MySpace Lawsuits: Paris, Lindsay, Teachers, Principals, and You

Posted on Apr 25, 2007 in Celebrity Justice, Internet/Technology

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It’s safe to assume that anyone reading this post knows MySpace.  For those few grandmas and coma victims who don’t, MySpace (in 25 words or less) is a social-networking web site — “a place for friends” — where you can share blogs, pix, music, videos, and personal info with anyone, anywhere in the world.  MySpace is the 5th most popular website of all sites, regardless of language.  And, it’s growing: every day the site gets bigger.

For example, the buzz is that later today, Mark Burnett (the Survivor guy) will announce a new reality TV/Internet collaboration, where anyone wishing to run for president in 2008 can post a video on MySpace.  Anyone.  Of course, the 100,000,000+ MySpace users can then discuss the video candidates amongst themselves, and all of this criss-crosses into the reality series.

Sounds like a great use of the web, right?  Just like the news stories of people seeking to adopt babies via MySpace,  or MySpace’s Are You The Next John Woo?  contest.   Before you say yes, let’s check with Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and some guy in Chattanooga. 

This morning, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan are dealing with having their personal contact info posted on MySpace by Shanna Moakler.  This doesn’t just happen to famous folk: a Tennessee man wishing to remain anonymous reported to police that a fake MySpace page was created in his name, with all his personal info listed on it.  Whoever did this also sent some nasty messages to several of this guy’s female friends.  Imagine the clean-up there.

In Pennsylvania, a high school principal is suing several students who set up a fake MySpace page in his name.  Over in Minnesota, a high school teacher is suing for defamation based upon a fake MySpace page.  An assistant principal in Texas is also suing for defamation because of a phoney MySpace page.  The list goes on.

So, what does this mean to you?  Well, if you are a victim of false information placed upon the web, either on a MySpace page or elsewhere, you may have a legal cause of action.  You may be able to sue the person responsible for significant damages.   For Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, releasing their personal, private information is an invasion of privacy and may even constitute theft, tortious interference, and other serious civil wrongs.   However, it does not appear that Ms. Moakler published false information about them, so they cannot allege she has defamed them.

The school authorities can.  The principal, ass’t principal, and teachers have all had false information placed upon one of the most popular websites in the world.   Their lawsuits are valid, and their likelihood of success, high.   Why?

As shown at Wex, defamation is “[a]ny statement, whether written or oral, that injures a third party’s reputation. See, e.g. Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993).”  For the school folk, the defamation involves libel.  Again, from Wex:  libel is “[f]alse words, which damage another person’s reputation or good character and are conveyed in a lasting manner, especially writing. See e.g. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).”

Publication on MySpace sure sounds like conveying something in a lasting manner to me.

If you have any questions about what the propriety of MySpace content, or about defamation in general, please feel free to contact me. �

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