Georgia Supreme Court: No, Writing Mean Things About Copyright Trolling By Linda Ellis Is Not 'Stalking'

from the moving-on... dept

A few years ago, we wrote about a terrible Georgia state court ruling against Matt Chan, the operator of Extortion Letter Info (ELI), a website/forum that has tracked copyright trolling for many years. There had been a number of discussions on the site about Linda Ellis, who is somewhat notorious for her trolling effort. Ellis wrote a poem called "The Dash" that gets reposted a lot online. Ellis and her lawyers then send threat letters, emphasizing the possible $150,000 in statutory damages (yet another example of how statutory damages aid in copyright trolling), before suggesting much lower (but still crazy high) dollar amounts to "settle." While some of the discussions on ELI were overly aggressive towards Ellis, it still seemed ridiculous that the court ordered Chan to remove all content relating to Ellis and to block any future mentions of her.

It seemed rather obvious that this was a pretty clear First Amendment violation, but the court felt that it was okay under Georgia's anti-stalking law. Georgia's Supreme Court has now unanimously reversed the lower court decision, saying that posting mean stuff about someone on a public website is not the same as stalking. The court focuses on the fact that the content posted to ELI wasn't sent directly to Ellis, but rather posted publicly in a place where she could (and, in fact, did) see it. It doesn't even get to the First Amendment issues, focusing just on whether or not this is stalking under Georgia's law:
The limited evidence in the record shows that Chan and others posted a lot of commentary to his website about Ellis, but it fails for the most part to show that the commentary was directed specifically to Ellis as opposed to the public. As written, most of the posts appear to speak to the public, not to Ellis in particular, even if they are about Ellis. And there is no evidence that Chan did anything to cause these posts to be delivered to Ellis or otherwise brought to her attention, notwithstanding that he may have reasonably anticipated that Ellis might come across the posts, just as any member of the Internet-using public might. The publication of commentary directed only to the public generally does not amount to “contact,” as that term is used in OCGA § 16-5-90 (a) (1), and most of the posts about Ellis quite clearly cannot form the basis for a finding that Chan contacted Ellis.

To the extent that a few of the posts may come closer to “contact” — including, for instance, the open letter to Ellis, which Chan may actually have intended as a communication to Ellis — their publication still does not amount to stalking. Even assuming for the sake of argument that Chan “contacted” Ellis by the publication of any posts, the evidence fails to show that such contact was “without [her] consent.” OCGA § 16-5-90 (a) (1). This is not a case in which Chan sent a message to Ellis by electronic mail, linked commentary to her social media account, or posted commentary on her website. To the contrary, the commentary about which Ellis complains was posted on Chan’s website, and Ellis learned of that commentary — that is, it arguably was communicated to her — only as a result of her choice to discover the content of the website. The evidence shows that Ellis visited the website herself — it appears, in fact, that she registered herself as an authorized commentator on the website — and that she had others visit the website and report back to her about the commentary published there. Generally speaking, our stalking law forbids speech only to the extent that it is directed to an unwilling listener, and even if Ellis did not like what she heard, she cannot be fairly characterized as an unwilling listener. Ellis failed to prove that Chan “contacted” her without her consent, and the trial court erred when it concluded that Chan had stalked Ellis.
The only mention of the First Amendment comes in a footnote, in response to the part of the paragraph above, where the court notes that Ellis was not an "unwilling listener" as required under the law, noting that even so, if the speech is protected by the First Amendment, the stalking law wouldn't apply:
Even then, if the speech is protected by the First Amendment, it is excluded from the scope of our stalking law. See OCGA § 16-5-92 (“The provisions of Code Sections 16-5-90 and 16-5-91 shall not apply to persons engaged in activities protected by the Constitution of the United States or of this state . . . .”).
But, by determining that the blog posts are not even stalking, the court avoided that question altogether. Either way, another important victory for free speech online, overturning a bad ruling that would have resulted in serious chilling effects for online speech.

Filed Under: copyright, copyright trolling, criticism, first amendment, georgia, linda ellis, matt chan, matthew chan, stalking, the dash
Companies: eli, extortion letter info


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  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:47am

    So, when your eulogy's being read
    with your life's actions to rehash...
    would you be proud of the things they
    say about how you spend your dash?
    - Linda Ellis

    I'm going out on a limb here, and guessing that Ellis isn't proud of the things they say about how she's spending her dash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alan turing, 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:01am

    Someone who makes their living by contacting people against their will and saying things they don't want to here does not like it when called out, huh!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      April Brown Auctioneer (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 10:22am

      Re: Linda Ellis is the Stalker

      Linda manufactured evidence and lied to her attorney and 2 courts. Linda confessed to contacting my husband, his employers, my clients and my neighbors. She filed False DMCA notices on all my social media and websites. I wrote a book about this abuse - Poetic Justice. The public and judicial system has access to the proof. Now anyone who wants to fight back can. There is no place left for her to hide.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:49am

    Unfortunately

    Unfortunately, this ruling will do little to deter such asshats from continuing their legal stalking of people who opine that they are asshats!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 11:36am

    Posting this gets you in trouble?

    You mean posting this can get you in trouble?

    The Dash
    by Linda Ellis copyright 1996

    ​I read of a man who stood to speak
    at the funeral of a friend.
    He referred to the dates on the tombstone
    from the beginning…to the end.

    He noted that first came the date of birth
    and spoke the following date with tears,
    but he said what mattered most of all
    was the dash between those years.

    For that dash represents all the time
    that they spent alive on earth.
    And now only those who loved them
    know what that little line is worth.

    For it matters not, how much we own,
    the cars…the house…the cash.
    What matters is how we live and love
    and how we spend our dash.

    So, think about this long and hard.
    Are there things you’d like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left
    that can still be rearranged.

    If we could just slow down enough
    to consider what’s true and real
    and always try to understand
    ​the way other people feel.

    And be less quick to anger
    and show appreciation more
    and love the people in our lives
    like we’ve never loved before.

    If we treat each other with respect
    and more often wear a smile,
    remembering that this special dash
    might only last a little while.

    ​So, when your eulogy is being read,
    with your life’s actions to rehash…
    would you be proud of the things they say
    about how you spent YOUR dash?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:33pm

    Evidently she will be giving an inspirational talk about living your dash in Batesville Indiana on April 14, 2015
    http://www.batesvilleheraldtribune.com/news/local_news/ellis-will-speak-at-women-s-luncheon/arti cle_8680297e-c22f-5c1e-b071-39cdead41961.html

    The time and place:
    "The Ripley County Community Foundation will host its 12th Annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon Tuesday, April 14, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Ertel Cellars Winery, according to a press release."

    I live way to far from Batesville to schedule a trip to the Ertel Cellars (which looks lovely). Otherwise, I'd be tempted to get myself in trouble and find a way to hand out publicity flyers that weekend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      lucia (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:37pm

      Re:

      The above was me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      April Brown Auctioneer (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 10:24am

      Re: Linda Ellis is the Stalker

      Someone needs to send those people a warning. I've been told that Linda does not tell her audiences what she will do if they post her poem. Her speaking engagements create more targets for her. Sad Sad Sad

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 10:17pm

      Re:

      The Ripley County Community Foundation will host its 12th Annual Women in Philanthropy Luncheon Tuesday, April 14, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Ertel Cellars Winery. Attendees will get sued for copyright infringement.
      CTFY. ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        April Brown Auctioneer (profile), 4 Apr 2015 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re:Ripley County Foundation

        This is just another way she creates more victims. Even though you might think that women are easy targets, of the people I've helped avoid paying Linda, (116 to date) the tally is about 50/50 for people who got an extortion letter from her. The religious share this more than anyone else and since mostly men lead the religious, they are prime targets. Men also lead charities and charities and churches are insured. The insured are some of her juciest targets.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    lucia (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 3:36pm

    The above is me. I forgot to sign in. :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 6:18pm

    She really is a horrible person, IMHO.
    I have been trying to find a way to get her and that idiot tongues of glass guy to go after each other in a no holds barred deathmatch of nastygrams, just to have them focus on each other instead of people.

    It was shocking when the courts took her at her word and completely ignored the law and evidence. All it took was the I'm just a poor terrified woman card to be played and reason flew out the window. I wonder how the courts would feel if they had to face the same people she terrifies with her threat letters send, most often, in a time of grief threatening them with $150K damages.

    You tell me copyright is not broken, I point at this woman and the other trolls out there and ask how blind you are. There is more money to be made shaking people down for cash than producing new work. How does this benefit society again? This used to be a small cottage industry, sending letters demanding cash... now it powers entire business models that extract cash in a multitude of ways.

    Live your dash baby, because that is all you are.
    A single blip who never did anything of note.
    Still managed to waste a courts time to remind you that people can think you are horrible but it isn't breaking the law. People weren't fond of you before, all you managed to do was make even more people dislike you.
    Good job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      April Brown Auctioneer (profile), 2 Apr 2015 @ 10:34am

      Re: Waste

      Everyone who has been targeted and victimized by Ellis feels ripped off. Certainly the taxpayers have been with these phony charges against Chan. But the upside is that fruit will come. Greg Troy has written the Copyright Anti-Bullying ACt and I do believe it will become the abuse test much like the act that protects us from bill collector abuse. I know that as of today 116 people have not paid Ellis because of my advice. My guess is hundreds more have read my advice and ignored this wench. My guess too is that she has been abandoned by her attorneys. Until this case, they believed this sociopath. The public now knows what I've known from the start. She is a phony through and through. She claims she is loved by millions and sold as many books. In 2005 her advance marketing claimed she had sold millions of copies of The Dash book BEFORE it was in print! She shattered her image by her own hand. She will be forever known as a Poet Troll.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    April Brown Auctioneer (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 2:09pm

    Matthew Chan Explains in 4 Part Series

    www.defiantly.net

    This series has given me an even greater appreciation of Extortion Letter Info. The reason Linda Ellis has gotten away with extortion, stalking, harassment, horrific financial abuse for nearly 2 decades is because until now, nobody has ever connected all the dots. Matthew's series, my book Poetic Justice, all the investigative articles, and people like Eugene Volohk, Matthew Chan, Oscar Michelen, EFF,Chilling Effects,die troll die, and techdirt (too many to mention) and now the mainstream media will finally hold this woman accountable. She could even be indicted at some point. In any case, Linda Ellis and The Dash are finally getting the kind of attention she deserves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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