The Year In SLAPPs: From The Oatmeal To Pink Slime

from the slapp-happy dept

2012 has been yet another year filled with meritless lawsuits filed solely to chill First Amendment free speech rights -- so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). As websites relying on user-generated content continue to increase in popularity, we also see a rise in SLAPPs targeting online speech, from the everyday blogger to the one-time online reviewer. Some of the most talked about SLAPPs this year include:

The Oatmeal SLAPP -- Matthew Inman wrote a blog post condemning FunnyJunk for posting hundreds of his comics without crediting or linking back to his website, The Oatmeal. Through attorney Charles Carreon, FunnyJunk sent Inman a threat letter over the blog post, claiming it was defamatory and demanding $20,000. Inman’s response? To publicly post the letter with a hilarious critique and start an online fundraising campaign to raise $20,000. Yet, instead of reaching his $20,000 goal and sending the money to FunnyJunk, he raised over $200,000 and gave all of the money to charity. Carreon couldn’t let it go and filed a lawsuit to try to derail the fundraising campaign, but later voluntarily dismissed it.

SLAPP 4 Jesus -- Even churches are SLAPP happy, as evidenced by a SLAPP filed by Beaverton Grace Bible Church in Oregon against former church members who had blogged and written online reviews of their experiences at the church. The judge ruled that the case was a SLAPP and ordered the church to pay the defendants' attorneys fees.

Rachel Maddow SLAPPed 4 Jesus -- A defamation suit against Rachel Maddow was filed by Bradlee Dean, an anti-LGBT preacher from Minnesota. Dean sued Maddow after she ran a story on The Rachel Maddow Show, where she aired a segment from Dean's radio show where he said that Muslims were "more moral than even the American Christians" because they were "calling for the execution for homosexuals." Luckily for Maddow, Washington D.C. enacted a strong anti-SLAPP law last year. The judge ruled that the case was a SLAPP and ordered Dean to pay Maddow's attorneys fees.

"The Pink Slime" SLAPP -- Beef Products, Inc., a South Dakota beef producer, recently filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News, seeking at least $1.2 billion in damages, claiming the broadcaster unfairly disparaged its beef additive by labeling it "pink slime." The Complaint was filed last month and ABC has not yet responded.

Fortunately for Inman, the church SLAPP defendants and Rachel Maddow, California, Oregon and Washington DC have all enacted anti-SLAPP statutes. Unfortunately for ABC, Beef Products filed their defamation lawsuit in South Dakota, which does not have an anti-SLAPP law. What this means is that they will not be able to bring an anti-SLAPP motion and potentially get the case dismissed early and have their attorneys’ fees awarded. However, South Dakota is not alone -- almost half of the states have not enacted anti-SLAPP laws, demonstrating the need for a federal law to protect against meritless SLAPPs.

2012 marked the second time federal anti-SLAPP legislation was introduced in Washington DC. In 2009, Congressman Steve Cohen introduced the Citizen Participation Act in the House of Representatives, which ultimately died when it was referred to committee. This year, retiring Senator John Kyl introduced the Free Press Act of 2012. Unfortunately, Sen. Kyl's bill has a very narrow anti-SLAPP provision that only applies to representatives of the news media. But hopefully Senator Kyl's bill can be a starting point to build bi-partisan support for strong and robust federal anti-SLAPP legislation after the November elections. With a recent endorsement of federal anti-SLAPP legislation from the American Bar Association, a national association of attorneys and the world's largest voluntary professional organization, a fresh session of Congress in 2013 looks promising for the future of anti-SLAPP legislation protecting all Americans' right to speak out.

Evan Mascagni is an Organizer with the Public Participation Project, the only organization in the country whose sole mission is to enact federal anti-SLAPP legislation.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Oct 29th, 2012 @ 12:23pm

    "Rachel Maddow SLAPPed 4 Jesus -- A defamation suit against Rachel Maddow was filed by Bradlee Dean, an anti-LGBT preacher from Minnesota. Dean sued Maddow after she ran a story on The Rachel Maddow Show, where she aired a segment from Dean's radio show where he said that Muslims were "more moral than even the American Christians" because they were "calling for the execution for homosexuals." Luckily for Maddow, Washington D.C. enacted a strong anti-SLAPP law last year. The judge ruled that the case was a SLAPP and ordered Dean to pay Maddow's attorneys fees."

    Note that there is a difference between merely claiming to be a Christian (i.e. Christ-like) and practicing being Christian. Calling for the death of a group of people, no matter how sinful one might perceieve them to be, is in and of itself sinful behavior. What did Jesus say when the Isrealites were going to stone the prostitute to death? "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

     

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      Forest_GS (profile), Oct 29th, 2012 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      Anyone or any religion that thinks death is a good thing need to keep it to themselves.

       

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        ltlw0lf (profile), Oct 29th, 2012 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Anyone or any religion that thinks death is a good thing need to keep it to themselves.

        That is certainly one frame of thought on this. Myself, I disagree. I want all the idiots out there saying they think death is a good thing, because it helps us all know that they are idiots who cannot be trusted. (Now, if you meant they "should" keep it to themselves, I agree, they should for their own sake, but not for ours.)

        The beauty of the 1st Amendment isn't that it protects your right to say something everyone else agrees with. If it did, then we wouldn't need the 1st Amendment. It is needed to protect you from saying something nobody agrees with, so honest discussion can occur and beliefs like this can be ridiculed in a public forum. Doing anything to censor this discussion takes the discussion underground, exactly where you don't want it to occur. If someone holds these types of attitudes, I want to know about it so that if I am dealing with these people, I can stop doing so in the future.

        This is what makes the US Constitution a highly influential document in modern culture and government. Where else can you go where the most important rule of law is to be able to speak your mind. Want to talk bad about the President? There are many places where speaking ill about the President/King/etc. will get you executed or locked up. Sure, there is risk in talking bad about the President here, but the risk isn't being executed or thrown in jail. The 1st Amendment gives us all the right to speak our mind, and gives everyone else the right to disagree! For most, the disagreement will be easy and the discussion will be useful. For those who are truly out there, and aren't willing to change their ways, public condemnation and ridicule is the best tool (and those who are condemned and ridiculed still have a voice.)

         

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        VMax, Oct 29th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

        Re: Re:

        Anyone or any religion that thinks death is a good thing should start with themselves.

        FTFY

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 6:53pm

      Re:

      I've noticed that extreme religionism always seems to call for death for *somebody*. It's kind of a hallmark of religious fanaticism. But less-extreme religionism is a problem, too, because it seems reasonable and sneaks its poison into society in a much more quiet, mellow way.

      You believe that Bradlee Dean's fanaticism makes him not-Christian, whereas Bradlee Dean will undoubtedly claim that he practices the purest form of Christianity and the version you practice is going to get you a one-way ticket to hell. In other words, he doesn't think you're a Christian any more than you think he's one. And I'm sure he can quote the bits of the Bible he prefers over the bit you quoted in order to prove it.

      My point is, you're both Christian. I'm sorry to bust your chops about this, I get that you hate that this idiot is a member of your religion, but he IS a member of your religion, demonstrably. There are a lot of members of your religion who range from bat-crap crazy, like good ol' Bradlee, to merely stupid, like the one who piously claim to "love the sinner, hate the sin."

      Gay =/= sin.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 29th, 2012 @ 1:16pm

    Pink Slime SLAPP

    I'm actually a believer in the anti-SLAPP laws. However I think it is a bit unfair to label the "Pink Slime" lawsuit a SLAPP lawsuit. About 650 jobs were lost and 3 manufacturing plants were closed. I think there where some very real damage from the whole situation.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/pink-slime-bpi-plants-close_n_1499231.html

     

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      Greevar (profile), Oct 29th, 2012 @ 7:28pm

      Re: Pink Slime SLAPP

      Oh no you don't. You can't trot out the "poor victims" of the aftermath of pointing out the truth about mechanically separated meat as a denouncement because they lost their jobs. Negative outcomes are not a valid basis to denounce socially punitive action against bad actors. That would be like getting indignant for suing Enron because the people there lost their jobs. "We shouldn't have sued Enron and point out their wrong doing, it cost the jobs of many hard-working people just trying to get by." That's stupid. I mean, seriously? Silence free speech. Because jobs?

      The stuff is full of ammonia, coloring, stabilizing agents, and more. It's not food, it's designed to turn waste material into a product they can profit from. This is textbook externalization.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 8:41am

        Re: Re: Pink Slime SLAPP

        I'm going to try and stay out of the debate on what the product is/was. I'll admit what they are doing doesn't sit well with a whole bunch of people. But that is a different debate.

        I'm simply trying to debate if this is a SLAPP lawsuit.

        I feel if this were a SLAPP lawsuit, it would have happened back in 2009 when this whole thing started gaining traction. Maybe I misunderstand the entire concept of a SLAPP lawsuit. But I thought it was a means of getting the people who are talking, to stop talking.

        In the Oatmeal, Grace Bible, and Rachel Maddow cases. All three (from my point of view) are attempting to "shut them up". I don't know for sure, but I think those lawsuits were filed while the controversy was still in full swing.

        I think your example of suing Enron is a bit off. I think it would be more like Enron suing NBC for their report on the "Enron Scandal". Then using lost jobs as a reason the lawsuit shouldn't be a SLAPP lawsuit. Sadly I think the nuance here is if Enron was trying to get NBC to stop reporting vs suing afterward for damages.

        A hypothetical example would be if Warner Bros. sued NBC for reporting on "Hollywood Accounting". The general public probably doesn't like it, but the practice hasn't completely proven proven illegal. So NBC runs a "Sleazeball Accounting" story in 2013, and the public responds. Everyone stops buying, and Warner is forced to shutdown three of it's four studios (not sure on those numbers). Then in 2014, Warner sues for defamation because NBC didn't call it "Hollywood Accounting" they called it "Sleazeball Accounting". Would that be a SLAPP lawsuit?

        After the fact...
        For actual damages...
        Not an active attempt to stop reporting...



        P.S. Thanks for the people who didn't TLDNR :)

         

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    StrongStyleFiction, Oct 29th, 2012 @ 3:15pm

    I don't think the Pink Slime can be considered a SLAPP lawsuit. ABC's coverage was filled with sensationalism, scare mongering, half-truths and bad intentions. There was legitimate damage done to the company because of ABC's crappy journalism.

     

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