Did Courtney Love Make A Good Decision To Settle Her Twitter Case?

According to various online sources and media outlets, Courtney Love has settled (or is close to settling) the Twitter lawsuit brought against her by Dawn Simorangkir.  The trial was supposed to start tomorrow, and according to Amanda Bronstad at the National Law Journal, it was going to be broadcasted live.  Love was reportedly going to defend the case claiming that the Twitter comments were just opinion or hyperbole.   I categorized this as the "it was just a Tweet" defense. 

If the facts that have been reported are accurate, Love’s decision to go for a settlement was probably a good one.  Love’s defense was not likely to succeed.  She didn’t make isolated rambling comments.  There appeared to be intent to harm Simorangkir’s reputation in business with the comments.  In Connecticut, this may have amounted to defamation per se, trade libel, or commercial disparagement.

Given the nature of the comments, Simorangkir might have been entitled to a damages award even if she could not show a loss of business.     Simorangkir’s lawyer said Love "embarked in what is nothing short of an obsessive and delusional crusade to terrorize and destroy."    If true, the case goes beyond a simple Tweet or personal opinion.

The Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn universe was waiting to see what a jury would say about social media and defamation.  Unfortunately, if the settlement is final, we now have to wait for the next big Twitter defamation case.  It will not take long. 

Connecticut Defamation Law, The Internet, And Social Networking

In the Business Torts category of this blog, I recently covered the basic law in Connecticut concerning interference with business relationships.  Today’s post concerns another business tort known as "defamation" and how it intersects with the growing use of social networking sites.

There already have been several lawsuits for defamation arising out of use of social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. For example,  The California Defamation Blog lists several celebrities involved in defamation cases, including Courtney Love who was sued by a fashion designer for defamation after a series of derogatory Twitter posts by Love.  Craig Kanalley of Chicagonow.com reported that a property owner sued a tenant for disparaging Twitter comments. The Chicago Tribune recently reported on a defamation lawsuit brought by a mother and her son after a phony Facebook profile was created showing the son was a racist.   

Should Connecticut businesses be concerned?  Clearly, the type and variety of these suits are on the rise. In legal circles, these type of claims have a category of their own called "cyber slander" or "internet defamation."  Given the popularity in use of social networking sites, and the ease in which statements can be broadcast to millions, it is safe to  predict that more defamation cases will be filed in the future. 

Connecticut businesses can be affected by defamation suits involving social networking sites and the internet in a number of ways, such as:

  • Employees making comments about a competitor
  • Employees making comments about supervisors or co-employees
  • Employees making comments about the company’s products
  • Competitors making derogatory comments about the company
  • Phony Facebook or Twitter profiles
  • Derogatory comments about the company 

In Connecticut, defamation encompasses defamation by spoken (slander) and written (libel) words. In general, to raise a proper claim for basic defamation, a plaintiff must show that:

  1. A defamatory statement was made
  2. The statement identified the plaintiff to a third person
  3. The statement was published to a third person
  4. The plaintiff’s reputation suffered injury as a result of the defamatory statement

In regards to businesses, there is also a defamation claim sometimes referred to as "commercial disparagement" or "trade libel."  For this type of claim, a plaintiff must prove disparagement of a business’ goods or services by falsehoods published or communicated to a third person.

With the ease of publication to millions over the internet, it is easy to see how someone might publish a defamatory comment whether it be on a blog, social networking site, or website.   Chances are, if you are in business, either you, someone who works for you, or a competitor has commented about the business in cyberspace.

For a business, the best way to avoid a lawsuit for defamation as a result of employee use of sites such as Twitter and Facebook is to have a written policy that governs employee use.  The details of each policy will differ depending on your business, but clearly the policy should prohibit any defamatory or derogatory comments about the business, employees, or competitors.

In situations where a competitor or customer disparaged your business’ products or services, a business may want to consider legal action and determine if grounds exist to issue a cease and desist letter, a take down letter, or initiate a lawsuit.  Internet defamation can ruin a business’ reputation overnight and should be addressed immediately regardless of whether the business pursues legal action.   

For a business, whether legal action is taken may depend on the severity of the disparagement and the damage done.  In some cases, a cease and desist or retraction is a practical solution especially when a defamation suit would bring added attention to the matter.  In other cases, legal action, such as a defamation lawsuit, may be required to stop ongoing damage or serious problems.

Regardless of the situation, Connecticut businesses should, at a minimum, monitor cyberspace for defamatory comments.  Comments that might lead to a lawsuit could come from your own employees, a competitor, or a disgruntled customer.  A written policy is a good way to minimize risks of employee comments.  As for competitors and customers, Google alerts is a good way to monitor use of a business’ name on the Internet. The alert will send you an email every time your business name is found on the internet.