The Dixie Chicks, the band famous for its political songs like "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice," won (at least this round) of a libel suit brought by an Arkansas man who claimed that a letter on the band's website blamed him for the murder of his stepson and two of his friends back in 1993. Three teenagers known as The Memphis Three were convicted of the crime.
AP reports that U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled that singer Natalie Maines can not be sued for libel because she based her statements on legal documents that she believed were true.
What is Libel?
Libel protects a person's reputation and good name against communications that are false and derogatory.
Libel consists of any defamation that can be seen, most typically in writing.
What Are the Elements of Libel?
First, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff.
Second, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made an unprivileged publication to a third party.
Third, the plaintiff must prove that the publisher acted at least negligently in publishing the communication.
Fourth, in some cases, the plaintiff must prove special damages.
Why Wasn't Natalie Maines' Letter Libel?
Generally, a defendant who publishes a false and defamatory communication about a private individual is liable to the individual only if the defendant acts with actual malice or acts negligently in failing to ascertain whether a statement was false or defamatory.
In this case, the judge found that Natalie Maines did not act with actual malice because Terry Hobbs could not prove that Maines knew that the statements were false or that she made them with "reckless disregard" of the truth.
An email Ms. Maines sent to her manager illustrated how she did not want to alter any information she had received from the Memphis Three's attorneys.
AP quotes the email: "All of the legal stuff is copied directly from the court filing and legal papers that were written by the defense team. I don't want to put any of that in my own words." It is clear that Ms. Maines was trying to be cautious about what she was posting on her band's website.
There was no comment on this dismissal from Mr. Hobb's attorney.