Levi Johnston's Lawyers Threaten Twitter, Despite No Legal Basis

from the the-law?-what's-that? dept

Last week, Conan O’Brien had William Shatner stop by and read what was believed (at the time) to be twitter messages by Levi Johnston, the former boyfriend to Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol (and father of Bristol’s child). O’Brien has done this before, having Shatner read out Sarah Palin’s twitter messages, as spoken word poetry. It’s an amusing gimmick. The only problem this time around was that the tweets weren’t actually by Johnston, but an impostor. O’Brien quickly apologized. Fair enough.

However, what caught my attention was that Johnston’s lawyers didn’t just threaten O’Brien, but they threatened Twitter itself:

“My client, Levi Johnston, is being impersonated on your media (Twitter) and this is leading to libel and slanderous statements being attributed to him. … We want you to put an immediate end to this illegal activity. … You are being used as a medium to promote this illegality and we want immediate action. … You are now on notice and must take steps to put an end to what is clearly against the law and against your policy. … We want to know what steps you will be taking to correct what is clearly a problem which is escalating.”

Now, you can understand why they were upset, and Twitter is usually pretty good at responding to such requests and disabling the accounts (sometimes even going too far). However, the claim that Twitter is now “on notice and must take steps” to end the account is simply not true. Twitter, as the service provider, is protected against such claims and has no specific obligation under the law to change things, no matter how much “notice” his lawyers give. You would think that Johnston’s lawyers would understand that — and that they would be aware of earlier attempts, like the one by Tony La Russa to blame Twitter for an impostor, in which La Russa was forced to learn why Twitter is not liable.

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Comments on “Levi Johnston's Lawyers Threaten Twitter, Despite No Legal Basis”

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18 Comments
Luci says:

Re: Re:

And what obligation does Twitter, a private company, have to hand these over? None. Why? Because this isn’t advertising, so it’s not covered by those laws. It’d be like me taking Microsoft Supervisor for a handle on a messaging platform. There’s no real recourse if they don’t want to do anything about it. The fact that they /do/ reflects well on them.

Keep the Change says:

Keep the Change

“You would think that Johnston’s lawyers would understand that…”

Of course they understand!
Their client approaches them and say’s, “these people are making me feel uncomfortable, do something about it, we need to change the situation.”

Mr BigShot Lawyer say’s, ” sure we can make it real uncomfortable for them, use real big words and wave a big legal stick at them all.”

Mr Levi Client now feels more comfortable and now also feels like a big shot, though its costing him a small fortune.

Does Mr. BigShot Lawyer know they have no chance in hell of winning such a case?
Most probably, but what’s that got to do with it?

They respond to a clients wishes and charge accordingly.
Sometime’s they neglect to inform the client of his chances and collect the fees. But the client get’s what he paid for and is satisfied. Why? Because the problem went away.

In many instances a lawyer will say to his client, ” I don’t think we can win, but we can cause them lot’s of grief”. Client say’s, ” hell yes, make the Bas#*r%$ suffer!”

So, who’s the real TWIT here?

Want real change, keep it!

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Keep the Change

What will be interesting is if the Plaintiff argues that the 140 Character limit put in place by Twitter is an act of editorial control making Twitter a publisher. I think this argument is weaker than spam and vulgarity filters, but it might survive summary judgment.

Concerning Notice, if the plaintiff is alleging Twitter with contributory liability, than Notice does become an important issue. If Twitter was given notice of the specific defamation and continued to allow it to be published, it may be found contributorily liable.

Copyright in the Internet Age Blog

Kevin (profile) says:

Not so Fast

Actually it isn’t an open and shut case and there is legal liability to the publisher, and if Twitter is deemed the publisher of the defamatory statements, it can be held liable. To determine if someone is a publisher, you look at editorial control. This will vary by jurisdiction, but some have even said that having word filters (to prevent cursing) may be editorial control making the website, forum, ect… a publisher and liable.

“Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy, 1995 — Stratton Oakmont is an investment banking group based in New York. One one of Prodigy’s bulletin boards, MoneyTalk, someone anonymously posted a mesage saying that Stratton engaged in criminal fraud. Stratton Oakmont sued Prodigy claiming that Prodigy was a “publisher” of the MoneyTalk bulletin board and thus was liable for its content. Prodigy said it was only a passive conduit for material posted on its bulletin boards, but the problem was that it used automatic editorial filters for obscene words, and therefore acted as a publisher. The New York federal court said that since Prodigy exercised some editorial control, it was liable as a publisher of the defamatory statements.”

http://www.runet.edu/~wkovarik/class/law/1.5libel.html

Kevin (profile) says:

ISP

Techdirt is correct that ISPs are protected from libel suits as seen in the case Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997).

However, Twitter is not an ISP! “An ISP (Internet Service Provider) is a company that collects a monthly or yearly fee in exchange for providing the subscriber with Internet access.” (wisegeek definition). Twitter does not provide access to the internet, it merely is a web based business that provides a service. This is a huge difference and prevents Twitter from having the legal protections afforded to ISPs like AOL and Comcast.

Copyright in the Internet Age Blog

nasch (profile) says:

Re: ISP

However, Twitter is not an ISP!

Fortunately, the Communications Decency Act’s safe harbor provisions (section 230) do not apply only to ISPs:

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Twitter is quite clearly an interactive computer service, so they’re in good shape legally.

Jim Sadler (profile) says:

Baby Rape

I see no reason that anyone should gossip about the rumor that Sarah Palin rapes babies. After all there has never been any evidence at all that it is true that she rapes babies. All of us should shut up and stand back and wait and see if the authorities bring her to trail for raping babies. It seems very unlikely to me that she will ever be charged by a prosecutor for raping babies. After all, if she really does rape babies it certainly would not be in public or in view of others that could testify against her. We’ll just have to take her word that she does not rape babies.

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