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On Celebrities and Online Defamation

As we start to dry out here on the east coast, here is a special Sunday blog.

In the past I have counseled celebrities on their online defamation issues.  The problems that ordinary people have when it comes to preserving their online reputation are even more acute for celebrities.  There is no doubt that there is incentive by many online purveyors of celebrity gossip to exaggerate the truth or even make things up entirely.  And in many instances, celebrities have legitimate claims.

What should they do?

One time, an opposing litigant (after I successfully dismissed his claim against my client) purchased a domain name with my name and the word “s*cks” after it.  Though the website was never populated with any content and he eventually gave up the name when the domain expired, it was upsetting to me.  Anyone who searched for my name on the internet would have that as a first page result.  I thought about what actions I could take, among them bringing a lawsuit.  I decided to stand put and do nothing and the problem eventually went away.  It was difficult because in essence, by spending $20, he broadcasted to the world that I stunk – all because I did a good job.  There was no way for anyone searching for me knew that.

In retrospect, staying put was the right decision.  I can understand, however, that a celebrity fighting for their reputation can find it upsetting when people defame them on the web.  The knee-jerk reaction is almost always to file a lawsuit and that is what happens pretty often – sometimes with disastrous results (via The Hollywood Reporter).

The celebrity I last consulted with a few months back had a legitimate claim.  In the end, they were able to take the high road and get the creator of the website to take the content down.  This, of course, is always the best result possible.

Unmasking the defamer or holding a party responsible is often a difficult (if not impossible task).  Websites, hosts, and domain registries are often loath to reveal their customer’s information and in certain circumstances, Section 230 of the Communications Act serves as a defense.  Unmasking is possible, but expensive and time consuming.

In the end, a celebrity has to be convinced of the falsity of the statement and the value of dispelling the untruth.

I’ll have a blog soon about defamation of non-celebrities and companies (or the rest f the huddled masses).  The internet has really opened up a new avenue for defamers and other internet scofflaws to peddle their falsehoods.  On the other hand, it has also opened up avenues for these folks to learn about the terrible things that others are saying about them.

It doesn’t help when lawyers who should know better file suits for defamation (via TechDirt).

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