Actor Ron Livingston is having a rough time of it. No, not because he has a job he hates and has to live in a cubicle all day. That's you. He's a famous actor. And, as we know all too well, fame has its downside (right Britney, Tiger?). No, Ron's problem is that someone keeps editing the Ron Livingston Wikipedia page to say that he is gay. According to Livingston, he's not. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
What's wrong is that the misinformation is bothering Livingston so much he is suing in L.A. Superior Court for libel, invasion of privacy and interference with his rights of publicity. The suit claims that an unknown individual keeps altering the page to claim Livingston is in a relationship with a man called Lee Dennison, according to the UPI report. There is an additional cause of action for a false Facebook page believed to be posted by the same perp.
Two interesting issues are buzzing around the media reports on this case. The first is, did Livingston actually sue Wiki or Facebook? UPI and the blog Techdirt initially reported that he did. Wired and the sharp media blog Copyrights & Campaigns say, no he sued the individual responsible for posting the false information.
Who he sued is actually quite important here. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act extends immunity from suits like this to providers such as Wiki and Facebook. However, not as much attention is paid to the exception to this immunity for certain intellectual property protections that Livingston could exploit. Regardless, if the suit can be brought against the evil editor as an individual (if he or she can be identified) instead, the immunity would not apply and the suit would have a better chance of success.
The second weakness in Livingston's suit is this: is it a defamatory statement to call someone gay? In his Copyrights blog Ben Sheffner, a Hollywood copyright attorney, says, "It's a very interesting issue...[i]ndeed, a New York federal court recently ruled that a false accusation of homosexuality is not defamatory per se." Might an argument still be made that such claims would be detrimental his career which included playing the boyfriend of uber-femme, Carrie Bradshaw in the ever-popular Sex and the City?
As of this writing, Wikipedia is on top of the issue. the Ron Livingston Wikipedia page reflects that he married his current wife, Rosemarie DeWitt on November 9, 2009 in beautiful San Francisco, California. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
- Office Space Actor Sues Anonymous Wikipedia Vandal (Wired)
- Ben Sheffner's notes on copyright, First Amendment, media, and entertainment law, and political campaigns (Copyrights & Campaigns)
- Queer Eye for the Libel Guy, Should stars really be able to sue fo libel if someone says they're gay? (Slate)
- Actor Livingston suing over Wikipedia post (UPI)
- When Is an ISP Liable for the Acts of Its Subscribers? (FindLaw)
- Personal Injury - An Overview (provided by Law Firm of Victoria T. Ferrara, P.C.)
- Personal Injury FAQ (provided by Law Offices of Howard & Reed)