Back in July, Legal Bytes posted a report (Landlord Can’t Let Tweet sMOLDer) about a Twitter "tweet" posted by Amanda Bonnen, that contained the following statement: "Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK."
Back then we told you that Horizon Group Management, the landlord of the apartment building involved, filed suit in a Cook County Illinois Court for libel, alleging that it was a "malicious and defamatory" tweet about the state of her apartment.
Well this past Wednesday (Jan. 20, 2010), Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane J. Larsen dismissed the suit, and Ms. Bonnen’s attorney indicated the judge described the posting as too vague to constitute libel under the legal tests applicable to such a claim.
To support a claim of libel, Horizon would have had to show that Ms. Bonnen wasn’t merely offering her opinion, that the statement must be reasonably understood by everyone to refer to the specific entity—in this case, this particular Horizon realty company—and that there was actual harm that can be proved, flowing from the statement. The fact that the statement was made on Twitter, and consequently widely available across the Internet, doesn’t change the standard one must meet to prove libel, and the judge dismissed the case.
As you can guess, these aren’t the only cases involving defamation in the context of social media. For example, the action against Courtney Love, wife of the late Kurt Cobain, is alive and well. You might recall that case arose when a fashion designer claimed Ms. Love tweeted that the designer was a drug addict, a prostitute and called her a "lying hosebag thief." As we reported in Legal Bytes this past August (Court Orders Google to Turn Over Blogger Identity Information), cases of defamation become even more complex when the identity of the actual "tweeter" is hidden behind a pseudonym.
These cases all hinge upon the friction created by social interaction. Defamation is not a new concept, and whether broadcast over radio waves or propagated across the web, it should come as no surprise that when human beings populate the borderless universe of cyberspace, these interactions can give rise to legal actions. The laws that apply to publicity, privacy, libel, deceptive advertising, unfair competition and intellectual property may need to be applied or viewed differently, but they don’t disappear simply because the content is digital. Need to know more? Contact me, Joseph I. Rosenbaum, or any Rimon attorney with whom you regularly work.