The worst part about libel law in the United States is that it can be used to harass people – people who did nothing wrong. I was sued by convicted felon Keith Gilabert for reporting on his hedge-fund fraud. Tom Chandler, an outdoor blogger, was sued by the San Francisco Chronicle’s outdoor writer, Tom Stienstra, for being one of many people to report on Stienstra’s arrest for marijuana possession.
Chandler and I probably looked like easy marks – bloggers without corporate backing.
Which brings us to Courtney Love. Her life is a staple for gossip columnists; she’s a complicated person, to say the least. But for all the rumors and truths that have circulated around her, she was the one sued for libel.
In 2010, Love sent a tweet to an online journalist about her former attorney, mentioning another journalist. It said, “@noozjunkie I was … devastated when Rhonda J Holmes Esq of San Diego was bought off @fairnewsspears perhaps you can get a quote”. Rhonda Holmes was an attorney that Love hired to look into missing funds from Kurt Cobain’s estate, but the two parted ways.
Love apparently thought the tweet was a direct message, and she deleted it as soon as she realized that it had been sent out broadly. But it was too late. Holmes sued for libel. This was the first libel case involving Twitter to go to trial, and Love won, in large part because she believed the tweet to be true. The facts of the tweet itself were not on trial.
For a statement to be libel, it has to be knowingly false and malicious, especially about a private person. Just because you don’t like something that someone says doesn’t mean it’s libel.