 million as an opening demand and then walk away with nothing, that’s a defeat in my book.

My reading between the lines is that both sides got tired of pursuing this and agreed to call it off.

In our adversarial system of justice, if everyone gets tired of fighting, that’s not only a loss for both sides, it’s a defeat for the system.

Tarazi said about the settlement, “I am … look[ing] forward to moving on with my life.”

How sad is our litigation system when a lawyer plaintiff wants to move on with his life?

More:

Blogger Aiming to Force Righthaven to Give Back Settlement Money

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Steve Green of the Las Vegas Sun reports on the latest Righthaven news – Dana Eiser, the blogger behind Lowcountry912, is looking to force Righthaven to refund its previously collected settlement amounts.

That would be awesome if it could work.

Righthaven Now Suing on Behalf of Denver Post

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The threat Righthaven poses to unsuspecting bloggers has just increased in a big way. Righthaven, who has been busy for the better part of a year suing on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is now suing on behalf of the Denver Post.

Steve Green of the Las Vegas Sun reports.

This news is potentially much bigger than just the Denver Post. The Colorado newspaper is owned by MediaNews Group, which bills itself as the country’s second-largest media company. Three huge newspapers owned by MediaNews Group are the Detroit News, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Salt Lake Tribune. Other substantial papers in the group include the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times in California, and the El Paso Times in Texas.

This is a major get for Righthaven, which has been hoping to expand its business of no-warning copyright-infringement suits against unsuspecting small timers. New media clients are important for Righthaven, which thrives on a volume business of grabbing nusiance-value settlements from defendants too poor or too resignedly self-interested to put up a fight.

I’m very sad to see such a large media company with so many good newspapers sign up with Righthaven’s questionable cash-grab scheme.

Gawker and HarperCollins Settle Suit Over Palin Excerpt

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Digital Spy reports there was a quick settlement after HarperCollins sued Gawker for copyright infringement for publishing excerpts of Sarah Palin’s new book, America By Heart, in advance of its public release.

(My previous post, speculating on the merits of a fair-use defense in this case, is here.)

Cooks Source Reprints Webpage as Magazine Article Without Permission

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Web-author and blogger Monica Gaudio did some freelance work for Cooks Source magazine – unwittingly.

While the Las Vegas Review Journal and Righthaven continue to be hotly indignant about bloggers reposting content from newspapers, the print trade is nabbing content from bloggers, and being kindof snotty about it.

Gaudio’s write-up of apple tarts, which appeared on her online cookbook of medieval cooking, was reprinted on page 10 of Cooks Source’s latest issue. Cooks Source never got – or even sought – permission.

Now unlike thugsters LVRJ and Righthaven, Gaudio was nice about it. Assuming the best of intentions, she let the editor know that the article was used without her permission, and she asked for an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

What civility.

Astoundingly, this is the response she got from editor Judith Griggs. It’s just a jaw dropper:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!

Just so we are clear, despite Griggs’s assertion that she knows about copyright law, the web is certainly not considered public domain. Well, maybe by Griggs, but not by the law. Not at all.

I think it was stellar of Gaudio to offer the $130 make-good. But now that she’s been responded to with outright rudeness, I think she should up her figure. My thought is $5,000 for a retroactive license / settlement. That’s a high-end payment for freelance work, and it’s in the neighborhood of Righthaven settlements. So that seems like a good number to me. And Monica, keep that money for yourself. The one thing Griggs is probably right about is that CSJ is doing alright for itself. Not that even well-to-do institutions of higher learning don’t deserve donations, but you oughtta feel free to hold on to anything that comes your way out of this.

In the meantime, Monica: Register that apple pie article with the Copyright Office! If your reference point is 14th Century cooking, copyright registration is even easier than apple pie.

If it’s been less than three months since you published it, you are still in a position to file for registration and get eligible for attorney’s fees and statutory damages. If too much time has passed, you can still threaten them with actual damages. There’s also the possibility of  an injunction and an order of impoundment and destruction, which, while not really a problem for online publications that can change their content at will, is potentially more of a pain for print publications.

More: Lance Whitney on CNET: Lifting of blogger’s story triggers online furor

Artie Can Now Meow a Sigh of Relief

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

A LAWSUIT THAT GAVE YOU PAWS: Artie, the Boston-based blogging cat, is the beneficiary of the confidential settlement of a federal lawsuit over the reposting of a newspaper article. Eight lives and counting.

The bizarre Artiegate lawsuit is over. (BLB: Purr-loined Story Gets Cat Blog Sued)

Some months ago the Las Vegas Review-Journal, through its legal henchman Righthaven, sued Allegra Wong of Boston over her blog, written from the perspective of her cat, Artie, which allegedly reposted an LVRJ story about a fire at a bird sanctuary.

After bashing Wong, who is, or was, unemployed, with a claim for $75,000, Righthaven has now agreed to dismiss the matter pursuant to  a confidential settlement, as reported by Steve Green in the Las Vegas Sun. (Look at the last few paragraphs of the story.)

I’m guessing that something like $20 bucks changed hands. Maybe zero. The writing was on the wall that the court was looking to give Righthaven the absolute minimum amount of damages possible.

It’s too bad that the settlement is confidential, because I can imagine it was, for Righthaven, embarrassingly low. But I’m happy for Ms. Wong and Artie.

Robinson on FTC v. Reverb Settlement

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Eric P. Robinson on Blog Law Online discusses a settlement reached by Reverb Communications and the FTC over endorsement activity. The case isn’t about blogging itself, but it does fall under the FTC’s guidelines for “new media,” and that does include blogs.

Righthaven Getting Small Settlements

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The latest on Righthaven from the Las Vegas Sun: Righthaven reaches settlements in 2 cases over R-J copyrights by Steve Green.

The article discloses that publicly disclosed settlements have been in the small-claims range, from $2,185 to $5,000.