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Courtney Love’s Twitter Rants Could Inspire Hole Mess of Lawsuits

Rock 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.

Courtney Love

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A defamation lawsuit launched against
rock singer Courtney Love is scheduled to go to court on Feb. 6.
Love is accused of slandering fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir… via
Twitter. Not only that, but the results of this trial could affect
Twitter–and how users go about their business on the site–forever.

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.”

(Courtney Love was involved in a
high-profile
custody suit
in 2009 in which she lost custody over daughter
Frances Bean Cobain.)

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.”

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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.

[Image via Flickr user georgia.kral]

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Neal Ungerleider, on
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