Courtney Love vs Her Lawyer – A Twitter Outburst that led to the first Twitter Libel Case to actually go to Trial

Courtney Love is being sued by her former lawyer, for a tweet, via micro blogging site Twitter, which claimed that her lawyer, Rhonda Holmes had  been ‘bought off’, as a result of refusing to act for Ms. Love, in bringing a claim relating to fraud, in respect of her late husband Kurt’s Cobain’s estate. A tweet that Ms Holmes claims is plainly an example of online defamation. You cannot blame Ms. Holmes for taking this action, after all, the normal and ordinary meaning of this phrase would make the public at large think that she was dishonest and lacked integrity – there are not much worse things that you could say to a lawyer, if you wanted to attack them.

In the US, unlike here in England, their defamation rules, including matters pertaining to online defamation are different. In simple terms, an ISP cannot be sued, given that they are merely a third party (under the Communication Decency Act) and also the statements complained of are given much more scrutiny as a result of the protections afforded by the First Amendment. Matters presented as fact are not protected, but statements presented as opinion are generally protected. In this case, there was no doubt in the Judge’s mind that Ms. Love was presenting her tweet in respect of Ms Holmes as fact, which is completely understandable given that Ms. Love was her client, and therefore was given what appeared to be ‘factual’ information about the attorney/client relationship.  Ms. Love’s lawyers attempted to say that the internet creates a different set of rules and that what may previously have been considered facts were in fact conjecture and speculation – and that Ms Love was not stating facts, but merely giving opinion, and therefore the matter could not have been considered online defamation. This was an argument that was out rightly rejected by the Judge – therefore giving leave for the matter to march on for trial. 

Had this case been brought in England, in the High Court, then there is no doubt that it would be taken very seriously by the Court, and  if we at Pinder Reaux were acting for Ms. Holmes we would be pursuing Ms Love ultra - aggressively for the alleged online defamation published by Ms Love against Ms Holmes.  

John Spyrou
Head of Internet and Media Law