Blogger v. Mogul: A Public Figure Online Defamation Lawsuit Case Study

public figures and blogger defamation lawsuits
Can public figures sue bloggers for opinion pieces?

A partial owner of the Miami Heat, Raanan Katz, successfully obtained an injunction against blogger Irina Chevaldina. The sanction comes after Katz filed an online defamation lawsuit against Chevaldina and Google over a picture of him, which Chevaldina posted on the Internet. The case is noteworthy because the injunction awarded is questionable.

The Picture That Launched An Online Defamation Lawsuit

The Katz online libel fracas has to do with a photo Chevaldina posted on her blog. Though I have yet to see the actual graphic, judging from reports, it sounds like the pic of Katz in question was  publicly available and had been manipulated by Chevaldina in an unflattering manner. The consummate business man, instead of going for a potentially difficult defamation ruling, Katz decided to purchase the rights to the photo. He then proceed to sue both the blogger and Google for failing to take down the image, which, he argued, violated his intellectual property rights.

Let The Defamation Litigation Begin!

At first, Katz included both Google and Chevaldina on the lawsuit; smartly (he would have never won against Google), Katz dropped the search giant from the lawsuit, but pushed forward with his claim against Chevalinda. As part of his litigation strategy, Katz’s attorneys moved to get an injunction against Katz that would prevent her from “trespassing” on any of his properties and publishing any content that may “otherwise cause harm” to Katz.

The injunctions put Chevalinda in a particularly prickly situation. Since Katz owns many of the shopping malls in her neighborhood, she says is essentially banned from living in her community. Undaunted by the injunction, Chevalinda once again took to the Internet and blogged about the potential illegality of the injunction. Katz saw the posts and his lawyers filed contempt charges against Chevalinda.

The Question Of Fame

The most noteworthy aspect of this defamation imbroglio is Katz’s lawyers’ attempt to frame their client as a private citizen as opposed to a public figure. By claiming the mogul is a private citizen means he would not have to prove actual malice in order to win the defamation case. Under U.S. defamation law, actual malice means the defendant purposefully published known lies in order to discredit their target. If, however, the defendant can prove they properly researched their topic and only published what they reasonably believed to be true or experienced, the chances of a plaintiff emerging victorious diminish greatly.

Will Katz be able to convince a judge that he’s not a public figure? Probably not. After all, the man has a street and official day named after him in the community of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. Not to mention he’s a known owner of an NBA team.

What to learn more about the difference between celebrity defamation lawsuits and private citizen defamation lawsuits? Click Here.

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