Love (Courtney-that is) the Right to Free Speech
I recently wrote about hearsay and defamation but there’s a deeper issue that I didn’t touch upon and that’s the constitutional right to the freedom of speech—after all it’s an absolute right or is it???
Firstly, let’s clarify some basic points regarding the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. In other words, the right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without intrusion or constraint by the government. The Supreme Court requires the government to provide substantial justification for interference with the right to free speech where it attempts to regulate the content of the speech.
Moreover, the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment is not very different from the right to freedom of speech. It allows an individual to express themselves through publication and dissemination. It is part of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression. And despite popular belief to the contrary, it does not afford members of the media any special rights or privileges not afforded to citizens in general. See U.S. Constitution Amendment I.
Now on to the nitty gritty…let’s take the recent rants and raves by Courtney Love….we are in unmarked territory where the law is concerned—there are new issues popping up constantly regarding First Amendment rights when it comes to blogs, tweets and websites. And here we can see why…
Reuters reported that clothes designer Dawn Simorangkir, also known as Boudoir Queen, filed suit against Love for defamation, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress for “an extensive rant” on Twitter about how she was billed for custom clothing.
According to Celebrity Mound.com…Simorangkir sued Courtney Love for libel last May, after Love called the designer a prostitute and a drug addict on her Twitter and MySpace pages, as well as in the comments section of online marketplace Etsy.com.
Love’s lawyer filed a motion in LA Superior Court to toss Simorangkir’s suit. Love’s lawyer, Keith Fink, defended Love’s online rants to Page Six, saying, “Alternative mediums such as Twitter and personal Web blogs enjoy the same First Amendment protection as do newspapers, television and radio. It is important that this cherished right not be marginalized when speech is communicated via the Internet. Ms. Cobain enjoys using Twitter and expressing her views . . . to her fans and those who are interested in following what she has to say.”
But here is the tricky part—the balancing act between the two–freedom of speech and defamation. Does she really have the right to say whatever she wants and then “hide behind” the First Amendment. Well not necessarily…one must keep in mind that even though one has the right to free speech in the US, federal and state laws do restrict many kinds of expression. Some kinds of speech regarded as damaging to individual interests (e.g., libel and slander) are limited primarily by the threat of tort action.
And I would definitely say that Love’s recent tweeting tirades about Simorangkir definitely give rise to a tort action.