Be Careful Of What You Say Online Because You Could Receive A ‘SLAPP’
Recently a college student had his car towed from an apartment complex where he lived, even though the student claims he had a permit to park. The student was outraged when he had to pay a $118 tow fee to get his car back. So he took his tale of woe to Facebook where he had some 800 followers, some of who had also been victims of having their cars towed by the same company. The tow people did not take kindly to his posts so they slapped a $750,000 lawsuit against the student stating he had defamed their fine company and that the company was losing business as a result.
In a recent article it also stated that:
Some first amendment lawyers see the case differently. They consider the lawsuit an example of the latest incarnation of a decades-old legal maneuver known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or Slapp.The label has traditionally referred to meritless defamation suits filed by businesses or government officials against citizens who speak out against them. The plaintiffs are not necessarily expecting to succeed — most do not — but rather to intimidate critics who are inclined to back down when confronted with the prospect of a long, expensive court battle.“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Mr. Kurtz, who recently finished his junior year at Western Michigan University. “The only thing I posted is what happened to me.”Many states have anti-Slapp laws, and Congress is considering legislation to make it harder to file a Slapp. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, and Charles Gonzalez, Democrat of Texas, would create a federal anti-Slapp law, modeled largely on California’s statute.Because state laws vary in scope, many suits are still filed every year, according to legal experts. Now, with people musing publicly online and businesses feeling defenseless against these critics, the debate over Slapps is shifting to the Web.“We are beyond the low-tech era of people getting Slapped because of letters they wrote to politicians or testimony they gave at a city council meeting,” said George W. Pring, a University of Denver law professor who co-wrote the 1996 book, “Slapps: Getting Sued For Speaking Out.”Marc Randazza, a first amendment lawyer who has defended clients against Slapps stemming from online comments, said he helped one client avoid a lawsuit last year after the client, Thomas Alascio, posted negative remarks about a Florida car dealership on his Twitter account.“There is not a worse dealership on the planet,” read one tweet, which also named the dealership.The dealership threatened to sue Mr. Alascio if he did not remove the tweets. Mr. Randazza responded in a letter that while Mr. Alascio admitted the dealership might not be the worst in the world, his comments constituted protected speech because they were his opinion.While the dealership did not sue, that outcome is unusual, said Mr. Randazza, who conceded that sometimes the most pragmatic approach for a Slapp defendant is to take back the offending comments in lieu of a lawsuit.
One can see both sides to the issue. It is unfortunate but some people may take advantage of the Internet for their own personal agenda, whether it be a company or individual. Some may also claim that it is a violation of our protection of free speech as well, when someone posts what happened to them online.
What do you think?