Courtney Love's Twitter Defamation Defense: 'Twitter Made Me Do It'

from the hmm... dept

It's been nearly two years since we first wrote about singer Courtney Love being sued for defamation over her Twitter messages mocking and attacking fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir. At the time, we noted that filing for defamation seemed like a pretty strong response, and it seemed like a better response would have been to either ignore the angry tweets, or to just lay out her own side of the story. However, after two years and apparently unsuccessful attempts at a settlement, the case is set to hit the court early next month, and it appears that some of Love's defense arguments will be interesting to watch.

First up, her lawyers will argue that the messages weren't defamatory. Considering she called Simorangkir a "nasty, lying, hosebag thief" with "a history of dealing cocaine" while having "lost all custody of her child" and, being guilty of "assault and burglary," one could make an argument that those statements could be seen as defamatory, if it turns out that the factual allegations are untrue. Of course, you could also argue that most people reading them wouldn't, in fact, believe that they were true, and would read them as just Courtney Love being Courtney Love and attacking someone she didn't like.

More interesting, however, is that Love's lawyers will argue that even if the messages were defamatory, there was no damage done. Simorankir is going to argue that the tweets ruined her fashion career, but that seems like it would be quite difficult to prove. Would people really believe Love's tweets on the subject to the point that Simorankir's entire fashion career was ruined? Seems like a stretch.

The most interesting (and least likely to succeed) line of defense is a sort of "Twitter made me do it" defense:
Love's attorneys have their own witnesses, including a medical expert who plans to testify that even if Love's statements were untrue, her mental state was not "subjectively malicious" enough to justify the defamation lawsuit.

That claim -- something akin to an insanity defense for social media -- suggests that Twitter was so appealing and addictive for Love that she had no appreciation for how the comments she posted would be received by others.
If that argument flies, I'd imagine that becomes the default argument any time anyone gets sued for what they say on Twitter.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    crade (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 8:23am

    Love's attorneys have their own witnesses, including a medical expert who plans to testify that even if Love's statements were untrue, her mental state was not "subjectively malicious" enough to justify the defamation lawsuit.

    how does not being subjectively malicious enough equate to saying twitter made her do it? That seems like a leap to me, I would think this an argument that she maybe misunderstood twitter as a communications medium and thought anything she said wouldn't be taken too seriously or possibly that some of the true intention of her statements were lost in translation.

     

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    crade (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 8:23am

    Re:

    Sorry, top paragraph was supposed to be quoted.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 8:28am

    Re:

    how does not being subjectively malicious enough equate to saying twitter made her do it?

    I was basing it mainly on the second paragraph in the quote, noting how the argument was going to be about the "addictiveness" of Twitter.

     

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  4.  
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    crade (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re:

    Yes, sorry I wasn't clear, I was questioning the article's reasonining where they seem to be interpreting what "that claim suggests".

     

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  5.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 8:57am

    While I'm not sure this defense will fly, it would be nice for the courts to start paying more attention to the context of messages like this (very similar to law enforcement overreacting to twitter "threats")

     

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  6.  
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    Scote, Jan 14th, 2011 @ 9:21am

    Definitately Defamitory

    There is no question that calling someone a "nasty, lying, hosebag thief" with "a history of dealing cocaine" is defamatory. In the US, it isn't illegal to defame somebody.

    What can be illegal is to make allegations of fact that *falsely* defame somebody. So the question isn't whether there was defamation, there was, the question is whether the defamation is actionable. Was it a claim of fact rather than opinion. And was it false.

    The term "defamation" is sometimes used as a shorthand, but doing so can give people the wrong impression about the law and the case.

     

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  7.  
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    crade (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 9:27am

    Re: Definitately Defamitory

    Whatever you nasty lying hosebag thief with a history of dealing cocaine. If no one takes the statement seriously so it wouldn't be defametory at all.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 9:28am

    "Considering she called Simorangkir a "nasty, lying, hosebag thief" with "a history of dealing cocaine" while having "lost all custody of her child" and, being guilty of "assault and burglary" - This coming from Love... I guess she would know what a nasty, lying, hosebag thief" with "a history of dealing cocaine would look like.

    "her mental state" - "akin to an insanity defense" - Really? That had to be mentioned? Thought it was common knowledge.

    Silly.

     

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  9.  
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    Vic, Jan 14th, 2011 @ 9:45am

    "If that argument flies, I'd imagine that becomes the default argument any time anyone gets sued for what they say on Twitter."

    If that argument flies, oh man... Then I can picture this:

    "But, Your Honor, the offer from that torrent server was so appealing and the download seemed so easy and fast..." 8^)

     

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  10.  
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    BBT, Jan 14th, 2011 @ 9:52am

    Mike, I don't understand your constant defense of libel/slander. Yes, a reasonable person will not just blindly accept whatever libel someone might say. That doesn't mean they won't grant it some level of credence. Rape charges haven't been filed against Julian Assange, and he remains a free man. However, the rumors of possible charges have already severely damaged his reputation. Now he's referred to as "alleged rapist Julian Assange". A reasonable person shouldn't place one iota of trust in the idea that Assange raped those women, but most people aren't reasonable.

    When you talk about what Love said, why do you sugar coat it? "one could make an argument that those statements could be seen as defamatory"? No, those statements are definitely defamatory if they aren't true. Based on your description, it's hard to imagine how this could possibly not be libel (assuming the specific allegations Love made aren't actually true).

    Libel law may be abused often, but it is fundamentally a good thing. There are very good reasons for it to exist. I don't understand why every time a libel case comes up, you bend over backwards to write it off as no big deal. It's a real crime that causes real damage.
    Saying "filing for defamation seemed like a pretty strong response, and it seemed like a better response would have been to either ignore the angry tweets, or to just lay out her own side of the story" is ridiculous. When a defamatory claim is made, simply responding with "that's not true" turns it into a he-said/she-said scenario. Filing a court case lets the victim respond with "that has been proven in a court of law to not be true", which is much more effective, and also win damages to compensate them for the real damages caused by the libel.

     

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    crade (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 10:01am

    Re:

    anything you give to libel is taken from freedom of expression / speech. Even if you acknowledge it as neccessary you don't have to be happy about it.

     

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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 10:17am

    Re:

    This brings up another interesting aspect. Is Courtney Love even capable of producing slander/liable if the quotes are attributed to her?

    Slander and liable laws were clearly created so that harmful lies about the innocent wouldn't be spread and believed. But who in their right mind counts Courtney Love as a credible source on anything? And if nobody was ever going to believe her wouldn't it be more attempted slander/liable?

     

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    pantha (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 10:24am

    from Australia

    Damn, I'm assuming this is all from the US, Judging by the context. well, everybody knows Courtney Love is a fool, but what the hell is with you Americans? In Australia we can say what ever the f### we want about anyone,this doesn't make it true. It just makes the person saying it look like a total looser. By the way, since you yanks believe anything and everything you hear and read, men from Mars are landing tomorrow, and in response to any feedback... "Sue me dick head" ha ha always wanted to say that to a yank, damn you guys are f###ed up.

     

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  14.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 10:25am

    Re:

    Saying "filing for defamation seemed like a pretty strong response, and it seemed like a better response would have been to either ignore the angry tweets, or to just lay out her own side of the story" is ridiculous. When a defamatory claim is made, simply responding with "that's not true" turns it into a he-said/she-said scenario. Filing a court case lets the victim respond with "that has been proven in a court of law to not be true", which is much more effective, and also win damages to compensate them for the real damages caused by the libel.

    You leave out the reality of the situation, which is this:

    Doing nothing, or responding simply, means that the story disappears quickly and most people don't pay attention to it. Filing a lawsuit, means it gets a lot of attention and a lot more people hear about the original statements as well. Most of the people reading this would NEVER have heard about Love's statements at all. But now they have.

     

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    NullOp, Jan 14th, 2011 @ 10:49am

    The Law

    Another case of someone actually being held responsible for what they say. I've always found it better to not let my mouth write checks my ass can't cash!

     

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  16.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 11:15am

    Re: from Australia

    Too afraid to swear? Scared your government is gonna send the censorship police to your door. Better hide/destroy all your rated M video games.

     

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  17.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Wait...is this the Hole story?

    (sorry...I couldn't resist)

     

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  18.  
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    Tom Landry (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 11:57am

    what is it about living on the west coast that detaches people from common sense?

     

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  19.  
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    mrtraver (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 12:08pm

    Re:

    The San Andreas fault?

     

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  20.  
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    mrtraver (profile), Jan 14th, 2011 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Re:

    Exactly. I was just thinking this is the first time I have ever heard of Dawn Simorangkir or this two year old catfight. Not that I follow fashion (or Courtney Love for that matter).

     

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  21.  
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    ltlw0lf (profile), Jan 15th, 2011 @ 3:38pm

    Re:

    what is it about living on the west coast that detaches people from common sense?

    Lots and lots of cold hard cash. Same thing that detaches politicians from reality.

     

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  22.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Jan 15th, 2011 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re:

    "But who in their right mind counts Courtney Love as a credible source on anything?"

    I do. But she seriously needs to stay away from Twitter.. or learn to type on whatever she's tweeting on. I don't mind the insults as much as the letter salad.

    Here's a classic Courtney feminism quote (from an interviewing journalist): 'She isn't in the mood, she says, before thrusting what look like a pair of child's shoes in my direction. What do I think of these? They're cute, I venture, a reaction that doesn't do much to endear me to her. "Cute?" she thunders. It transpires they are antique slippers used in the foot-binding process to which Chinese women were subjected: "I make art out of them. I put them under bell jars." I don't really know what to say back to her, a sensation that will become increasingly familiar.'

    In the grand scheme of things, I think she's great.

     

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