Chris Evans' Lawyer Threatens Forum; Apparently Unfamiliar With Free Speech, Safe Harbors & Streisand Effect

from the a-little-lesson dept

What is it with lawyers who default to being over-aggressive, without (apparently) stopping to think about how such aggression will almost certainly backfire? Today’s such story focuses on one Neil Meyer, a prominent Beverly Hills lawyer, who represents the Hollywood actor Chris Evans. On June 12th, a blog called the “Celebrity Smack Blog” posted a story with the title “Exclusive! Chris Evans Might Have An STD”, which has now been taken down, though Google still has a cache at the time of this writing. It’s the sort of typical crap you’d expect from a site called “Celebrity Smack Blog” — a totally unsourced rumor from an anonymous person (described as “one of my best sources in Los Angeles” which means absolutely nothing). Given that it’s on a silly blog and not particularly believable, chances are this is the kind of story that would get a brief bit of buzz and then disappear. Indeed a few other celebrity gossip sites appear to have picked up on the story, but most people don’t seem to care, and it certainly doesn’t appear on any major site.

Either way, a user on the forum Lipstick Alley posted the story to that forum, with a link to the original, some quotes from the story and the comments, and a random picture of Evans. Meyer quickly sent a threat letter that really tries to include everything but the kitchen sink. It argues that even though Lipstick Alley is a forum, it is responsible for what its users post (which is clearly wrong under Section 230 of the CDA). It argues that the site “fraudulently” and “intentionally” published the post, again despite it being a forum where a user posted the information. Meyer also seems to claim that reporting on Evans — regardless of whether or not the information is factual — is a misuse of his publicity rights (which is clearly wrong under the First Amendment). He also claims that merely linking to content that may be defamatory is, itself, against the law. He demands that the site “permanently remove any mention of Mr. Evans” even beyond this particular story — which, again, has no legal basis.

Oh, and lest we forget, he pretends that he can unilaterally declare that the letter itself is secret and that the site cannot even “report on its substance” let alone publish it:

This letter is confidential legal communication and you are specifically prohibited from publishing any portion of it or reporting publicly on its substance in any way.

Some of the sites (including the original) that had the story appear to have taken them down, suggesting that perhaps they received similar letters. However, the folks who run Lipstick Alley, thankfully, work with lawyer Paul Levy, and have an understanding of the basics of the law and their own liability. Levy has responded to the letter (embedded below) and posted Meyer’s letter and his own response publicly. I highly recommend reading both letters. Levy calls Meyer’s attention to the legal failings of his threat letter — and suggests that Meyer’s strategy is bound to backfire, due to the Streisand Effect:

Lipstick Alley is not gong to comply with any of your demands. And, indeed, I cannot think of a strategy better suited to drawing both yourself and Evans into disrepute than by sending a letter such as yours. Given that you are billed as an “entertainment lawyer,” it is amazing that you may have never taken the “Streisand effect” into account in deciding whether to send your letter.

I actually think there are a few places where Levy even underplays the ridiculousness of the original letter. Beyond the fact it’s a user forum, Meyer’s arguments, taken to their logical conclusion, would mean that no site could report on or show an image of Chris Evans without his permission. That makes little sense and the First Amendment clearly makes a mockery of such a claim.

And we won’t even bother to discuss the ridiculousness of telling Lipstick Alley that it can’t even report on the substance of the letter, let alone its specific contents.

Of course, there are a few clues that perhaps the reason that Meyer is unfamiliar with things like the Streisand Effect has to do with the fact that he’s not particularly tech savvy. The letter notes that it was “dictated” (old school!), for one thing. But, I also noticed that Meyer’s law firm, Stone, Meyer, Genow, Smelkinson & Binder, LLP, doesn’t even appear to have a website. The domain which is listed as a part of Meyer’s email address in the letter… takes you to a GoDaddy holding page. Yes, GoDaddy.

Hint to Hollywood stars: if you’re going to hire an entertainment lawyer to try (badly) to police rumors about you online with questionable legal threats, perhaps first check to see if they have a website themselves.

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Comments on “Chris Evans' Lawyer Threatens Forum; Apparently Unfamiliar With Free Speech, Safe Harbors & Streisand Effect”

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Beta (profile) says:

adding insult to injury

“Because I don’t have addresses for Chris Evans, who is cc’d on your letter, I’d be grateful if you would forward this letter to Evans.”

Something tells me that Mr. Meyer will hesitate to reveal to his client how he was taken to the woodshed by a superior lawyer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the omission of his client’s address was deliberate self-defense, or at least instinctive.

(And note that Mr. Levy refers to the client as “Evans” without an honorific– I have to wonder if that was a tiny little jab, less overt than “Mr./Ms. Evans”.)

Wally (profile) says:


“Celebrity Smack Blog” posted a story with the title ‘Exclusive! Chris Evans Might Have An STD’ “

That can stand for defamation….Which is not covered by free speech First Amendment and freedom of press rights. But then again there is a clear line between Press Syndication and Invasion of Privacy. It may have been a blog, but it was a paparazzi based log invading upon the life of Chris Evans.

J.K. Rowling put it very clearly:

“”We have at the one end of the spectrum people who literally risk their lives to go and expose the truth about war and famine and revolution, and then at the other end we have behavior that is illegal and I think unjustifiably intrusive.”

TechDirt is a news blog which is sort of based on editorial materials and sound reasoning.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Evans must have complained to his Meyer about the posts as it seems unlikely that Meyer himself would have been searching for “negative” information about his client on the Web.

You’d think, given Evans role as Captain America and past role as The Human Torch he could have looked after his himself. After all that’s what would have happen in the comics or movies, right?

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

as it seems unlikely that Meyer himself would have been searching for “negative” information about his client on the Web.

There’s a whole new industry (and apparently decent money in it) out there searching out negative information on the web for clients and trying to get it taken down. I’m sure some is perfectly fine, with polite requests and no abuses – and then there’s stupid lawyers threatening the wrong site/person with overreaching and questionable claims. This would be the latter.

davebarnes (profile) says:

EXCLUSIVE! Chris Evans Might Have an STD

Even the best looking, most successful men in the world contract those dreaded STDs. Yes, even celebrities. Yes, even Chris Evans.

I received a juicy tip this morning from one of my best sources in Los Angeles and what they?re telling me is something a lot of you might not want to hear. The gorgeous and talented Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America) has been treated for a sexually transmitted disease. Not even his SuperPeen could withstand the toxic environment in which he entered, presumably within the last 30 days.

My source revealed that Evans was treated for the STD ?gonorrhea? and subsequently filled a prescription for the infection. So take note, if you hooked up with Chris recently, you might wanna haul your pretty little ass down to the doc?s for some penicillin.

Chris was recently quoted as saying he likes his women a little feisty: ?I like wet hair and sweatpants?and ponytails. Girls who give me a hard time, bust my chops a little.? Well, it looks like he got more than his chops busted this time.

So the question is?would you hit it ? AFTER the meds kick in? (Heh. Yeah, I?m sick.)

[from the cached page]

Prometheus says:

Re: EXCLUSIVE! Chris Evans Might Have an STD

1. It’s so disappointing to see how one rumor completely ignores the individual rights and privacy of people. Whether an actor or not, whose business is it to discuss sensitive or medical issues when you don’t know the man? I understand that as fans or haters we need a little gossip, but really people, there are boundaries.
2. And an attorney who interprets the law to market his own “skills” and make another attorney look bad online is nothing to be proud of either.
3. It’s sad when people need to make up something negative about a decent human being just to have something to talk about.

Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile) says:

We need to know

This issue of “stars with STD’s” is not brought up enough.
We, being groupies who would willingly get it on with famous people, need to know the truth.
I don’t want a STD from Snookie or Newt Gingrich.

Answers we NEED to know….
( before we let them do, anything they want to us )

A) Does Justin Bieber have “Bacterial Vaginosis” ?

B) Does Gary Busey have “Genital warts” ?

Lastly: before a fan digs him up and f***’s him.

C) Does Michal Jackson have crabs ?

ALL important questions, I’m sure you’ll agree.

reed says:

Keeping aside the legal bullshit.

Why not think like a human being? How would you react if you were a famous celebrity and people start posting insulting posts about you- all in the name of gossip?

Things like these how free speech affects individuals. Dare you post like this in countries like Iran or Kuwait where they will give you a maximum of 10 year imprisonment.

Its only a few years till lawmakers are going to introduce stricter laws for controlling the Internet.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Its only a few years till lawmakers are going to introduce stricter laws for controlling the Internet.

Supermarket tabloids have been printing this stuff for decades. I bet if we looked before that, we could find it in various local newspapers stretching back hundreds of years.

Why does this suddenly need to be regulated? Just because it’s on the internet?

itsthetruth (profile) says:

He does have an STD.

The story of him having an STD (Gonorrhea) is 100% true. Trust me. His mother, Lisa Evans is the one that contacted his Lawyers/Attorney to put “disease” (as she says) to this story, she was pissed about it getting out, she even wants to know who told on him like this. The only reason why she’s getting out the lawyers and having them sending out threats to take it down (even the post on his IMDb page) is because it’s the truth. If anyone knows a lot like I do of ‘Mr. Evans’ you would know that he has slept with so many women.

His mom always defends her golden child on the internet, you would think she’s an obsessed fan.

itsthetruth (profile) says:

Re: Re: He does have an STD.

If they didn’t delete the post, they would not have brought it to court, and made it into a bigger deal than it is, because eventually this would spread like wild fire and everyone would know he has an STD, which he does, even though he has received medicine for it. IF it was just a rumor, his mother would not have brought his attorney and lawyer into this. She pretty much put out the truth on him, by bringing it to legal issues. She just wanted to get everything deleted, and she wants to know who is behind this, telling on him. She’s still pissed.

INeed2Know (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: He does have an STD.

OK, I just went back and re-read your first statement. Are You Saying that his mother admitted that he did have this std?
And if so, why would all these sites have to remove their link to this story if she already opened her mouth and admitted the truth? Then None of these sites are liable for anything…

BTW are you an industry insider because it sounds like you know “things”

itsthetruth (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 He does have an STD.

No, she didn’t admit to it. By bringing in his lawyers to stop people from knowing/talking about it, pretty much puts the truth to the so called “rumors”. She was pissed off that this got out, and that people are talking about him having this STD, but she never said ‘yes’ he has it, when she found out that it got out she became very upset, and brought in his people to shut people up , because it’s obviously the truth and not just a rumor.

Anonymous Coward says:

The most preposterous part of this is the concept that one can send unsolicited material to a third party, and imply that either a confidentiality agreement exists between sender and the receiving party, or that the letter is confidential under some sort of privilege. In fact, the opposite is true. if the letter had any confidential status, by disseminating it unsolicited to third parties, that privilege has been waived.

Seriously says:

I could care less about this whole lawyer involvement. Rumors about STDs or any contagious diseases are rather (serious) personal issues and embarassing, to say the least. Regardless if he has it or not, the mere rumor about it can hurt many people. So, I hope the person who leaked such information feels proud.

@itsthetruth “If anyone knows a lot like I do of ‘Mr. Evans’ you would know that he has slept with so many women.” How do you know he did? Hearsay? Word on the street? The Los Angeles/Hollywood rumor mill? Friends of friends. Mysterious “sources”. The assumption that, because he’s an attractive actor, he gets around. Which are all reputable sources, I forgot. I’m guessing that is how you “know a lot” about him, right? I don’t know what you consider to be “so many” women. That can mean 2 or 3 or 10 or 20 — regardless, sleeping around doesn’t automatically mean you are carrying an STD. Nor does his mother coming to his defense and being protective (I wouldn’t expect anything less of her) mean she is “putting the truth out there”. Your logic makes no sense whatsoever. Again, this isn’t a rumor you can just shrug off. Think of the amount of people that can be affected by it. Past girlfriends, a current girlfriend or anybody he chooses to date will have this STD rumor lingering over their heads as well, because people won’t forget about it, whether it’s true or not.

Just a realistic thought with this whole matter.

Landy says:

Re: Re: Re:

Gonna have to agree with the other poster on this one. Your logic makes no sense whatsoever. The idea that celebs who defend themselves against libel are admitting truth to the rumors is just ridiculous. So if someone made very public claims that I was involved in the drug trade and made millions and I filed suit for libel, that means I’m guilty? Because if I weren’t I would just let it go? Wrong. Anything being said that you know to be false and damaging to your reputation should be fought against. In fact, had he not taken action against these rumors, THAT’S what would make me think they were true. Because if no action was taken, I would assume it’s because he knew it was true and therefore had no legal leg to stand on.

And then furthermore, the fact that you have no evidence whatsoever to back up your claims other than “I don’t have to say how I know, just trust me, I know.” is extremely weak and lame. Going by the way you disseminate information, that would mean that we should all believe every single thing every single gossip site ever says, because they all give the same reasons that you have given for their info “just trust me, I know.”

I’ll pass on that one. Thanks.

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