Courtney Love’s $430K Twitter settlement shows libel rules apply to online rants

Courtney Love's settlement of a case sparked by online attacks on a fashion designer show that while Twitter posts may be short, they can also be costly.

Courtney Love’s settlement of a case sparked by online attacks on a fashion designer show that while Twitter posts may be short, they can also be costly.

The singer has agreed to pay Dawn Simorangkir $430,000, plus interest, to settle a lawsuit the designer filed in March 2009 over comments Love made on Twitter and her MySpace blog.

While the case didn’t go to a jury, First Amendment experts say it highlights the need to watch what you say online.

“People are getting in trouble for Twitter postings on an almost daily basis,” said First Amendment Attorney Doug Mirell, a partner at Loeb and Loeb (who did not handle the case).

“The laws controlling what is and isn’t libelous are the same regardless of the medium in which the statements appear,” he said.

Simorangkir’s attorney, Bryan J. Freedman, agreed, and said Love’s settlement should drive that point home.

“The fact is that this case shows that the forum upon which you communicate makes no difference in terms of potential legal exposure,” Freedman said. “Disparaging someone on Twitter does not excuse one from liability.”

Love’s attorney, Jim Janowitz, said the settlement actually saved the rocker money. “This is a case where the economics of the case didn’t make a lot of sense for either side,” he said, noting that the costs of going to trial would have been large.

Janowitz said he would have argued that Love’s statements were opinion and hyperbole, but not libelous, and that Simorangkir’s sales rose after Love’s tirades.

Twitter’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past year, in part because celebrities interact with fans on a daily basis by posting candid photos, thoughts and even product endorsements.

The widow of grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, Love has gained a reputation on Twitter with her posts, which are occasionally profane and sometimes nonsensical messages on a variety of topics. Several posts have lashed out at attorneys and other individuals who have drawn the musician’s ire, with her tweets coming in rapid succession and using every bit of the site’s 140 character maximum per post.

Simorangkir sued over several postings written under Love’s former Twitter account, courtneylover79, that accused the designer, who is known as Boudoir Queen, of theft and of having a criminal background.

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