cross-posted at Main St/workingamerica.org
From the New York Times:
After a towing company hauled Justin Kurtz’s car from his apartment complex parking lot, despite his permit to park there, Mr. Kurtz, 21, a college student in Kalamazoo, Mich., went to the Internet for revenge.
Outraged at having to pay $118 to get his car back, Mr. Kurtz created a Facebook page called “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing.” Within two days, 800 people had joined the group, some posting comments about their own maddening experiences with the company.
The company filed a defamation suit against Kurtz, looking for some $750,000 in damages. This kind of lawsuit is commonly known as a SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation:
A SLAPP is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat.
The internet has given us a big forum to air our complaints. Many companies have searches set up to see who is talking about them, and what they're saying.
There are 26 states and one territory that have adopted anti-SLAPP laws. There is no national legislation, however, and the state laws vary in terms of the protections they offer. A couple of Congressmen are trying to change this:
Many states have anti-Slapp laws, and Congress is considering legislation to make it harder to file such a suit. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Charlie Gonzalez of Texas, both Democrats, would create a federal anti-Slapp law, modeled largely on California’s statute.
Under this proposed law, a defendant who believed he/she was dealing with a SLAPP, could petition to have it dismissed. If the suit was determined to be a SLAPP, the plaintiff would have to pay the defendant's legal fees.
A federal law would protect all of us, in every state. Those of us who sometimes use our keyboards to speak out against unjust practices would be protected from companies who would use intimidation and money to censor us.