08 Jun The Pussycat Dolls sue Daily Mail publisher over ‘prostitution ring’ claim
The Pussycat Dolls and their founder Robin Antin are suing the publishers of the Daily Mail over articles published on MailOnline claiming the group was a ‘prostitution ring’. The articles reported the comments made on Twitter by former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones which included allegations that the members of the group were abused by being given drugs and ‘passed around’ for sex by music industry executives. According to the lawsuit the statements also alleged that Ms Antin acted as the supposed madam, ‘den mother’, of the prostitution ring.
The action, brought in New York, says that the allegations are false and the Mail knew that they were false. It alleges that Ms Jones is disgruntled, unreliable, and ‘looking for her 15 minutes of fame’, and that basic checks before the article was published would have revealed this. The lawsuit sets out that Ms Jones was never an ‘official’ member of the Pussycat Dolls, having never been a primary singer or performer, with her credits limited to backup vocals on two songs in 2004. This was before their breakthrough single ‘Don’t Cha’ which was released in 2005. The Pussycat Dolls had recently announced plans for a reunion which did not include Ms Jones. The Daily Mail had reported extensively on the reunion, including that the group had parted ways over personal differences not any immoral or illegal conduct; and had run many other stories on the Pussycat Dolls over the years with no hint of any allegations of the type now sued over. As such, according to the claim, when Ms Jones’ allegations surfaced the Daily Mail had a duty to investigate further before publishing.
As the Pussycat Dolls and Ms Antin are famous figures, a US court may consider them to be ‘public figures’ in which case, in order to sue in libel they will need to show malice – i.e. that the publisher knew the allegations were untrue or had reckless disregard for whether they were or not. There is no such threshold for public figures in UK law.
This case shows the danger of reporting defamatory comments made by others, whether on social media or elsewhere. The ‘repetition rule’ means that anyone who publishes defamatory comments is liable for them, even where they are reporting what someone else has said. Publishers can, of course, report disputes between parties, but in doing so care has to be taken not to adopt the allegations made by one side. Particularly where there are very serious allegations involved, such as here, legal advice should be taken.