The Hollyweird Legal Round-Up is our weekly guide to entertainment industry lawsuits and lawyerly mud-slinging, written by our legal correspondent, real-life Hollywood lawyer “Buttockus Finch.” (Probably not his real name). This week, he takes on Dr. Dre’s alleged affair and libel complaint, explains the concept of defamation, PLUS, a special topic. You guessed it, Frank Stallone.
Damndest thing. This morning at the Polo Lounge, I had a cookie with my au lait and it unexpectedly reminded me of a femme du le pavement in Cannes named Madeleine. Nobody ever warns you that this business can be Proustian as f*ck.
1. Burnsy After Reading.
The war of words between Frank Stallone’s Manager (legal name) and Filmdrunk’s own Ashley of House Burns has been extensively documented in this space. Briefest of summaries: Burnsy wrote a post about Stallone’s unsuccessful attempt to sell his musical services on eBay, and Stallone’s Manager left a lengthy comment denouncing the piece for being an unwarranted slam. Somehow unmentioned: the fact that Stallone’s guitar has “Frank Happens” written on it. You would not think that someone has a thin skin if they’ve already substituted their own name for the word “sh*t.”
So why beat this dead horse, other than to indulge my hatred of horses and get some quick upper body reps? Because I’m a man of my people:
“Perhaps next week you would please discuss the imbroglio betwixt Burnsy & Frank Stallone, and the differences between libel & slander.”
Look at BGR with the constructive comment and aureate diction! This is why he uses his real name and doesn’t hide behind a pseudonym like “Michael Cera Plain and Tall” or “Gregg Easterbrook.” Some of us have pride.
To the point.
For me, the biggest shock of this whole episode is that Team Frank never accused Burns of defamation. It would be a suck claim (term of art), but since she had already accused him of everything from inventing glaucoma to sinking the Lusitania, you’d think one more whiny hyperbole would have made it onto her list. That, and defamation is right up there with violation of First Amendment rights as something dumb people frequently accuse others of doing.
A rapid education–defamation comes in two forms. Libel is in print–including on “blogs”–and slander is spoken. In either case, the requirements for making this claim are that the person you’re accusing 1. made/wrote a statement to at least one person besides you 2. about you 3. that was false 4. and injurious 5. and you were actually “harmed” as result (lost money, had your reputation damaged, whatever). If you’re a public figure, like internationally-revered songsmith Frank Stallone, you also have to prove that the person knew that what they said was false, or was at least reckless about verifying the statement.
FSManager kind of accused Burns of doing this, saying that he published “an ‘opinion’ that’s unfounded, unsubstantiated and indefensible.” Apart from the fact that the quotation marks around “opinion” are astonishing, her allegation is sublimely incorrect. We can acknowledge that she definitely has a case for 1 and 2 above–Burns made a statement to at least one person (optimistically assuming people read this site) about Stallone. 4 and 5 are at least possible–if you said that nobody wants to hire, like, Dank Puft or whoever the mouthbreathers are listening to instead of Sinatra, it probably wouldn’t affect the fact that they can sell out stadiums or mollycoddles or wherever it is that people dance to human iPods. If you say that nobody wants to see Frank Stallone, however, people might not know if that’s true, and it could impact his ability to get gigs.
The real problem is 3–Burns did not say anything that was false. Truth is a defense to defamation claims. So when he said that the eBay auction resulted in no bids, and he was able to prove it, FSM should have kept her Internet yap shut.
Fortunately, there is a real defamation imbroglio a-brewing. Howard King, the attorney for actor and headphone salesman Dr. Dre (have the courage to use your real name, sir!) has sent a Strongly Worded Letter to website thedirty.com, alleging that it
“has published grossly libelous and privacy violating stories purporting to be about our client”
falsely claiming, among other things, that Dre,
” a loving husband and father, has a mistress with whom he is having an affair.”
Couple things. Unclear how the stories “purport” to be about Dre–they are unabashedly about Dre. And “mistress with whom he is having an affair”–thanks for clearing that up. I assumed you meant a mistress with whom he was playing Jenga.
Now, Dre probably gets accused of things all the time–e.g., being a wack MC, faking the funk–and his attorney presumably has a Word macro that generates cease and desist type threatening letters if he hits CTRL+D+R+E. For which he bills 1.5 hours at $1,000 per. (/narrator hums “God Bless America.”) So this wouldn’t be much of a story except for…
The response. Oh, the response.
You post a story accusing a guy of cheating on his wife and associated misbehavior, and you can’t prove it, that qualifies as serious. But to thedirty’s attorney David Gingras, not so much.
“Look—just because someone claims a story is false doesn’t mean the story is false. I mean, other than O.J. who was clearly framed, history is filled with examples of people who make mistakes and then lie about them to cover it up. That’s just what people do.”
That’s either the most brainraping circumlocution in the history of bullsh*t or the reason I became a lawyer (the correct answer is both). Take a second to unpack that: if you deny the story is true, that means it’s true. Unfortunately, this would kind of mean anybody can say anything about anybody, regardless of whether they have any evidence for it, and let’s go ahead and assume that if the person denies it, they’re lying. Of course, denying it is also what the person would do if the accusation was absolutely false, but we’re going to ignore that possibility because O.J.
The sad part
is that Dre would have an uphill battle in fighting this case. Sure, printing a false accusation of infidelity is classic libel, and the publisher would generally be held responsible for proving it rather than making the accused list all of the times he did not commit adultery. However, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which keeps the Internet clean, says that sites like thedirty can’t be held responsible for things users post. And if Dre can’t identify the person who actually posted the material, or–worse–that person is judgment proof (read: broke as f*ck), thedirty can keep printing unsubstantiated allegations the livelong day.
So Gingras has an unfortunately strong argument. But no need to be a dick about it. He oddly thinks it crucial to mention what a fan he is of The Doctor’s oeuvre:
“Back in the 80’s I personally destroyed many subwoofers blasting N.W.A.’s F*ck The Police in my car in the high school parking lot.”
If you don’t see how this is relevant, I’m right there with you. More importantly, 1. “Gangsta Gangsta” is the best track on Straight Outta Compton and 2. what kind of weak-ass subwoofers did you have? Did you make them out of clay so seminal West Coast hip hop you could play? Gringras also continues the “if other people have lied, therefore your client is lying too” argument by mentioning Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong as relevant examples.
But he teaches us an important lesson. For example, let’s say you searched for information on David Gingras and found this. And also this. Plus, you’re probably a fan of polygraph test results, so you proceed to click on this. Sure, it might be considered misleading to link to a blog post entitled “David Gingras Molestation Arrest” when the charge was consensual sex between a 23 year-old and a 17 year-old. And you certainly might want to confirm that the Gingras you’re accusing is the same one who was charged with the offense, in addition to considering the fact that the charge was apparently dismissed. But hey, if you’re a website, you might as well run with the links–maybe the information is true. The best way to verify it would be if Gingras denied the story, because people lie. I mean, look at my ex-wives, Nixon and several of my former employees.
We salute you, David Gingras. Sure, you were accused by a teenager of receiving oral sex several times but only performing it once, but the authorities are notorious haters. F*ck, as they say, the police.