Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glenn Beck Challenges Tasteless Website for Defamation

Ars Technica has a report that Glenn Beck has put his attorneys on the website, and notes the site, "toes the line on defamation—and may have stepped across it." The site owner tells Ars Technica the site is intended as political satire but is that enough to avoid defamation charges:

But the possibility of a US defamation/libel suit against the anonymous site operator is a real one. Certainly, domain names alone "can be defamatory," Levy says, pointing out that the first iteration of the site posed the "rape and murder" claim as a statement—not as a question.

Levy says that such a statement is only actionable if 1) it's false (and we're quite sure it is) and 2) it was stated with actual malice. That last bit could be tricky to prove, especially in a case involving an anonymous speaker, but Levy makes clear that the site might well be on the wrong side of a very fine line.
Beck has also filed a trademark violation case with WIPO which may be more troublesome for Beck, who is in the process of filing trademark protection for his name. Whether Beck has trademark protection or not, however, he would not be entitled to protection from use of his name for the purpose of political commentary or even satire or parody. The domain owner must respond to charges, however, or lose the name. Gawker has the paper trail from Beck's attorney asking for a response to the WIPO charges.

For the time being the domain owner is claiming the site is parody yet has moved to secure a domain that questions rather than accuses Beck of a fictitious crime. As Justice Souter noted in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (92-1292), 510 U.S. 569 (1994).
The fact that parody can claim legitimacy for some appropriation does not, of course, tell either parodist or judge much about where to draw the line.
Perhaps Justice Stewart's test , "I know it when I see it," seems appropriate in determining if lines have been crossed in the name of parody. It certainly looks as though lines have been crossed to me.

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