From the "lol journalism" Files: No, The Defamation Case Against Courtney Love Will Not Change Twitter

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98 Responses

  1. Speed says:

    Who or what is Courtney Love?

  2. Exodor says:

    The worst part of this story is it casts Courtney Love as the calm voice of reason.

  3. Grifter says:

    @Speed:

    She's a little-known actress, co-starring in the classic film "Straight to Hell".

  4. mcinsand says:

    ABC has certainly advanced the art when it comes to using news to misinform the public and lower our collective IQ. They paved the way for such anti-informational greats as The Drudge Report, The Daily Kos, Paul Krugman, and events such as CBS's fake Bush documents. Although I am reluctant to an extreme to cite Cal Thomas, he had an excellent article some years ago with a theory on why mainstream news sinks ever lower: commercials. News shows are no longer about a public service to educate the public; they are a matter of getting viewers and ratings to sell commercial time. So, they will exaggerate, tease, or outright anti-inform simply to lure in viewers.

  5. KronWeld says:

    @Speed:

    Google is very easy to use, why not try it? I first heard of her as Kurt Cobain's wife. She is a singer, song writer, guitarist, artist and actress. I'm not sure how well she is thought of any any of these roles.

  6. Jack B. says:

    She's a little-known actress, co-starring in the classic film "Straight to Hell".

    Damn you, Grifter. Damn you to hell!

  7. Kirk Taylor says:

    I think speed might have been engaging in a little who cares sarcasm…at least I hope so.

  8. goober says:

    Yup. When Courtney love is the sane one in a situation in which you're involved, I would suggest that this should lead one to at least a moment of self-doubt and introspection.

  9. rsteinmetz70112 says:

    I have observed that most journalism sucks, not just the legal type. Every time I read about a matter or subject I know a lot about the journalist generally gets it significantly wrong.

    BTW has something changed in the comment section s here? I find that every article I have looked at with more than a few hundred comments does show the comment box.

  10. Josh C says:

    I once had an introductory chemistry professor who would stop working problems halfway through, because from that point the solution was obvious to him. Unfortunately, it was not obvious to anyone in the class. He normally taught graduate students, and had been working in the field so long that he genuinely had no idea what was hard.

    When you say, "It took me 30 seconds on Westlaw…" it sounds very similar.

  11. Sasquach (no t for the squach) says:

    This case and the exchange between Ken and Brian Claypool does prove one thing quite conclusively: that Twitter, as implied by its name, is full of twits.

  12. Speed says:

    @KronWeld:

    Who or what is Kurt Cobain?

  13. Ken White says:

    @Josh C: Except that it is reasonable to assume that someone tasked by a major network to report legal news could develop skills with a simple research tool that first-year law students use with no problems. It's actually easier than Google. All I did was go to the directory for all state and federal cases and search for "Twitter" used within a paragraph of defamation or libel. I used a couple of Westlaw search terms (like "/p", denoting within a paragraph), but otherwise the search was simple and obvious. There is absolutely no reason someone tasked by a major network to report on a trial could not have done it. I am too dumb by a substantial margin to succeed in a chemistry class. This is not even as difficult as high-school chemistry.

  14. Joel says:

    That edit confirmed my suspicions about the type of person a major media outlet would seek out for "expert opinions/analysis". Circular restatement of talking points in the face of intelligent discourse (or even, as in this case, rudimentary logic and thinking skills) showing that they use words in the same way as a parrot–formation of familiar sounds with no actual understanding that the sounds have additional meaning.

  15. Kilroy says:

    So if i'm understanding this correctly, it be liable to write that Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain, but if I state it on twitter, it would be understood that I would just be referencing the common conspiracy theory regarding the death of one of the greatest grunge rockers of all time and not actually stating it as truth?

  16. Joel says:

    @Kilroy, only you can say if you be liable to say that. :P

    I don't think stating Courtney Love killed Cobain is libel under US law at all, regardless of where it was written, unless you're purporting to have factual evidence to back up the claim.

  17. Kilroy says:

    libel, not liable… damn you memes! and now that it has been pointed out, I can't just edit it. Joel, your mother smells of elderberries.

  18. Ken White says:

    @Kilroy:

    If you said "Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain," and said it under any circumstances, it would likely be interpreted by a court as a statement of opinion referencing a common cultural meme, just as if you said "Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles." Courts would not likely take it as a literal factual statement. The context — where it's said — will be one factor in that determination.

    Take a slightly different case to illustrate the difference. Say I'm asked to give legal commentary on CNN about a civil or criminal case against a controversial figure. Say on the news program I say "moreover he used the bank's money to hire hookers and buy blow." In the context of commentary on a "serious" (for want of a better word) news program, that may be taken as fact. However, to contrast, say I went to a thread on 4Chan and Reddit where people are reviling and ridiculing this public figure and calling him evil, an murderer, a child molester, worse than Hitler, etc., and said the same thing. As in the court opinion above I quoted, my statement would most likely be seen as hyperbole because of the context.

  19. Ken White says:

    That edit confirmed my suspicions about the type of person a major media outlet would seek out for "expert opinions/analysis".

    Yeah, you never know what sort of hacks they'll dredge up.

  20. Joel says:

    Ken, I think if someone made a quick-and-dirty Twitter bot that pulled its dialog from your posts and used it to engage people on legal discussions on Twitter, it would be more insightful and relevant than Brian Claypool was there. Then again, I might just be biased toward circular arguments that include taint-based insults and pony diatribes.

  21. rsteinmetz70112 says:

    @Josh C.

    I think I had his brother for Calculus. He would write the first few lines of a proof and draw a big error and say "You can see intuitively from here."

  22. gramps says:

    I have a better chance of finishing that chemistry problem than I do understanding how anyone can take seriously the utterings of the widow of a grunge rocker (who are given to wearing clothes that a Somali pirate wouldn't want to be seen in). Lawyers?? Can they actually be defamed? Even 1 million lawyer jokes later…?
    [Present company excepted...]

    My calculus guy used the line "And as any fool can plainly see…." to skip unknown volumes of manipulations.

  23. Speed says:

    The job of Main Stream Media is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers.

  24. jdgalt says:

    Moreover, nothing about the Courtney Love case has the potential to establish a "precedent" regarding whether or not things written on Twitter are written, and therefore potentially defamation, because that was never in question by anyone minimally familiar with the law.

    I'm curious as to why that is considered true: a tweet doesn't require, and seldom involves, hard copy, and Twitter as a medium seems designed for throw-away messages, not permanent ones. (Then again, is there any reason to distinguish libel from slander? Is the penalty for defamation somehow different if it's in a long-lived medium?)

    Context is relevant to that determination. California courts, in particular, have suggested that expression online is more likely to be taken as hyperbole or opinion rather than a statement of literal fact subject to defamation analysis.

    This, I think, is the point of this post — except that "online" needs to be changed to read "in the sound-bite media". The courts have probably not made this finding (with that change) yet, but they should.

  25. Jim Salter says:

    The media is in business to make money. Giving more factual, less shitty legal coverage will not earn them a single dime extra.

    The likelihood of spontaneous change for the better absent any commercial pressure whatsoever either favoring more accurate coverage or punishing less accurate coverage is left as an exercise for the reader.

    (Try reading mainstream media news coverage as an IT professional sometime. SHUDDER.)

  26. Max says:

    I love Claypool's deliberate misunderstanding of your main point. He's not stupid, he's evil.

  27. Dave Ruddell says:

    Yup. When Courtney love is the sane one in a situation in which you're involved, I would suggest that this should lead one to at least a moment of self-doubt and introspection.

    This is essentially what happens in The Game (a book about the pick-up artist community. It should have led to self-doubt and introspection. It did not).

  28. Klover says:

    Seems that the quoted attorney is just a run of the mill grand-stander making everything out to be a big deal in order to promote is business. From his website I can only assume this is a common theme –

    Mr. Claypool regularly provides legal and political commentary on national shows such as CNN, HLN, Evening Express, In Session (Tru TV), America Live (FOX), Dr. Drew, Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell.

    As a layperson, I feel pretty confident that any attorney who repeatedly appears on the Nancy Grace (otherwise known as bat-shit crazy hack) has little more understanding of the law that a 1L

    In other words, don't feed the troll!

  29. David C says:

    I hadn't seen the "Gell-Mann Amnesia" label before; that's great! Though I certainly recognize the phenomenon.

    But it shows up in another context where it mystifies me just as much: just as people treat the newspaper as if it might be right on other topics even though it makes gross errors on every subject the reader knows well, people (and, more confusingly, judges) treat the government as if it might be telling the truth about what it's doing now even though investigation always shows it to have lied about what it was doing in the past.

    The one that confuses me the most is the State Secrets doctrine. After the details of the case where it was invented were declassified, and the government was shown to have lied even then about whether any actual state secrets were involved, how can government attorneys ever invoke it again with a straight face? How can judges still take it seriously?

    Amnesia, for sure.

  30. Josh C says:

    Is Westlaw free? I went and poked around, and the thing that looked most relevant was around $800/year, if I were an attorney. I have no idea how that price would change otherwise, nor if I just missed an obvious 'search' option.

    Regardless, you've been using this tool for two decades. Of course you find it reflexively easy to use. You're starting from 'load the website, log in, fire off a question.' A layperson is starting from nothing. His step one is 'discover that searchable databases of cases even exist.' You've even talked about this yourself already, when you talk about pro se litigants.

    (Either way, your point on how journalists should behave holds true either way: they should do due-diligence fact checking whether it's hard or not.)

  31. Kelly says:

    Ken,
    After reading your comment:
    "First, 'Twibel' is not a legal thing; ABC, stop trying to make it a thing."

    All I can think of is from Mean Girls:
    "Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen."

  32. Ken White says:

    Josh C: It's free to law students and certain institutions.

    My point isn't to say to the people reading ABC News "ha, you're stupid because you didn't look it up on Westlaw." My point is that checking resources widely available to legal professionals is a low bar that institutions like ABC should expect its "legal journalists" to clear. If you can Google something, you can search Westlaw.

  33. Kilroy says:

    or use Google scholar… which is free for everyone.

  34. James Pollock says:

    The job of Main Stream Media is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers.

    This is true (and not always understood by people disappointed when network X cancels a show with a small, but devoted, fan base… the network does not exist to deliver programming to viewers, it exists to deliver eyeballs to advertisers.)

    However, it is equally true when applied to a significant, and increasing, portion of the Internet as well.

  35. Ken says:

    I think I had his brother for Calculus. He would write the first few lines of a proof and draw a big error and say "You can see intuitively from here."

    The first few lines of a proof and a picture of Bill Buckner? That would be original.

    Meaning no offense to Billy Buck, who I always liked as a ballplayer.

  36. Pat says:

    Maybe before we try and educate Mr. Claypool about defamation law, we ought to instead focus on his completely unnecessary overuse of the exclamation point…

  37. James Pollock says:

    (Try reading mainstream media news coverage as an IT professional sometime. SHUDDER.)

    No. You can't make me do it.
    A personal favorite, however, has to be the bit I heard in the new year's day Jan 1, 2000 TV coverage. The anchorperson was discussing the Y2K problem and the fact that it hadn't manifested very many problems, and then took credit on behalf of his news organization because they started covering the topic in 1995, thereby scoring a perfect score:
    1) not all Y2K problems were expected to manifest on Jan 1, 2000.
    2) we spent years fixing the problems we could find, because
    3) IT professionals were aware of the Y2K problem by late 1969. That is not a typo. The TV news organization was bragging about being 25 years late to the story.

    (How come IT professionals knew about the Y2K problem in the 1960's? Because the Y2K problem manifests when you try to do mathematical operations based on dates and don't allocate enough storage to the dates. In the 1960's, the only organizations who had both the money and the need for comptuers were the government and the banks… which were using them to calculate payments on 30-year mortgages.)

    (Wait, wait, wait… if IT professionals knew about the Y2K problem in the 1960's, why didn't they do something about it before the 1990's?
    Two reasons: First, they thought that the systems that were built in those early days would have been replaced by newer, perhaps better designed programs by the time it became an issue, and Second, IT workers do not decide their own assignments. Business managers assign tasks to IT workers, and it is exceedingly difficult to convince a business manager to address problems that either may or may not occur, and if they occur will not occur for many years in the future. The notion "let's spend lots and lots of money out of this quarter's budget to locate a problem that may or may not be present and even if it is present, will have no detrimental effects on this quarter's profitability is a poor business case. It's doubly poor if the business manager in question earns a bonus for keeping budget down and profitibility up, calculated using this quarter's earnings. That kind of short term thinking is what leads to global financial markets, but it's what business schools teach, because businesses that DON'T pay attention to quarterly results tend not to have long-term prospects.)

  38. Ken in NH says:

    Perhaps Mr. Claypool and/or ABC intend to erect a monument to the case on the court house lawn. That would make it monumental.

  39. James Pollock says:

    Regardless, you've been using this tool for two decades. Of course you find it reflexively easy to use. You're starting from 'load the website, log in, fire off a question.' A layperson is starting from nothing.

    Once upon a time, legal research consisted of being able to find cases related to the issue at hand by searching through literally hundreds of volumes of reported cases. This is done not by memorizing (which is a danger because the law can change) but by knowing how to find things buried in that vast sea of data.
    In the old days, you did this by using an "annotated reporter", wherein a publishing company went through all of that stuff and built indexes that referred to different "search terms", the hard way. So you could, with sufficient time and skill, sort out and read the cases which were or possibly could be relevant. A major part of a law student's first year is spent learning this skill, along with a smattering of Latin phrases and a little bit of actual law. The actual law part is not the important part, and so most law students intending to actually practice law spent another couple of thousand bucks after law school to take a "bar review" class which covers the law that actually might appear on a bar exam.
    Of course, to do legal research the old way requires access to a very large pile of books, but that's the way lawyers were taught to do it in the olden times, and a few still do it that way.
    For quite some time, however, it has been obvious that computerizing the process was a far superior choice. There are a couple of services that let you search against databases containing the text of every case in the roomful of law books, and whereas doing it offline requires the indexes to be built ahead of time, doing it electronically lets you decide what search terms are important. It does take some practice to fine-tune how to get results that have all the results you need and not a whole bunch of what you don't, but it doesn't take two decades; as Ken noted, about 2 semesters is usually plenty. Understand that legal research, whether done with Westlaw and/or its competitors, is a basic skill that every practicing lawyer must have in order to do the job at all. In fact, this is one of the basic reasons why it's so hard to pin down a lawyer to a straight answer to a question that takes less than 5 minutes to relate… you cannot give a meaningful, definitive legal answer without doing the research first. This is a fundamental danger of legal reporting. Reporters don't understand the legal system, so they call up a lawyer and ask questions (which they (the reporters) may or may not understand the answers to). That's a recipe for misunderstanding. Now facter in the fact that a lawyer's first instinct is to be slippery any time they are asked a question about a legal subject by someone who is not a client, and who wants an immediate answer… And note that pointing out this slipperiness is NOT a slam against lawyers, but a reasonable adaptation to their reality, because giving definitive answers to legal questions may create a client relationship, which is covered by byzantine conflict-of-interest rules, and giving any answer at all without doing research on the topic is potentially malpractice.)

    Finally, note also that reporters are taught to work in a definite world… what happened, who did it, and when it happened all have clear, unambiguous answers. The car went through the crosswalk at 8:23am, Joe Driver was behind the wheel, and six kids went to the hospital as a result of their automotive interaction. That's a news story. Lawyers, on the other hand, deal in ambiguities that aren't resolved until the end of their involvement. This is why just about every legal question ever asked can be answered with "It depends". Was it illegal for Joe Defendant to do X? Joe Plaintiff's lawyer is ready with evidence that the answer is "yes", but Joe Defendant's lawyer is ready with evidence that the answer is "no", and it isn't always clear from a neutral position which side is correct. In fact, the more important the legal issue is at hand, the less likely it is that you can pick a winner from the sideline.

  40. James Pollock says:

    or use Google scholar… which is free for everyone.

    First, TANSTAAFL. SOMEONE'S paying for it.

    Second, it's not the tool that law schools teach to their students, and 49 of 50 states still require an ABA-certified law degree to allow students to sit for the bar exam, and subsequent entry to the bar. Westlaw is. (Again, as above, sample size 1, but I feel comfortable generalizing.)

  41. Rob says:

    Although I would not cast Courtney Love as the voice of reason in all things, she has written or ghostwritten several excellent pieces that analyze the music industry and explain how record companies take advantage of musicians. I would refer to most record company executives as f–ing, lowlife thieves, but that could be construed as libel (I think that the thieves would be embarrassed to be compared with record company executives).
    In this case, Ms. Love twitter'ed that an attorney was bought off, I would think that the attorney would have to show actual harm from such a vague statement. Ms. Love is one of these people who is willing to share her opinions.

  42. Dwight Brown says:

    James:

    I hope you and Ken will permit this digression, and I ask this with no intention of putting you down, but: which state is the exception?

    (I did do some Google searching. If Wikipedia is to be believed, California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington State still allow folks to "read for the law", California has the concept of "registered" law schools, and there are six states in addition to California that "allow individuals to take the bar exam upon graduation from law schools approved by state bodies but not accredited by the American Bar Association".)

  43. David Schwartz says:

    Have we really reached the point where it's unreasonable to expect a journalist to be capable of doing basic research on the state of the field they specialize in reporting on?

  44. Kilroy says:

    Dwight Brown: Wisconsin doesn't require the bar as long as you graduated from a Wisconsin law school.

  45. jackn says:

    @James Pollock

    Second, it's not the tool that law schools teach to their students, and 49 of 50 states still require an ABA-certified law degree to allow students to sit for the bar exam, and subsequent entry to the bar. Westlaw is. (Again, as above, sample size 1, but I feel comfortable generalizing.)

    Maybe this is closer to the root of the problem?

    My school (not law school) taught us altavista, but I was able to apply the knowledge to google (and even other search engines). Actually, Whenever I see an area where I can enter a query, I can usually figure it out without specialized training.

  46. Shelby says:

    Exodor:

    The worst part of this story is it casts Courtney Love as the calm voice of reason.

    No, no. That's the best part of this story.

  47. jackn says:

    Brian claypools last tweet above says the main issue is whether the tweet is 'opinion or fact.'

    I am probably wrong, but if its opinion, she wins.
    if its fact, she wins. (?)

    am I missing something.

  48. Joel says:

    Bad wording. He should have said "expression of opinion/fact", since libel is portrayal of false information as fact. You're right, if it's actual fact, she's still in the right, legally.

  49. jackn says:

    @Joel

    Thanks, I was almost led astray by a legal journalist.

  50. Jimmy C says:

    Based on those tweets, to me Brian Claypool comes out looking like a clown. Doubly so because of those silly exclamation points.

  51. anne mouse says:

    To the best of my recollection, my law school provided no formal training on the use of Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis, though both were available at no charge and "representatives" from both had our email addresses and sometimes spammed us with various incentives to use their systems which may have included offers of some kind of training.
    The required first-year course on the mechanics of legal research and writing had homework assignments that consisted of "go to the law school library, find Volume X of the Big Publishing Company Legal Index for Federal Courts, and tell me the Index Number of the case mentioned in the third paragraph of page 512." Most of the class got straight A's by borrowing the answers from the previous year's class, who in turn had borrowed from the year before, and so on for at least five years, which can be deduced from the fact that the Big Legal Index in the library had been replaced five years before with a new edition that had a different case listed in the third paragraph on page 512. Answers based on the book that was actually in the library were marked as wrong, and appeals were unavailing. This in itself was rather educational.

    I was going to add another rant about students (and lawyers and judges) who read the summary on Westlaw and don't read the case, but you can guess the result already.

  52. Lokiwi says:

    The case could be interesting if it led to higher court opinions discussing whether the relatively non-anonymous Twitter has the same predisposition towards not being statements of fact as other online communications. As Twitter becomes a primary method of disseminating news it seems odd to treat it with the same level of seriousness as an anonymous blog comment.

    The likelihood of the above happening is roughly nil, and I have it on good authority that Brian Claypool wears his ass for a hat.

  53. Josh C says:

    Fair enough.

  54. Darryl says:

    Methinks the case is "monumental" for Mr. Claypool simply because Mr. Claypool gets to be quoted by ABC News as some kind of expert.

  55. Michael says:

    jackn, you are missing that he is using a common and potentially misleading shorthand. By "fact," he meant "a claim about a matter of fact," or a claim that be can be assigned an objective truth value.

  56. Speed says:

    Rob wrote,

    Although I would not cast Courtney Love as the voice of reason in all things, she has written or ghostwritten several excellent pieces that analyze the music industry and explain how record companies take advantage of musicians.

    You came to this conclusion, how?

  57. gramps says:

    This Mr. Claypool is beginning to look like that fellow Greg Packer who was the subject of a post over at Paterico earlier in the week, Monday, maybe.
    [If I knew how to do it, I would include one of those link-things on "Paterico", but since we are talking about internet searching, consider this a little classroom work assignment. :-)]

  58. Jamie says:

    As the son of a retired lawyer, who grew up watching his dad pore over huge stacks of legal docs laid all over his pool table every night, i just have to say that this is my all-time favorite legal site. Ken, you are brilliant, as this posting clearly proves, as it really helped me understand a lot, so I just wanted to (again) thank you. have a great weekend! :)

  59. Dan Weber says:

    I have had experience with lawyers like that. What a normal person would consider stupid or oblivious, they consider just another day at work.

    Wearing the other guy down by asking them to explain very basic concepts or just pretending to misread sentences can be an effective tactic, particularly if the goal is to drive up the bill!

  60. AlphaCentauri says:

    ABC is calling a case monumental when an actual legal expert calls it mundane. But they also call every single snowstorm monumental, causing folks from Buffalo to roll on the floor laughing.

    Any statement made on television news would most likely be seen as hyperbole because of the context. ;)

  61. The Invisible Man says:

    There was a politician out my way that tried to sue a bunch of people on the internet, claiming they ruined his chances at election.

    He claimed people were calling him a sociopath and conman, which people did indeed claim. Also of beating his wife and bribing the police to cover it up. Because, you know… politician. And then he tried to sue them for defamation after discovery, in order to recoup the money he spent on his own campaign and these court costs.

    Hilarity of course ensued. One of the posters called his bluff and got themselves a lawyer, and pushed for a judgement on it challenging the constitutionality of his discovery requests to get the subscriber information of the posters.

    Obviously, the politician lost.

  62. eigenperson says:

    If I had to guess, I would guess that the factoid that this is the first "Twibel" (barf) case to go to trial comes from one Brian Claypool as well.

  63. Adam says:

    joke moved to appropriate thread

  64. David Schwartz says:

    @Darryl I gather that if you say, "there's nothing exceptional about this case" they ask someone else next time.

  65. G Thompson says:

    All in favour of sending this t-shirt to Mr Claypool say ay!

  66. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    The long downward arc of Media quality can be traced back to the death of H. L. Mencken. The news was no better reported in his day, so far as accuracy is concerned, but it was much better WRITTEN. It was possible to read a newspaper without feeling the strong urge to vomit day-glow.

    I blame the persistent fantasy that news reportage ought to be, or even can be, unbiased. In the ridiculous attempt to appear neutral and above the fray most reporters have achieved a style of writing that makes Dr. Seuss read like Shakespeare by comparison.

  67. gramps says:

    First to CSP: My father was a newspaperman (the vocation he put on forms asking for same), an editor actually. That was 70-odd years ago — Jeeus, I am old! His position was that, as you note, all reportage was biased. When you found something that appeared not to be so, you were seeing the work at someone really good at bias.

    On a somewhat related front, it looks like that old bad penny, Crystal Cox, is back on page one but below the fold. The 9th Circuit sent the decision awarding millions in damages to the people claiming defamation back to the district court for a new trial; problems with jury instructions, among other things. I'll try to do a link to the decision (PDF) as there is a lot of interesting discussion about libel, 1st amendment, public officials…. the whole shiteree, some which may have value in the current thread. Or not. Ken will tell us for certain.

    http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/01/17/12-35238.pdf

  68. wanfuforever says:

    Meh. Pat said it before me…can't stop looking at Mr. Claypool's exclamation points…

  69. James Pollock says:

    To the best of my recollection, my law school provided no formal training on the use of Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis, though both were available at no charge and "representatives" from both had our email addresses and sometimes spammed us with various incentives to use their systems which may have included offers of some kind of training.

    We got taught the old way (first), then Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis later, in Legal Analysis and Writing class. The Westlaw reps taught regular classes on their product and the Lexis-Nexis reps taught regular classes on theirs. I was on the Law Review, and for that the Westlaw was an unacceptable shortcut… we had to verify every citation by referring to hard copy from an actual reporter volume. And then another member would check it again, and then the article editor would verify the members' work. Fun times.

    Note that while it is to West's advantage to have law students adopt Westlaw, it is to West's DISadvantage to have law students learn how to use Westlaw efficiently. They don't mind it at all if the law students don't come to the (free) training sessions on how to use Westlaw. After first year legal writing, only a handful of classes actually require legal research… you get your cases to read selected for you (and with the boring parts edited out) by the textbook authors.

  70. James Pollock says:

    To play devil's advocate for a moment, a case can have "monumental" impact on society even if it has trivial effects on actual law.

    The reason is that what the law is, and what the majority of people think it is, can be substantially different. A case that achieves nororiety can correct that lack of knowledge even if the actual legal issues are quite trivial.

    That is, what is "monumental" is not the fact that the court realizes something (say, "you can defame someone via Twitter") but rather, that the general public was unaware of this fact and the case brings a spotlight to the issue. ("Holy crud! I never thought about it before, but yeah, you really CAN defame someone on Twitter! I should watch what I tweet!" (times thousands or even millions of non-first-Amendment defense lawyers.))

    To summarize: By bringing attention to what is otherwise largely settled law, a notorious case might either A) trigger changes in the public's overall behavior with regard to that legal issue, or B) trigger legislative action. Either of these could be "monumental" even if the law changes not a bit as a result of the legal action in question.

  71. Rick H. says:

    James Pollock,

    In other words, if this well-paid cretin can misinform enough people into adopting his inane meme, it will become a self-fulfilling assessment… by convincing dumb twitterers to be less publicly critical of litigious asses, and/or convincing dumb legislators to pass some new knee-jerk Act known as Courtney's Law. Yippee. A monumental accomplishment, indeed.

  72. Mike B says:

    Ken, I think what's being missed here (or honestly probably gotten and just too depressing to talk about) is that ABC and the people throwing the coverage together within ABC probably knew what horsehockey their assertions re: legal precedent and such are. My guess is that they just don't give a damn. The major networks all engage in this nonsense on a regular basis, as do their local affiliates.

    The only people who get enough attention to call them on this and have it matter are their rival networks. None of them are going to do this for 2 reasons. The first is that it would come off as petty rival bickering. The second, and probably more relevant since they snipe at each other all the time, is that they all do this all the time and pretty much exist in their own little state of Mutually Assured Shame if any one of them starts picking apart the others' stories (and thus gives them permission to do the same).

    Could the network spend 5 minutes of a probably unpaid intern's time to fact-check this? They could, but if they did they'd ruin their chance at a fantastically sensationalist headline and soundbite. They know that no one with sufficient power is willing to take them to task over it so they're just going to continue taking advantage of their situation to milk their lowest-common-denominator viewership with tripe like this.

  73. Mike B says:

    Although I would not cast Courtney Love as the voice of reason in all things, she has written or ghostwritten several excellent pieces that analyze the music industry and explain how record companies take advantage of musicians.

    I wasn't aware that this was news anyone needed explained to them. Not to sound facetious but I thought this was accepted years ago and people just accepted it because, well, basic human apathy.

  74. mcalex says:

    I thought this was accepted years ago and people just accepted it because, well, basic human apathy

    Yeah, and cynicism.

    Oh, except perhaps, for some of the younger set. Some of whom are slipping a guitar strap over their shoulders as we speak. I'm not a fan of Courtney, but anyone educating and empowering the kids against the labels and, errm, their lawyers gets at least a couple of points in my book.

  75. That Anonymous Coward says:

    Can we staple him to Nancy Grace, then lock them in a cage and see who survives?
    Won't solve the whole law thing, but we should be entertained while we wait for the media to do that journalist thing and get an intern to read the interwebs.

  76. Mike B says:

    Can we staple him to Nancy Grace, then lock them in a cage and see who survives?

    I don't think that's a very fair fight. Nancy Grace probably has a shiv embedded in her hair or something. At the very least we know she's a carnivorous bottom feeder, like some kind of angler fish that sustains itself on credulous morons. Those fish are scary as hell.

  77. wumpus says:

    No mention of Sturgeon's law? Legend has (but apparently wiki doesn't like the references) that when told that he shouldn't write sci-fi* "because 90% of sci-fi is crap", he retorted that "90% of everything is crap".

    Journalism gets sports (at least the parts you can see on the field) correct. Presumably the same for entertainment (again, only on the screen), with allowances for cheerleading for their own companies (i.e. everything Disney does is news on ABC). Business, at least the idea that at least one stock sold for the prices listed in the paper, can be checked. Once the media has gotten the very few things you can check right, they have free reign to make up, slant, or blather on anything else you can think of. The big difference in the internet era, is that you can occasionally find informed sources that insist on getting their specialty right. This leads people to question the rest of the blather, as opposed to the free rein that H. L. Mencken and 60 minutes' glory days had (at least 60 minutes was known to slant everything to a clear "good guys/bad guys" slant).

    "The news was no better reported in his day, so far as accuracy is concerned, but it was much better WRITTEN."

    H. L. Mencken wrote about his favorite tricks in creating the news. Hear a rumor in a bar, make up the details. Probably the most successful was collaborating with his buddy to "pool" news on the state legislature (of Maryland). They reporter who actually had contacts wasn't interested in giving them the stories, so they just made up their own. Since the "news" was seen in two different places (Mechken and buddy) it was assumed correct and the "real" reporter was scolded for missing the "story".

    * this was back when sci-fi was still in favor. Pretty long ago.

  78. Speed says:

    Ellyn Angelotti at Poynter …

    How does defamation law apply in the context of Twitter?

    We may find out very soon thanks to Courtney Love, who is the first person to defend an allegedly defamatory tweet in a U.S. courtroom when the Gordon & Holmes v. Love trial began yesterday.

    A handful of Twitter libel, or Twibel, cases have been filed in the past (see below), but none have actually gone to trial in the U.S. yet.

    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/235728/how-courtney-love-and-u-s-s-first-twitter-libel-trial-could-impact-journalists/

    [Angelotti] recently received her Juris Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law where she was also awarded the Judge Raphael Steindhardt award for character and leadership. Angelotti, who is a member of the Florida Bar, is an Associate Attorney at Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, P.L.

    http://about.poynter.org/about-us/our-people/ellyn-angelotti

    Angelotti was interviewed by this week's On The Media.

    The first Twitter Libel case in the United States went on trial this week. The actress and recording artist Courtney Love is accused of defaming her former lawyer in a 2010 tweet. Bob speaks to Ellyn Angelotti, a lawyer and member of the Poynter Institute's faculty, who says the decision in this case could set a social media precedent for defamation — and explains how the libel standard for print could apply to an 140-character format.

    http://www.onthemedia.org/story/twitter-libel-twibel/

  79. Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet) says:

    These days even accredited paralegal programs teach both hard copy and legal service legal research techniques. In both law school and paralegal school, they started us off on the paper books so we learned the increasingly irrelevant skill before the easy way. I had the advantage of having had jackleg training before paralegal school and both before law school, and later law review. Law review still requires that you use the book when it is available, but has become much more reliant on Lexis' database of newspapers and periodicals than in years past.
    Many jurisdictions have public access to the subscription services through libraries. In the town where I grew up, 40 miles outside Nashville, anyone can use the two computers at the community college dedicated to Lexis access, with a few time restrictions for class use of the law library area. That's not to say that every reader of the piece has the access and specialized knowledge they need to debunk claims like this. But the "expert"? If you're going to give commentary on legal trends and the Internet, you do not have the basic information you need to give an informed opinion without that research. If he's like a lot of lawyers I know who aren't really comfortable with the online services? Given the increasing desperation of law students, he could have bought a well researched up to the minute brief for less than a hundred bucks. I would submit that in a fundamental ethics way, as opposed to a "what is the textbook professional responsibility response/should this situation involve the board" way, it's wrong for a lawyer to lie about what the law is in order to suit a journalist's desire to make a bigger story about a celebrity. A duty to improve the profession, which I suppose includes public education about the law even in this context, implies a duty to not actively hurt the profession by misinforming the public about the law.

  80. anne mouse says:

    > he could have bought a well researched up to the minute brief for less than a hundred bucks.

    For quoting to a journalist, maybe. For class credit and decent quality (you said well-researched), the going rate is over a hundred dollars a page, and anyone qualified to write it could spin this into five or six pages. Just look how much space Ken filled up with hardly any citations and no case header — and that was simplified for a lay audience.

  81. AlphaCentauri says:

    For quoting to a journalist, maybe. For class credit and decent quality (you said well-researched), the going rate is over a hundred dollars a page, and anyone qualified to write it could spin this into five or six pages.

    Which certainly would be money well spent for a national network newsprogram if accuracy was their concern. But since the more they spend on research, the more this story evaporates … not gonna happen.

  82. Roadie says:

    speed wrote:

    Rob wrote,

    Although I would not cast Courtney Love as the voice of reason in all things, she has written or ghostwritten several excellent pieces that analyze the music industry and explain how record companies take advantage of musicians.

    You came to this conclusion, how?

    My first observance of the phenomenon was http://www.salon.com/2000/06/14/love_7/
    A little practice with the mechanisms we are recommending to Mr Claypool would turn up several other instances.

  83. L Nettles says:

    When my dad graduated law school in 1950, his degree was a Bachelor of Laws, aka LL.B.. This he explained actually meant Learned Lifter of Books.

  84. Jacqueline B. says:

    Love is more intelligent than all of you put together.

  85. Ken White says:

    It's true. Love is amazing. I've been married for 16 years and I can truly say oh wait

  86. NickM says:

    Mike B – no one said anything about unlocking the cage.

  87. Carl says:

    This sort of thing is why I cackle every time I think of this Lou Reed interview:

  88. Carl says:

    It's supposed to be a decent and honorable profession, but it is so overwhelmingly loaded with nonsense.

    I don't follow legal stories as much as medical news, and that's full of garbage too. Every single news report related to medicine is crammed into the shape of a few cliche stories:
    1. The guy the doctors wanted to let die, but he saved his live with miracle juice (CNN just ran one of these yesterday).
    2. Scientists completely change their mind about ____ (almost never actually true).
    3. A lone genius knows the secret to ____ and all other doctors are too stupid to understand.

    Everyone thinks their politically-sympathetic favorite news brand is trustworthy, and yet you almost never meet an expert in any field who thinks that news related to their field is ever more the slightly accurate at best.

  89. Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet) says:

    @anne mouse : It must depend on your legal market. I'm in the South, where cost of living and legal education is lower, and the highest I ever got paid for freelance research as a law student (3 years ago) was $40/hour…and that only because I had paralegal experience, a resume a mile long, a law review connection and a ridiculously short turnaround for that assignment. My rate for the lawyers who employed me consistently was more like $25/hour and I was the envy of my classmates to be able to pull that down regularly, as their jobs ranged from unpaid to $15/hour – for top ten, law review trained students. But if you're talking law students in bigger cities at more prestigious law schools, you're probably right about the rate increase.

  90. Speed says:

    Roadie, are you speaking for Rob or for yourself? Rob's post was made without any spelling or formatting errors so I'm sure he's capable of typing his own reply.

    My question to Rob was hinting at the similarity of his logic to the Gell-Mann Amnesia that Ken Write wrote about and linked to. I guess I was too subtle or something.

    I read the 13 year old Salon piece you linked to in which Courtney Love wrote that producing, manufacturing, promoting and distributing recorded music is capital intensive. Great insight. Who knew?

    And she, of her own free will, apparently signed a contract (with the help of a $25,000 agent and a $25,000 lawyer) that she is, in retrospect, unhappy about.

    She is/was going to fix the music world using the internet, a 19 year old web mistress (salary not specified) using radio and traditional CD distribution — "Record stores aren’t going away any time soon."

    I stopped reading after that.

  91. James Pollock says:

    you almost never meet an expert in any field who thinks that news related to their field is ever more the slightly accurate at best.

    They seem to do a fairly good job reporting sports scores accurately.

  92. Fasolt says:

    @Jacqueline B:

    Surely you're joking. I think I'm as least as intelligent as she is and am willing to bet that most of "us" are at least as intelligent as well. Some even more. I liked her past articles on the music industry, which I found insightful. If those articles are your entire basis for that rather bold statement, I think you need a little more proof.

  93. For the first time, a case of alleged libel on Twitter is going to trial.
    Really? Twitter was launched in 2006. ABC repeats this claim — that no defamation case about a statement on Twitter has ever gone to trial — but I'm skeptical. How did they research that? How did they determine that, across the United States, no case about Twitter defamation has ever gone to trial? Do they assume, incorrectly, that any such trial would result in a published decision that would make it easy to find a record of the trial? Are they just repeating what other media outlets say in conclusory fashion? Moreover, why is the assertion significant? Does ABC mean to imply that the trial represents the first time the legal system has had to confront allegations of defamation in Twitter? If so, ABC is wrong.>

    FWIW, I've been tracking media law litigation since 2000 — for MLRC until 2010, and on my own since — and it's true that this is the first known U.S. defamation trial involving Twitter. (There may have been an obscure one that somehow escaped my — and everyone else's — notice.)

  94. Jay Dubya says:

    >>>Speed • Jan 17, 2014 @10:04 am
    >>>Who or what is Courtney Love?
    Sometime in the late 70's a teratoma was removed from Nancy Spungen. After extensive plastic surgery and hair extensions that teratoma became Courtney Love. Of course that is only a hyperbolic opinion based on something I read on Twittor.

  95. cpast says:

    Am I missing something, or is the conversation going like this:
    K: "How is this new? It's obvious."
    B: "This is definitely the case! No one's questioning it!"
    K: "So how is it monumental?"
    B: "It's not being questioned at all! Everyone agrees!"

    EDIT: Unless he's saying the monumental thing is THAT everyone agrees there's no question, Twitter can certainly be a vector for libel?

  1. February 5, 2014

    […] In the case of Twitter, some suggest that the things people say should be considered akin to internet message boards — a place where people make strong statements that others understand are not necessarily true. As Popehat notes: […]