Singer and prolific Twitterer Courtney Love has been sued for defamation over some badly misspelled threats. While the case faces an uphill battle, it also heralds a new front for libel law. Also? Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is involved.
The allegations of the lawsuit are rather simple. On March 17, 2009, Courtney Love wrote a series of insulting messages via her @CourtneyloveUK Twitter account directed at fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir. Love and Simorangkir were embroiled in a dispute over a $4,000 payment for clothing received by the musician. But Love, who is known for erratic behavior on Twitter (and elsewhere), escalated the dispute with several messages directed at Simorangkir.
In a series of Twitter missives written with a unique approach to grammar and spelling, Love called the fashion designer a "drug-addled prostitute," a "52 year old desperate cokes ass [sic]", a "nasty, lying, hosebag thief," of "having a history of dealing cocaine," of having "lost all custody of her child" and then a threat that she would end "up in a circle of corched eaeth hunted til your dead [sic]." For good measure, Love also posted insulting messages about Simorangkir on MySpace and Etsy (!), where she referred to her as "the nastiest lying worst person I have ever known, a thief a liar [sic]…evil incarnate, vile horrible lying bitch."
Simorangkir filed libel charges against Courtney Love on March 26, 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court. In the complaint [PDF], the fashion designer seeks unspecified punitive damages for reputation done to her person and her business. The fact that the court case is scheduled to go before judge Debre Weintraub in February seems to imply that attempts to settle out of court failed.
As for the complaint itself, it primarily consists of verbatim transcripts of twenty-odd pages of erratically worded threats from Love. The complaint itself implies Love suffers from "a drug induced psychosis, a warped understanding of reality, or the belief that her money and fame allow her to disregard the law."
In more simple language: Simorangkir will face an uphill battle in court proving that Love's Twitter messages constituted slander, given the singer's public reputation for odd behavior and frequent outbursts. She will have to prove to the judge that Love influences people's fashion choices in 2011, that customers avoided her because of Love and that the rock singer is taken seriously by the public at large.
However, there could be a precedent for the Twitter libel suit against Courtney Love. Although the Electronic Frontier Foundation declined comment on the Love case, media relations director Rebecca Jeschke noted that the first celebrity Twitter libel suit was lodged by legendary baseball manager Tony La Russa. In 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals manager sued Twitter itself over a comedic fake Tony La Russa account that explicitly noted it was a fake Tony La Russa. La Russa mistakenly claimed Twitter had agreed to settle out of court by donating to his Animal Rescue Foundation charity; following heavy media criticism he then dismissed the charges with a quickly made, cashless "settlement."
In a Hollywood Reporter article on the case, First Amendment lawyer Alonzo Wickers notes that "The way Twitter is evolving, it seems to be more of a means to express opinion. I would hope courts give tweets the same latitude they do an op-ed piece or a letter to the editor." According to Love attorney James Janowitz, "We don't believe there's any defamation, and even if there were defamatory statements, there was no damage."
But the true story to note here is that a lawsuit over Twitter messages has landed into a courtroom in the first place. Even if Love is a fringe figure whose online presence is not taken seriously by many, Simorangkir's proactive stance in defense of her online persona offers a template for future cases. Whenever the next inevitable Twitter defamation suit occurs in the future, the next individual or corporation fighting it will be borrowing crib notes from the fashion designer.
Both parties are taking part in a mandatory settlement conference established by the Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. If a settlement is not reached, the case will enter the courtroom. Meanwhile, even if a settlement is reached, the groundwork's been laid for the next Twitter defamation suit.