14 Oct 14 October 2022
In this issue of zoom-in brief, the Meghan and Samantha Markle defamation saga continues with Meghan seeking witness testimony from a star-studded list of individuals; Donald Trump brings defamation claim against television network, CNN; a far-right blogger faces defamation action from a drag queen following allegations that they exposed themselves to children at a Pride event; whilst Netflix settles its copyright claim against the creators of an unofficial Bridgerton musical.
Defamation – US – Clash over witness list in Samantha Markle’s defamation claim
The strained relationship between Meghan Markle and her sister Samantha Markle continues, with several developments in the defamation case brought by Samantha against the Duchess in Florida.
Samantha’s claim alleges that Meghan had made demonstrably false and malicious statements in her renowned interview with Oprah in March 2021, and in the best-selling book Finding Freedom. This includes statements made by Meghan during the Oprah interview that she was an “only child”, had last seen Samantha 18 or 19 years ago, and that Samantha had only changed her surname to Markle when Meghan began dating Price Harry. Samantha argues that Meghan “orchestrated the campaign to defame and destroy her sister’s … reputation and credibility in order to preserve and promote the ‘rags-to-royalty’ narrative [Meghan] had fabricated about her life”.
In May, Meghan filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on a number of grounds, including that the authors (and not Meghan) made the statements in Finding Freedom, and that the statements were in any event, not actionable or substantially true. Of particular interest is Meghan’s argument that whether or not she had a relationship with Samantha is “a subjective perception” that is “inherently unfalsifiable”.
Meghan has also sought her legal fees under Florida’s anti-SLAPP laws, which prohibit the filing of lawsuits that are (1) without merit; and (2) arise from a defendant’s exercise of the constitutional right of free speech. She argues that if these criteria are met, an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs is mandatory, and not at the discretion of the Court.
Focus has now turned to the contents of the witness list – which could be star-studded. It has been reported that lawyers for Samantha want to seek sworn evidence from 19 non-party witnesses, including Thomas Markle (Meghan’s father), Doria Ragland (Meghan’s mother), Oprah and Prince Harry. However, it is also reported that the Duchess has asked the judge to halt the process of evidence gathering – arguing that a deposition of Mr Markle and other discovery would be “an unnecessary spectacle and waste of the parties’ time, money and resources”. Meghan’s motion to dismiss is still pending.
The trial is scheduled to take place in October 2023 for an estimated five days.
Defamation – US – Donald Trump sues CNN in defamation suit
Former US President Donald Trump is suing CNN, seeking damages of $475 million and claiming that the cable TV network has defamed him.
In a lawsuit filed on 3 October 2022 in a district court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Mr Trump contends that CNN attempted to “use its massive influence, purportedly as a ‘trusted’ news source” to defame him “for the purpose of defeating him politically”.
Mr Trump claims in the lawsuit that the network has a long record of criticising him, and that it increased its attacks in recent months over concerns he would run for president again in 2024.
CNN has not yet commented on the case.
The 45th US president has not officially confirmed that he will seek re-election, although he has hinted that he may do so. His claim centres on CNN’s use of the term “The Big Lie”. It alleges that as part of a “concerted effort to tilt the political balance to the left, CNN has tried to taint [Mr Trump] with a series of ever-more scandalous, false and defamatory labels of ‘racist’, ‘Russian lackey’, ‘insurrectionist,’ and ultimately ‘Hitler’”.
The lawsuit identifies several instances of CNN allegedly comparing Trump to the Nazi leader, including a special report in January of this year by host Fareed Zakaria that included footage of Hitler.
In a statement last week, Mr Trump said he would be bringing lawsuits against other major news organisations, and threatened “appropriate action” against the congressional committee investigating the 6 January 2022 attack on the US Capitol.
A day after filing the lawsuit, Mr Trump sent out a fund-raising email asking supporters to donate to his cause, telling them “Remember, when they come after ME, they are really coming after YOU”.
Defamation – US – Drag queen sues right wing blogger over exposure claim
Drag queen Eric Posey (who goes by the stage name Mona Liza Million) has filed a defamation claim against Summer Bushnell, a far-right blogger, after she told followers of her blog The Bushnell Report that Posey had exposed himself to children in June at a Pride Event in Idaho and called for his arrest. She also released a doctored video purporting to show the same in which Posey’s groin appeared blurred. Bushnell shared the video across her accounts on other platforms and the allegation quickly went viral online, with over 19,000 views according to the claim.
The Coeur D’Alene Police Department said that it received a number of complaints but not from people who saw the performance itself. The claim was subsequently proven to be false after a police investigation found no wrongdoing by Posey. The prosecutor had obtained an unedited copy of the footage which they said showed no evidence of indecent exposure.
Posey claims that, as a result of Bushnell’s allegations his reputation was damaged and he has lost professional opportunities. He claims that his image was used on flyers posted around the town and fuelled misinformation about a kids drag show performance at another Pride festival. He seeks $10,000 plus attorney’s fees.
NBC reports that Bushnell, who was unrepresented at the time of providing the statement, appeared to double down on the claim, stating “I have not defamed him … I did not know his legal name until I got served, and I maintain that he should not have done what he did in front of children in a public venue.”
The event was notable because over 30 members of the Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, were arrested nearby and charged with conspiracy to riot. Many have pleaded not guilty, but the Posey lawsuit alleges that Bushnell’s post was an attempt to boost her profile off the back of these arrests. The events giving rise to the lawsuit are the latest escalation of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric among far-right groups.
Bushnell is yet to formally respond to the lawsuit.
zoom-in previously reported that Netflix brought a copyright claim against influencers Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear after they performed the Unofficial Bridgerton musical at a live, ticketed, for-profit show at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. The pair had previously won a Grammy for ‘Best Musical Theater Album’ following their musical adaptation of the award-winning series.
Netflix had previously backed the pair’s creative endeavour, but a spokesperson for the streaming giant stated that the performance of the musical on the same night of Netflix’s Bridgerton Experience in the city, drew fans away from the Netflix event and created confusion as to whether Netflix endorsed the musical.
Netflix claims that this musical went far beyond fan fiction and instead was a “blatant infringement of intellectual property rights”.
Whilst the case has now settled, neither party has commented publicly. Documents filed with the federal district court state that it was dismissed ‘with prejudice’, meaning that the lawsuit cannot be re-issued.
Abbas Media Law is a niche law firm, specialising in advice to independent production companies and broadcasters. We are true experts in our field: all lawyers and advisors have in the past worked either in-house for broadcasters and/or production companies. Accordingly, we fully understand production and the needs of our clients. We offer expert advice and representation on all programme content related matters (legal and regulatory), all aspects of business affairs, as well as complaints-handling and litigation. Visit www.abbasmedialaw.com or contact us directly at email@example.com.