If you haven't seen the recent headlines, rocker Courtney Love is being sued for libel for something she said about someone on Twitter. She is the first official celebrity to get sued over something she tweeted. And you thought Courtney would never be in the record books.
This isn't the first celebrity lawsuit involving Twitter, of course, but it is the first one in which a celebrity is being sued for something that they actually said on their personal Twitter account. It's not, however, the first time someone has been sued for something they said on Twitter.
Back in August, a woman named Amanda Bonnen was sued for something she said about her landlord. More specifically, about the rental she was living in and their inability to repair it to her satisfaction. Her landlord sued her for libel, claiming public damages to the tune of $2,500 per follower on Amanda's account (now defunct). Imagine the price tag if she had been a celebrity!
Courtney Love's case is interesting because the libel is a little more straight forward: calling someone a drug dealer probably isn't wise, at least not in public. It raises two important questions:
- When, exactly, is someone's slanderous speech worth money?
- How can we schmoes get in on some of that celebrity cash?
The first question is simple and the answer comes from the maxim of just about every civil attorney on the planet. Boca Raton attorney Matthew Maschler says: "The lawsuit is only worth the money the defendant can pay." Steven Elias, a Coral Springs based Personal Injury Attorney says: "If they are without assets, or deep pockets, suing them is a waste of time. You get nothing, but a piece of paper saying someone owes you money that you could never collect on."
Since all celebrities obviously have money (or access to it), the second question answers itself: sue the celebrities.
This is where Twitter comes in. Let's say me, a devoted Mac and iPhone user, decides to follow someone famous. Like maybe West Palm Beach resident Kevin O'Leary (@KevinOlearytv). Not only is this "shark" a television celebrity, but he's a big time stock trader too. Chaching!
So I follow him and begin reading his tweets. I respond to a few of them, innocently, asking stupid questions. Then I up the questioning until I'm flooding him with them. Eventually, he's gonna crack. I'll make sure to mention that my Mac crashes a lot so he can make a PC crack. What's more humiliating to a geek like me than being told that I'm a stupid Mac-lover? Not much.
Then, the deadly tweet finally comes: "Listen, you stupid Mac-lover. I'm blocking you. Get a life."
Booya! Gravy train! Having the papers already prepared, I trot off to court to sue Mr. O'Leary for every penny he can muster. Pizza for life!
Back to reality now. While my example there is pretty hokey, you get the point of the thing. This is the kind of lawsuit that happens every day when celebrities interact with the rest of us. Every move, every word, every action could mean a lawsuit. It's the price of fame.
Of course, that's not meant to defend them. Some celebrities are real assholes and deserve to be told as much. The question here is where is the line drawn? Is a tweet as bad as something said on the radio? TV? Quoted in a magazine?
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Well, that depends on who you ask. A celeb of Oprah's caliber with over two and a half million followers on Twitter probably has more impact with what she says than, say, a B-listed child star from the 1980s with only a couple of hundred followers.
The courts so far have held a pretty strict line about what is and what isn't celebrity and what kind of privacy that entitles. It's my prediction that Courtney Love will settle her case or lose it and pay. From what's been reported so far, what she said was, in my opinion, pretty libelous.
That doesn't clear up the bigger picture. Matthew Maschler, continues to say: "Technology is always ahead of the law and its courts. Twitter is no different." As it's hit the mainstream, lawsuits like the ongoing ones mentioned in this article are how the courts vet out the questions that arise when new technology gets ahead of the law.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to undertake my latest scheme to get Donald Trump into court. The gravy train awaits!