Online purveyor of pro-paramour lifestyles, AshleyMadison.com, encouraged users to “have an affair,” because “life is short.” Well, the company’s lifespan may now be in jeopardy thanks to a possible litigation tsunami heading its way.
Who can exposed Ashley Madison users sue: the website or the hackers? What can “victims” legally claim? What are the chances of Ashley Madison successfully defending themselves? Will the business survive a litigation onslaught?
Let’s deconstruct the scandal and possible legal aftermaths.
The AshleyMadison.com Hacking Scandal Basics
What is AshleyMadison.com?
From its website: “Have an Affair today on Ashley Madison. Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair…With Our affair guarantee package we guarantee you will find the perfect affair partner.”
Who owns AshleyMadison.com?
Avid Life Media (“ALM”), a Canadian company that also operates websites called Cougar Life and Established Men.
Who hacked the site and when?
An ostensibly ethical hacking collective known as the Impact Team claimed responsibility for the breach. Impact Team announced its coup in mid-July; at that time, it made demands of ALM, offering a month-long compliance window. ALM didn’t comply with the demands, so Impact Team leaked the data in mid-August.
What reason did Impact Team give for its act of hacktivism?
Impact Team targeted two of Avid Life’s properties. Excerpts from its public statement regarding the hack:
“Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”
“Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online.”
How did Avid Life Media respond to the initial hack?
The company behind Ashley Madison did not comply with Impact Team’s initial requests. Instead, ALM told users it had augmented security on the site. When the initial data dump hit, ALM speculated that the information wasn’t real. After its forensic team had explored the matter, however, the company acknowledged the breach.
What information did Impact Team eventually release?
Via two 20 and 9.7 gigabyte-sized data dumps, initially only accessible with a Tor browser, Impact Team divulged around 32 million accounts. Some accounts are bogus; some are legit. Currently, most people aren’t paying much attention to email addresses not attached to payment accounts. And even for accounts that do include credit card info, there is no guarantee that the card holder’s identity wasn’t hijacked.
We should note that Impact Team didn’t release full credit card information, only the last four digits.
Did Impact Team explain why it eventually released the data?
Yes. According to Impact Team:
We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data … Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters. …
“Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver.”
Impact Team also urged the exposed to “make amends” and encouraged: even though it is “embarrassing now,” Ashleymadison.com users will “get over it.”
Did Ashleymadison.com make any effort to secure user data?
Yes. The site used a PHP bcrypt algorithm to store passwords, which is considered an acceptable method amongst digital security specialists. However, as Robert Graham, CEO of Erratasec explained, “hackers are still likely to be able to ‘crack’ many of these hashes in order to discover the account holder’s original password.”
Avid Life’s Statement About The Data Revelation
“This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. It is an illegal action against the individual members of Ashleymadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities,” the company said in a statement. “The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.”
Two Important Things to Consider About the AshleyMadison.com Hack That Could Impact Potential Legal Actions Stemming From the Incident
Fake Accounts: Countless Ashley Madison accounts are fake and created by bots.
No Verification Required: AshleyMadison.com doesn’t require email verification to create an account. As such, an innocent person’s address could have landed in data scrum if:
- The email address is publicly available online, and a bot picked it up in an automated profile creation scrape;
- Someone else used the email of an enemy – or friend – to set up an Ashley Madison account;
- A reporter or investigator set up an account to get a peek behind the curtain for research purposes.
Legitimate accounts are most likely attached to credit card information – like reality TV’s Josh Duggar’s account.
Ashley Madison Hack: What Can People Sue Over?
According to statements issued by the collective, one of the main reason’s Impact Team targeted Avid Life Media’s sites was the company’s paid security option.
“Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life.”
Which raises a question: Can “hack victims” (i.e., Ashley Madison users) successfully sue Ashley Madison and Avid Life Media? It’s an insanely complicated question.
An ocean’s worth of individual details would factor into the fitness of any potential claim. That said, let’s take a look at some potential types of lawsuits that could be brought, then deconstruct the likelihood of success.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Lawsuit Category: Defamation / False Light Invasion of Privacy
Can Ashley Madison users sue the website for defamation or false light invasion of privacy – a tort very similar to defamation on the law books in some states? On a scale from one to ten, the chances are about a .5. Why? Two reasons:
- Though there are rare exceptions (like in Massachusetts), “truth” is a rock-solid defense against slander and libel claims. And in the case of the Ashley Madison hack, Impact Team covered its proverbial “butt” by pointing out that not all of the accounts are necessarily real.
- Due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Internet service providers and certain social media platforms enjoy a considerable amount of third-party defamation immunity protection.
Now let’s look at some hypothetical scenarios.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Defamation Lawsuit: Individual User v. Ashleymadison.com / ALM
Again, the likelihood of an individual user successfully suing Avid Life Media (AshleyMadison.com’s parent company) for defamation is between slim and none. Under U.S. law, to win a defamation claim, plaintiffs must prove that the defendants made false statements of fact. In this case, though Impact Team hacked and leaked data, AshleyMadison.com – nor its employees – made false statements of fact about users.
Intention also plays a primary part in state-side slander and libel suits. In this case, Ashley Madison executives didn’t act with actual malice, neither did they act with reckless disregard for the truth.
HOWEVER, Ashleymadison.com’s website featured verbiage that promised a premium account option – and option that included information “deletion.” This program could be the basis of a solid breach of contract claim, which we’ll get to below.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Defamation Lawsuit: Individual User v. Impact Team
Like ALM, it’s unlikely that individual users can bring successful defamation lawsuits against the Impact Team. Firstly, the collective didn’t spread lies; it leaked information. Even in instances where an automated bot scraped an email address from the Web and amended it to Ashley Madison’s database, the hackers, in theory, should be immune from libel liability. Why? Because in the collective’s release statement, Impact Team admitted that a large chunk of the user data was most likely false. The team even highlighted an ongoing class action, over fake profiles, against ALM.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Lawsuit Category: Individual User v. Individual Online Shame Spreader
Theoretically, one type of Ashley Madison defamation lawsuit that has a shot at success is between an individual whose information was falsely leaked and a person who publically makes assertions based on the presence of that false information. Huh? This scenario is best explained in an example.
Example of a Potentially Successful Ashley Madison Defamation Lawsuit
John and James are co-workers and rivals for a job position. Turns out that John’s email address was amongst those leaked in the Ashley Madison data breach. John, however, has never used Ashley Madison and is happily married. His email landed in the website’s records on account of a bot that scraped the Web for addresses to make fake profiles – a subversive online marketing technique. In fact, John had no idea his email was even in the leak.
Now let’s cut to James, John’s work rival. He searches through the Ashley Madison data dump and comes across John’s email. Teeming with schadenfreude, James immediately takes to Twitter and scolds:
“John Doe is an adulterous CHEATER! He’s slept with the entire office and probably has a disease!!”
A tweet like this could be deemed defamatory (or at least false light). For starters, James makes a false statement of fact by asserting that John is a cheater and has a disease. Arguably, this is a reckless statement because the Impact Team explained the probability of false-positive accounts and highlighted the ongoing lawsuit involving fake profiles. Moreover, James extrapolated an entire story based on one piece of information.
There is no guarantee that John would win our hypothetical case, but of all the possible Ashley Madison defamation conflicts, a scenario like his has the best chance of success. But again, all online libel lawsuits depend on the details of the case, so it’s best to speak with an attorney about the specifics of your’s.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Lawsuit Category: Data Breach / Online Privacy
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Lawsuit Category: Individual U.S. User v. Ashleymadison.com / ALM
“Ashley Madison users can surely sue for violations of online privacy, right?”
Believe it or not, the United States doesn’t have a universal online privacy law. California’s online privacy statute comes the closest, but as of this writing, it doesn’t appear that ALM has violated it. After all, the company did take steps to secure passwords; the hackers were just smarter.
And though ALM at first questioned the validity of the data, the company did “fess up” in an appropriate amount of time. Moreover, ALM is working with law enforcement officials to find the culprits — all of which is in accordance with California’s – and other states’ – online privacy laws.
Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances that affect the validity of any given AshleyMadison.com User v. ALM online privacy lawsuit.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Online Privacy Lawsuit: Individual E.U. User v. AshleyMadison.com / ALM
Though European Union online privacy laws are stricter than those in the United States, the probability of a successful Internet privacy claim in an E.U. court is equally as low as it is state-side. Mostly because the overseas digital privacy laws have more to do with acknowledging certain types of tracking (which you can read about here [link]) as opposed to punishing instances of data breaches.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Online Privacy Lawsuit: Individual User v. Impact Team
Can individual users sue Impact Team for invasion of privacy? Highly Doubtful. Again, the word “privacy” isn’t even in the U.S. Constitution, and Capitol Hill has yet to pass a universal online privacy law.
Besides, finding the members of Impact Team is probably a longshot.
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Lawsuit Category: Breach of Contract
Hypothetical Ashley Madison Breach of Contract Lawsuit: Individual User v. AshleyMadison.com / ALM
“Breach of contract” lawsuits – or a breach of contract class action – may be the legal straw that breaks Avid Life Media’s back.
As a pay option, AshleyMadison.com offered members a deletion service for $19.99. And as the world now knows, it looks as if those promised deletions never happened.
Besides, the law, in many ways, no longer allows for “fine print” gotcha clauses, which are buried behind hyperlinks, in an agate-font text. Hiding important information like that is considered underhanded and judges ordinarily don’t grant absolution for those types of tactics.
Other Possible Lawsuits: False Advertising and Fraud
In addition to breach of contract, it’s possible that the government may sue for false advertising – on account of the $19.99 deletion promise. Others will argue that it was fraud to take the money and then not fulfill the promise they made. Whether either of these types of actions will be pursued or successful, time will tell.
Can ALM Sue Impact Team For The Hack?
Another possible Ashley Madison hack lawsuit that, theoretically, has a chance of success? ALM v. Impact Team.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the main hacking law in the United States. And, it’s controversial. Some people feel the penalties are way too steep, and it only serves in over-punishing the “little guy” instead of the true masterminds who know how to properly cover their tracks.
You can read more about issues related to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, here. Even if law enforcement agents were to unearth members of the Impact Team, it’s doubtful that ALM would prevail in the end…or that the case would even see a courtroom.
Make Sure Your Legal House Is In Order
The fallout of this Ashley Madison scandal will be long in the making. And if any claims do arise, like a Phoenix out of this particularly murky legal quagmire, rest assured that it will take years to litigate.
In the meantime, if you run a business and have an e-tail presence, be sure you are up-to-date with the latest online privacy and data breach laws and standards.
Estes, A. (2015, August 19). The Ashley Madison Hackers Just Released a Ton of Stolen Data [Updated]. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from http://gizmodo.com/the-ashley-madison-hackers-just-released-all-of-their-s-1724920693
Ragan, S. (2015, August 18). Ashley Madison hackers publish compromised records. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from http://www.csoonline.com/article/2973036/vulnerabilities/ashley-madison-hackers-publish-compromised-records.html
Doctorow, C. (2015, August 20). Ashley Madison commits copyfraud in desperate bid to suppress news of its titanic leak. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from https://boingboing.net/2015/08/20/ashley-madison-commits-copyfra.html
Kim, Z. (2015, August 18). Hackers Finally Post Stolen Ashley Madison Data. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from http://www.wired.com/2015/08/happened-hackers-posted-stolen-ashley-madison-data/
Below are three trade secret example lawsuits. To speak with a trade secret attorney, get in touch here.
Trade Secret Example Lawsuit #1: Company v. Company
In 2014, California’s Top Agent Network Inc. (“TAN”) – a real estate “pocket listing / networking” business – filed a lawsuit against online real estate company, Zillow.com. The accusations? Trade secret theft in service of Zillow’s highly hyped “coming soon” feature.
Investment Talks Lead To Alleged Trade Secret Theft
The lawsuit alleged that Zillow unlawfully accessed confidential TAN information under the guise of investment interest. According to TAN, the two parties had agreed that any confidential information divulged, by TAN, during investment talks would only be used for considering a partnership agreement.
But after working with TAN, Zillow launched a new service suspiciously similar to the one examined during the Tan investment meetings. A huge success, Zillow’s new feature resulted in an 18% share price increase.
Since Zillow profited from the new feature, and TAN feels that new feature was only made possible because of the confidential information shared during investment negations, TAN is sued Zillow for trade secret theft.
At the time of this writing, a decision has yet to be made in this case.
Trade Secret Example Lawsuit #1: Company v. Former Employee
In 2012, following an exodus of several key employees, game company Zynga filed a trade secret lawsuit against a departing general manager. The accusation? He allegedly stole “sensitive and commercially priceless data.” Specifically, Zynga executive believe he absconded with 760 confidential corporate documents.
Ultimately, the two parties reached a confidential settlement. And in a show of contrition, the accused general manager lamented:
“I accept responsibility for making a serious mistake by copying and taking Zynga confidential information when I resigned from Zynga. I understand the consequences of my actions and I sincerely apologize to Zynga and my former colleagues.”
Trade Secret Example Lawsuit #3: Competing Game Developers
In 2012, gaming company NC Soft filed a lawsuit against a group of former employees. Company brass suspected the group of stealing confidential data related to an MMPO game called Lineage 3, and then using it to create a similar MMPOG.
An international issue, in 2009 a Korean court ruled against the cabal of employees, deciding that they had unlawfully misappropriated NC Soft’s trade secret. However an appeals court, though it upheld the ruling, reversed the amount of awarded damages.
At the time of this writing, the case is working its way through the appeals process in both Korea and the United States.
Consult With A Tech Trade Secret Attorney
Kelly / Warner attorneys have considerable experience with trade secret misappropriation law. We’ve obtained emergency injunctions in the wake of a suspected theft and guided clients through the process of establishing a legally viable trade secret.
We hope you found this post on trade secret example lawsuits helpful. To learn more about how trade secret contracts can be used to secure valuable information, get in touch.
In This Article You’ll Find:
Casino mogul Steve Wynn lost round one of his professional defamation lawsuit against financier James “Jim” Chanos. Wynn has till January 15, 2015 to appeal – and according to all reports, he plans to do just that.
The Wynn v. Chanos slander lawsuit is a good one to review because it touches on the important crux of American defamation case law – the all-mighty First Amendment.
Why Did Wynn Sue Chanos For Professional Defamation?
At A Lecture: “The SEC investigated Wynn.”
A lecture circuit veteran, earlier in the year, Chanos gave a talk at the University of California at Berkley. During the event, Chanos mentioned a since abandoned federal investigation of Wynn’s operation for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Ultimately, the investigation went nowhere, as officials didn’t find “reliable evidence of FCPA violations.”
At the Berkley lecture, Chanos did note that the SEC’s investigation didn’t illuminate any evidence against Wynn Resorts Ltd and related parties.
Wynn Filed Lawsuit
Regardless, Wynn wasn’t pleased with Chanos’ lecture – and opinions therein; so, in September 2014, the casino king filed a professional defamation lawsuit against the money man.
But it doesn’t look like Wynn will win this slander case.
Judge Sides With Chanos Because Wynn Made Too Big Of A Leap
District Judge William Orrick explained his ruling in favor of Chanos thusly:
“It takes a significant inferential leap to conclude that Chanos’s general uncertainty about the questionable business methods in Macau equates to an assertion that Wynn violated the FCPA.”
Did Judge Orrick slyly and subtly insinuate: “doth protest too much, maybe, Mr. Wynn?”
No False Statement of Fact
The most important thing to remember about professional defamation law in the US: In order to win, your claim must be centered on a false statement of fact, not an opinion nor speculation. If it were against the law to speculate about businesses, politics or people, the news and entertainment industries would be forced closed by way of excessive litigation.
Defamation law in the U.S. is defendant-friendly: In 98% of cases, to win, a plaintiff must prove the defendant made an unprivileged, false statement of fact. Negative opinions or critiques do not a valid defamation case make.
What must a plaintiff prove to win a defamation of character lawsuit in the United States?
Generally speaking, in every U.S. jurisdiction, in order to win a defamation of character lawsuit – whether personal or professional – the plaintiff must prove, at the very least, that the defendant:
- Published, broadcast or otherwise distributed the false statement of fact;
- Was talking about the plaintiff;
- Through the statement, caused material harm to the plaintiff;
- Acted with reckless disregard for the truth or actual malice.
Don’t be discouraged by America’s defendant-friendly defamation laws. Every year, many businesses and professionals win slander and libel lawsuits. Yes, free speech trumps an awful lot, but it doesn’t give anybody the right to spread lies about a person, place, organization or business.
If you’re the target of a highly inflammatory review, a ruined online reputation, or if you’re simply interested in getting content removed from the Internet, get in touch with Kelly / Warner Law.
Speak With An Attorney About Your Professional Defamation Situation
Our legal practice maintains a perfect rating on review website AVVO.com, in addition to a preeminent standing on venerated lawyer review service, Martindale-Hubbell. Since Kelly / Warner’s inception, our lawyers have focused on Internet libel issues. We know the niche well and have guided –step-by-step – hundreds of individuals and businesses to successful resolutions of their professional defamation hiccups.
For what seems like since the Rat Pack headlined at the Copa Room, Casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson has been embroiled in a defamation lawsuit. From one court to the next, the Adelson libel lawsuit hops — motion by tedious motion. And now it looks like it all may come down to whether or not a “naked link” is considered a footnote, or more than a footnote.
The Reason Defamation Lawyers Are Keeping An Eye On The Adelson v/ NJDC Case: “Naked Link” Ruling
But, if you’re interested in the finer points of online defamation law, things are starting to get interesting in the Adelson case because it looks like it will turn entirely on whether or not a “naked link” is the equivalent to a traditional footnote.
Why Adelson Sued The NJDC For Defamation
Two years ago, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) – hoping to make their mark on the presidential election – published an online petition urging Mitt Romney not take campaign contributions from Adelson. The appeal painted Adelson as a morally corrupt shyster who allowed prostitution in his overseas resorts and funneled foreign money into campaign coffers.
Got Information From Another Lawsuit
Where did the NJDC get their info? An unfair termination lawsuit filed by a former Sands executive, which was linked to at the bottom of the online petition. Adelson insists the case on which the claims were culled is merit-less, thereby rendering the accusations defamatory.
District Judge: Naked Link Is A Footnote And Not Defamatory
Judge Paul Oetken was the first district court judge to hear the case; he ruled in favor of the defense. Oetken simply reasoned that the link to the Sands employment lawsuit is the “twenty-first-century equivalent of a footnote” and therefore not defamatory.
Adelson was ordered to pay attorneys’ fees for violating the state’s Anti-SLAPP law.
Appeals Court: We’ve Got Some Thinking To Do About “Naked Links” & Online Defamation
Then came the appeal.
Admittance of Antediluvian Internet Understanding
A three-judge panel presided. At the hearing, octogenarian Judge Guido Calabresi copped to his “’antediluvian’ understanding on the Internet.” Another panelist, Judge Denny Chin, also voiced confusion as to why the hyperlink is not considered “better” than a footnote.
Lawyers for Adelson asked the court to certify a pair of questions, one of which is: does a “naked hyperlink” qualify as a “footnote” for the purposes of an online defamation lawsuit, or is it more?
In an effort to convince the courts that hyperlink citations are a good thing, a lawyer from the defense urged, “In the 21st century, we want to encourage people to do what we did in this petition, which is including the hyperlink [naked link] as a valuable tool for expanding human knowledge.”
Gather round celebrity defamation fans; another reality show slander suit is afoot! I’m always skeptical of these cases, because one can’t help but wonder, “Is it for real or ratings?” But alas, our law demands assumptions of innocence. So, let’s take a look at the reality show defamation case of Dance Mom v. Dance Coach. [Insert Law and Order beats].
A ‘Dance Mom’ Stunt Results In A Celebrity Defamation Suit
The fracas began when Abby Lee and Kelly got “up in each other’s’ grillz” (tm Lucy Watson) at a dance competition in the Bronx. The show was being taped for their reality show, “Dance Moms.” Apparently, shouts were hurled and slaps exchanged. In the end, someone [*cough* realityshowproducers *cough*] called the police and Hyland ended up turning herself in – though she was never handcuffed.
As is the case with many a real-ebrity, after the dramatic slap-down aired (or maybe just before it aired?), Abby Lee took chatfests, like “The View,” to share her tale of primetime combat. So now Hyland is suing Abby Lee for defamation.
Dance Mom’s Lawsuit Says WHAA!?
According to her lawsuit, Hyland wants redress for assault, breach of contract and defamation. Assault because Abby Lee decked her at the dance competition; breach of contract because the spat could jeopardize her show and endorsement contracts; and defamation because according to Hyland, Miller made several false statements of fact on her promotional media tour, including:
- Calling Kelly “an alcoholic, being an unfit mother and endangering children.” and
- Accusing Hyland of pulling out clumps of Miller’s hair and bruising her face.”
Kelly Hyland’s attorneys also argued for defamation per se because Miller’s alleged false statements of fact were criminal in nature and allegedly injured Hyland in connection with her profession and/or trade business.
Hyland is asking for $5,000,000 in punitive damages, at first glance seems like a ludicrous ask amount from Abby Lee since the dance instructor just recently cleared up a bankruptcy. The sum does, however, make sense when you realize that Hyland also named Collins Avenue Entertainment – the producers of Dance Moms — as a defendant. How is Hyland tying Collins to the claim? According to her lawsuit, Miller was “acting as an agent of Collins” at the time of the confrontation. Moreover, Hyland argues:
“The producers of the show [Collins Avenue Entertainment], in an effort to attract ratings and viewership, encourage and facilitate conflicts between Miller on the one hand and the young girl dancers and their mothers on the other.”
Hyland insists her physical confrontation with Miller was a matter of self-defense. According to Kelly’s libel lawyer, “[Miller] repeatedly lunged toward Kelly gnashing her teeth and loudly attempting to bite Kelly.”
Also, in an attempt to discredit Collins, Hyland hypothesized in her filing that “the producers of the show desired for her to have a warrant issued for her arrest as that would make for intensely dramatic television.”
Well there you have it, folks: another celebrity defamation case for your gossip pleasure. We’ll keep an eye on his one to see if it ever makes it trial. My guess? It’s doubtful. I smell a settlement. Besides, if it is for ratings, the parties can’t take it too far or risk being prosecuted for misappropriation of the justice system.
Speak With A Defamation Attorney
Do you need to speak with a defamation attorney? Contact Kelly/Warner Law today. We have a dedicated slander and libel practice that has helped people from all 50 states, Canada, the UK and Australia. Our lawyers are top-rated, and the firm enjoys a superb BBB rating. Get in touch today to begin the conversation.
More ‘Dance Moms’ Drama From Around The Web
One of A-Rod’s lawyers, Joseph Tacopina, filed a defamation lawsuit against former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, two reporters for the New York Daily News and the paper itself. His complaint states that two reporters — Nathaniel Vinton and Michael O’Keefe — fabricated wrongdoings so that Keric would reprimand Tacopina. According to Tacopina, the writer duo then published a negative article about the incident.
Tacopina’s complaint accuses the reporters of being unethical and convicted felon Keric of being a liar. Vinton and O’Keefe — who both had a reputation for shading A-rod — also wrote up a piece slamming Tacopina as an amoral attorney.
To further thicken the plot, Kerik is a disgruntled former client of Tacopina’s law practice. Keric, who did time in federal prison for a Homeland Security scandal and tax fraud, is accused of trying to pin his convictions on his former legal counsel by impugning his abilities and ethics.
Tacopina is seeking 15M in damages for the defamation. If successful, the suit will also help clear his name from the libelous charges lobbied against him in the newspaper. The wronged litigator is high-profile. So, he is doing all he can to keep his name clear of nefarious connotations.
This case also stands to make an important precedent regarding defamation against lawyers, who are historically among the most-maligned professionals in the world. While Keric may have been attempting to use his former lawyer as a scapegoat, Tacopina is not taking the charges lying down. Regardless of the outcome, this defamation case will continue to make headlines as more details emerge.
These days, thanks to the seminal 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan ruling, it’s rare for a newspaper to lose a defamation lawsuit in the U.S. – but The New York Post may prove to be an exception to the rule.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, before the responsible parties were identified, the Post covered their April 18th edition with a picture of 16-year-old Salaheddin Barhoum and 24-year old Yassine Zaimi. The words “BAG MEN” in bold type ran across the top, with the subheading, “Feds Seek These Two Pictured At Boston Marathon.”
Unfortunately for the paper, the people pictured weren’t the bombers. They were two legal United States residents — who happen to be dark-complexioned. As you might imagine, they’re suing for libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress and false light invasion of privacy.
Despite the obvious mess up on the part of the Post, the daily is sticking by its interpretation of the incident, insisting that the photo used was “emailed to law enforcement agencies seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.”
In a recent lawsuit-related document, the Post is also arguing that the headline is merely an “attention-getter” that should not be read as a “true reflection” of the story inside. Furthermore, the paper maintains it played no part in “influencing readers to jump to conclusions.”
Let’s recap. A nationally recognized newspaper is using “Oh, people know our headlines aren’t real,” as a legal defamation defense.
Welp, good night and good luck, I guess.
Artist-turned-conspiracy theorist Uri Dowbenko filed a defamation lawsuit against Google. His chances of winning the case: pretty much nil. The E.Q. (entertainment quotient) of the lawsuit: very high.
First, A Little About Uri
When Uri Dowbenko entered the world 61 years ago, it’s doubtful his parents thought their son would become one of the more colorful conspiracy theorists in the world. But alas, such was the destiny of little Uri.
Unafraid to take up for the outrageous, Mr. Dowbenko is both a believer in the “New Reptilian World Order” and progenitor of the “Pat Robertson is an undercover Satanist” theory.
But Dowbenko is also an artist. And he’s even had some success around the South Beach area in the past. Lately, however, the art world has seemed to turn its back on Uri. And according to him, it’s all because of a website called “Encyclopedia of American Loons”.
The Website Uri Says Is Causing Him Reputation Harm and By Extension Financial Hardship
A free blog set up on Google’s Blogger platform, the “Encyclopedia of American Loons” is a satirical site highlighting the, shall we say, more fringe-thinkers among us. The anonymous editors of the encyclopedia chose Dowbenko as entry # 111.
Clearly not impressed with Dowbenko’s scientific vigor, the Encyclopedia of American Loons deemed Uri to be a “batshit insane tinfoilhatter, who is lacking any capacity to rationally evaluate science.” But, they also added the artist is “probably harmless, though, and rather entertaining.”
Dowbenko is Ostensibly Letting Money Guide His Way in This Defamation Lawsuit
According to Uri, one day he had an “epiphany” and realized his falling art star had everything to do with the Blogger-based encyclopedia. His prolific writings on various [ah-hem] issues were not to blame. Of course not!
Despite American Loons’ low SERP rank, Dowbenko ignored the Streisand effect and took action. He wasn’t, however, interested in suing the authors of the blog. Oh no, Uri decided Google was to blame. In fact, he believes Google is purposefully and intentionally manipulating the #1 search engine in the world in an effort to ruin his reptilian-human- hybrid-believing reputation.
Is There Any Possible Way Dowbenko Can Win This Online Defamation Lawsuit?
Can Uri win? In a word: no. Now, of course some legal oddity or administrative mess up could result in a win for Uri. Never say never, right? But a judge isn’t going to hold Google responsible for a third-party blog on Blogger. That is what Section 230 of the Communication’s Decency Act is for, to protect website portals from liability over user content.
The world of defamation law has been active this August. Below are highlights from the most noteworthy, instructive and just plain funny slander and libel lawsuits from the past few weeks.
The Ex-Boyfriend v. The Stripper-Turned-Doctor
Across the pond, Owen Morris is suing his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Brooke Magnanti for defamation. You see, Dr. Magnanti was a sex worker while earning her PhD. In 2003, she started a blog called Belle de Jour which chronicled her life as a high-paid escort. As sometimes happens when the muses make an appearance, Magnanti’s blog manifested into a best-selling novel, which in turn became a popular television show. In 2009, married and working as a research scientist, Magnanti outed herself to the Times of London.
That’s when Owen Morris lost his cool.
Even though Magnanti only referred to him as “the boy” on her blog and subsequent works, Morris went public, outing himself as “the boy.” He reasoned that by outing herself, Magnanti inadvertently outed him, and as a result caused him total life destruction and a lost job. Mr. Morris now swears that Magnanti lied about being a sex worker, so he is suing her for defamation (?). Yes, even though he was the one who essentially outed himself. (You can kinda do that over in the United Kingdom still, despite that nation’s new libel laws.)
Regardless of Morris’ protestations, Dr. Brooke does not seem too concerned about her ex-boyfriend’s defamation demand. She says she is submitting her appointment book and banking records from the time period in question to prove that Owen is wrong. Guess we’ll have to wait and see how this one turns out.
Beware: Forwarding That Gossipy Email Could Cost You $75,000 In Defamation Damages
Ever get the urge to forward along a bit of juicy gossip via email? Well, you may want to think twice about doing so. Craig Dilley did just that, and now he has to fork over $75,000. The gossip target, romance writer Fern Michaels, sued Dilley for defamation and won. A judge determined that by forwarding the salacious email to a website that promoted Michaels’ work, Dilley acted with “reckless disregard for the truth.” Moreover, the court ruled that forwarding the email was evidence of Dilley’s intent to harm Michaels’ reputation.
A noteworthy coda: Dilley’s mother and sister emailed each other the same email that got Craig in trouble, but mom and sister were safe because the judge determined their exchange was privileged.
Take away lesson: exchanging online gossip privately, between two people, could be deemed privileged, but if a third-party is introduced into the exchange, the act can become defamatory.
Judge Judy’s Son Is Climbing Into The Defamation Ring With His Local Sheriff
The son of no-nonsense T.V. judge Judith Sheindlin is at the center of a contentious defamation lawsuit. Judge Judy’s offspring, Adam Levy, is the Putnam County District Attorney. Suffice it to say that Adam does not get along with the Putnam County Sheriff, Donald D. Smith.
The two’s strained relationship went public in 2010 when Smith accused Levy of befriending Alexandru Hossi, a personal trainer who was accused of raping a young girl. Recently, Smith publicly made a few more statements about Levy’s relationship with Hossi.
When asked about the case, Levy’s side explained their position that Smith “not only made repeated false statements accusing Levy of interfering in [Hossi’s] investigation –which he had not and did not — but also of using his position as district attorney to influence and affect the investigation.”
Determined to clear his name, Levy filed a defamation lawsuit against Smith and accused the law enforcement head of “orchestrating a public smear campaign.” For his part, Smith says the lawsuit is all a political move on Levy’s part. Specifically, the Sheriff opined, “The fact that the plaintiff has engaged a high-priced public relations firm, issued a press release about the lawsuit and held a press conference, all before even serving me the court papers, makes it clear to me and any casual observer that his motives are all about smearing me and trying to adversely affect the upcoming Sheriff’s election.”
ESPN Escapes Defamation Ruling
ESPN recently won a round in the defamation ring. The media outlet and one of its former talking heads, Craig James, was sued for slander by Mike Leach, ex-coach of the Texas Tech University Football team. Apparently, James’ son, Adam James, played for Leach. According to Adam and Craig, Leach was less-than-kind behind locker room doors and once forced a concussed Adam to stand in a dark closet for hours.
So, ESPN went ahead and ran the story. Problem was that Leach insists ESPN was telling lies. So, he filed a defamation lawsuit. Unfortunately for Coach Leach, though, Judge William C. Sowder has informed lawyers for both parties his intention to side with ESPN on this one. The Plaintiff, however, doesn’t seem dissuaded; his attorneys told reporters that his team knew this slander suit was going to be a long, tough slog and that they intend to appeal Judge Sowder’s decision.
Hip Hop artist and VH1 family reality show star, The Game, is feuding again, y’all. But G-Unit and 40 Glocc aren’t involved this time. Instead, The Game’s beefing with babysitter, Karen Monroe, and the battle ground is L.A. Superior Court. The issue at hand? Instagram defamation.
This tale of social media woe began about a month ago. One day, while kibitzing with his comrade, Nas, over social media, The Game learned his fellow hip-hopper had hired caretaker Karen Monroe. Alarmed by the news, Game publicly informed his friend of Monroe’s tenure at La Casa Game.
Via his Twitter and Instagram accounts, Game imputed Monroe, calling her a lying, stealing, child-abusing mess, tattling, “She was busted having sex with her boyfriend and leaving a used condom and the wrapper in my daughter’s room!!!”
Then The Game got graphic. On Instagram, using his account @handsomemurderer, he posted a picture of Monroe with a caption reading “Beware if this person is watching your children, she is a very dangerous baby sitter.” He also went ahead and listed her Twitter and Instagram handles in the message.
Humiliated and shunned from the Nanny Industrial Complex, Karen Monroe decided to file a defamation lawsuit against The Game. According to her claim, Monroe lost her job and ability to work in her chosen profession, which triggered a serious bout of depression.
So now she wants The Game to fork over some benjamins.
Like any defamation case in the United States, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was lying, or, at least, didn’t engage in proper due diligence before publicly making false statements of fact. As such, Karen Monroe will to convince a judge or jury that she never stole, treated kids under her care poorly or knocked boots in The Game’s daughter’s bedroom.
If, indeed, The Game was mistaken in his accusations, it’s still possible for him to escape the legal guillotine by arguing the jocular nature of social media. In other words: social media is a notorious platform for overblown smack talk and satire, and the average person wouldn’t believe The Game’s accusations, so, his statements shouldn’t be considered defamatory. Now, launching such a defense is a stretch, but if done well, could be effective.
This case comes along at a time when cyber libel law is in a state of flux. In fact, recently, former Bangles cheerleader (and Mary Kay Letourneau prodigy), Sarah Jones, won a defamation lawsuit against another social media-like site, TheDirty.com. The case was significant because the website’s operator, Nik Richie, wasn’t granted CDA Section 230 immunity. Instead, the court held Richie liable for online defamation.
What makes this case worth noting is that it’s one of the first high-profile Instagram defamation lawsuits.