The constitution guarantees Americans the right of free speech. Of course this liberty is not tested until someone says something that another thinks is outrageous. Once this happens, individuals soon discover that wealthy individuals and corporations have the ability to retaliate and bankrupt those who annoy them with lawsuits. The term coined for these kinds of legal action is SLAPP--an acronym that stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation
SLAPPs are used to silence, intimidate and to censor critical messages. While most SLAPPs do not succeed in court, they are effective at silencing critics who do not have any financial means of protecting themselves against court costs and legal proceedings. According to the First Amendment Project some of the most common reasons SLAPPs are filed include:
- writing a letter to the editor
- circulating petitions
- calling a public official
- reporting police misconduct
- erecting a sign or displaying a banner on their property
- complaining to school officials about teacher misconduct or unsafe conditions in the school
- speaking at a public meeting
- reporting unlawful activities
- testifying before Congress or state legislatures
- speaking as an officer of an active public interest group
- filing a public interest lawsuit
CyberSLAPP cases typically involve a person who has posted anonymous criticisms of a corporation or public figure on the Internet. The target of the criticism then files a frivolous lawsuit just so they can issue a subpoena to the Web site or Internet Service Provider (ISP) involved, discover the identity of their anonymous critic, and intimidate or silence them.Examples of SLAPP and CybeSLAPP Suits
- Anyone who wishes to read a humorous but detailed example of how SLAPPs work should read www.taubmansucks.com. It may take you about 40 minutes but the time is well worth it.
- Matthew Weidner, a defense attorney, was sued by Nationwide Title, a foreclosure processing firm, after he and other lawyers posted videos of company employees admitting they lied under oath when processing foreclosure documents. You can read of his adventures here.
- Ford Motor sued FordReallySucs.com for its use of a corporate logo on the website.
- Starbucks unsuccessfully sued a website for making a parady of it's logo that uses the word "whore".
- An excellent example of a current SLAPP suit can be in San Luis Obispo, California where Psychologist Will Powers is being sued by Costco for his constant protesting of their gas prices. According to Powers, he has been sued for interfering with business, public trespass and has had his Costco membership revoked. You can read more about the story here.
protect the constitutional rights of petition and free speech by creating immunity from, and procedures to, dismiss, remedy and deter Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).Specifically, the bill would: provide immunity for petition activities, provide protections for speech activities, would allow defendants to bypass state law and move their trials to federal courts, allow motions to quash, allow judgments to be set aside should bankruptcy occur as a result of the SLAPP actions, and allow for the recovery fees of litigation and court costs.
Free Speech Exception
Until more stringent laws are passed to protect ordinary citizens, wealthy individuals and corporations will continue to limit freedom of speech and press by intimidating those who oppose them or speak against them with lawsuits and expensive court costs.
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