March 5, 2011

Love Tweets Prove Costly

Courtney Love agreed to pay a hefty settlement in a case touched off by online attacks made toward a fashion designer, in which the singer posted derogatory comments on Twitter and MySpace.

Love agreed to pay Dawn Simorangkir $430,000, plus interest, to settle the lawsuit the designer filed in March 2009.

While the case didn't go to jury, First Amendment experts said it emphasizes the need for people watch what they say online, be it celebrities or the average Joe.

"People are getting in trouble for Twitter postings on an almost daily basis," said First Amendment Attorney Doug Mirell, a partner at Loeb and Loeb who did not handle the case. "The laws controlling what is and isn't libelous are the same regardless of the medium in which the statements appear."

The amount of the lawsuit is sure to grab the attention of both celebrities and their advisors, said Nancy Derwin-Weiss, an attorney specializing in digital entertainment and advertising law.

"I think it's just a wake up call "¦ It's something that their advisers should talk to them about."

Love's attorney, Jim Janowitz, told The Associated Press in a statement that settling out of court actually saved the singer money. "This is a case where the economics of the case didn't make a lot of sense for either side," he said, noting that the costs of going to trial would have been large.

Derwin-Weiss, a partner at Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, said the settlement amount was significant. "It's a number that's not trivial "¦ It has some heft to it," she said.

Love has gained a reputation on the microblogging service Twitter with her posts, which are often profane and sometimes nonsensical, spouting off on a variety of topics. Several posts have lashed out at attorneys and other individuals who have sparked rage in the musician, with her tweets coming in rapid succession and using every bit of space in the site's 140-character-maximum per post.

Simorangkir sued over several postings written under Love's former Twitter account, courtneylover79, that accused the designer of theft and of having a criminal background. The lawsuit claimed that Love became angry with her after she completed five outfits for the singer and sent her a bill.

Brian J. Freedman, Simorangkir's attorney, in the May 2009 filing said: "Love mounted a malicious campaign to not only terrorize Simorangkir, but to ruin and destroy her reputation and livelihood."

The case was scheduled to go to trial in February, and was expected to be the first in which a jury decides whether a celebrity can be held liable for Twitter posts.

Freedman confirmed that a settlement was reached, and said that Love's attorneys had pushed to keep it confidential.

"In order to show the world the comments were derogatory and completely illegal, it was imperative to my client to have the settlement be public," Freedman said.

The monetary settlement that Love is required to pay, reflects the seriousness of the case. "Personally, I think $430,000 is an appropriate way to say she's sorry," Freedman said.

Celebrities need to be cautious about how and what they post online, especially when talking about others. "When you start talking about someone other than yourself, you are beginning to get into dangerous territory," Mirell said.


On the Net: