Defamation’s Greatest Hits

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If defamation law had a radio station, the following 5 cases would be on heavy rotation. And not just because some of these cases involved large jury verdicts, but because each of them has greatly impacted the way we think and feel about defamation law. This is by no means a comprehensive list.  It’s simply a list of some of my favorites.

  1. Scheff v. Bock – Be careful who and what you blog about. Carey Bock made the mistake of making negative statements about Sue Scheff online, including, that she was a “fraud,” a “crook,” and a “con artist.” Scheff obtained a jury verdict in the WHOPPING amount of 11.3 million dollars. This case is noteworthy because it represents the largest (that I know of) verdict in the U.S. regarding relating to defamatory comments about an individual on the Internet. It’s also remarkable because Scheff knew prior to the verdict that it was unlikely she would ever collect any money from Bock. Scheff was determined to make a statement: to reclaim her reputation. I greatly admire Scheff’s determination and adherence to principle.
  2. Orix Capital Markets, LLC – A jury in Texas recently handed a 12.5 Million dollar verdict in favor of Orix in an internet defamation case. I like this case because it’s the biggest internet defamation verdict that I know of! Plus, it demonstrates that defamation cases are important and potentially very valuable.
  3. Brandon v. Wizeman South Carolina court awarded 1.8 million libel judgment against blogger.  What is interesting about this case is that apparently, the plaintiff won on summary judgment, which I must admit, is very difficult to do in a defamation case. The take-away from this case is that blogging can be a contact sport, so, it’s a good idea to beef up on the basics of internet defamation law.

  4. Noonan v. Staples – The Fifth Circuit held that an employee could sue a company based on alleged defamatory statements even if the statements are true, provided the statements were made with “actual malevolent intent or ill will.” Expectedly, this decision created an uproar in the free speech expansionist community. For a second, I thought the sky was going to fall. The fact of the matter is that that the Noonan case is a freakish anomaly and none of its sister courts are likely to follow.  Everyone should just come down.

  5. Twitter Defamation – I was the FIRST to observe that the recent lawsuit filed against Courtney Love was the first defamation lawsuit involving tweets. And while I’m not bitter about it (can’t you tell?), I can certainly tell you there was a lot of interest about the subject on my blog.  I think this is so for at least three reasons:  First, Twitter has become mainstream and people are using it, or are thinking about using it. Second, everyone “loves” (get it?) a train wreck.  And third, Twitter gives one a false sense of safety for a number reasons, primarily because it is generally used for informal means. I think a lawsuit over tweets calls into question a common belief that tweets are insignificant.

Did I miss any key internet defamation cases? Which cases would you have added to the list? Feel free to leave a comment on the blog.

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