Three libel actions involving Twitter have been in the news around the world this week. The first is in the USA and involves Courtney Love (again). The second is due to be the first twitter libel trial – in England in two weeks’ time. Finally, in Australia there is news of a claim against Twitter Inc itself as the publisher of a defamatory tweet.
The first case has been brought in the Los Angeles Superior Court in California. It involves Courtney Love – whose tweets have got her into legal trouble before (see Laura McNair-Wilson’s post on a 2010 claim against her). On this occasion, the tweet read as follows
“I was fucking devestated when Rhonda J Holmes esq of San Diego was bought off. I’ve been hiring and firing lawyers to help me with this.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ms Holmes and her law firm have sued Ms Love for libel.
Ms Love sought to have the action dismissed on the ground that the tweet was not defamatory. Her lawyer argued
“Obviously, the phrase ‘they got to her’…can mean many different things. For example, it more plausibly means ‘they irritated her’ or ‘they wore her down’ or ‘they reasoned with her.’ It does not necessarily mean ‘they bribed her into ceasing her legal representation of Courtney Love. . … There is no limit to one’s imagination regarding the possible meaning of a phrase like ‘they got to her,’” added Niborski in the demurrer. “This phrase could be meant to express any of a number of thoughts. Unlike, for instance, the hypothetical phrase ‘Rhonda Holmes accepted a bribe,’ the phrase ‘they got to her’ is essentially meaningless in and of itself, without context.“
This argument did not impress Judge Ramona See who ruled that the alleged defamatory twitter posting “may be reasonably interpreted by the average reader as a statement of fact, and the statement expressly identified “Rhonda J. Holmes” and referred to Gordon & Holmes ‘by clear implication.’” The Hollywood Reporter notes that the case is continuing and appears to be heading for a jury trial.
Secondly, a twitter libel action proceeding in the High Court in London is due to come on for trial on 5 March 2012 before a judge alone. The action, Cairns v Modi is based, in part, on a tweet by Mr Modi. In January 2010 Mr Carins’ name was taken off the players’ auction list for the third season of the Indian Premier Legaue. Modi wrote on Twitter that Cairns was omitted
“due to his past record in match-fixing in the Indian Cricket League”.
We had a post on an interim decision refusing to stay the action or make an order for the trial of a preliminary issue.
Finally and perhaps most interestingly is an action against Twitter Inc. This is being brought by a wrongly accused Twitter ‘stalker’, Joshua Meggitt. In November 2011 Australian TV personality Marieke Hardy posted a tweet which read:
”I name and shame my ‘anonymous’ internet bully. Liberating business! Join me,”
The tweet had a link to her blog, where she incorrectly named Mr. Meggitt as the author of ”ranting, hateful” articles about her. The tweet was widely read – it was re-tweeted by some of Ms Hardy’s 60,897 followers and other Twitter users taking part at the time in a worldwide online anti-abuse campaign.
She subsequently withdrew the accusation, saying on her blog that
“For over five years I have been the victim of a hate blog against me. On 9 November 2011 I incorrectly identified Joshua Meggitt on this site as the man responsible for writing that blog. I accept that Joshua is not the writer and I sincerely apologise to him and his family for any upset caused.”
Ms Hardy settled Mr Meggitt’s libel claim against her – reportedly for Aus$15,000.
However, Mr Meggitt’s lawyer Stuart Gibson of Gibsons has now announced that proceedings are to be brought against Twitter Inc in the US. He confirmed to The Register that the legal process was underway and said the writ included unspecified damages, legal costs and public apologies. He said
“It is only a matter of time that one of the biggest media companies in the world [is confronted by this issue]. Twitter is a publisher like any other”
The case faces formidable difficulties. In particular, unless Twitter Inc has assets in Australia the case will face the problem of the so-called “SPEECH Act” (see Sara Mansoori’s post here) – which is likely to prevent Mr Maggitt from enforcing any damages awarded by the Courts in Australia in the USA.