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Feb 1, 2016

Court Affirms Love's Win in "Twibel" Case

A California appeals court has affirmed singer Courtney Love's victory in a libel case brought by her former attorney over tweets sent by the singer.

The lawsuit involved a tweet in which Love accused lawyer Rhonda J. Holmes, whom she had hired to resolve issues with the estate of Love's husband Kurt Cobain, of being "bought off." The trial court dismissed the claims by Holmes' law firm, but allowed Holmes' individual claims to go to trial.  But while the jury agreed with Holmes that the tweet falsely alleged that she been bribed to refuse to represent Love, it also held that Love had not made the statement with "actual malice," required for the lawyer to win after the trial court held that Holmes was a public figure.

In her appeal Holmes argued that the evidence clearly showed actual malice, so that the jury's verdict should set aside. But the appeals court disagreed, concluding that  "there is substantial evidence to support the jury’s finding." Love's testimony, the appeals court said, showed that she understood the term "bought off" to not necessarily mean that Holmes had been bribed. "Given the context," the appeals court held, "... an objective reader would not necessarily understand that Cobain intended to say that Holmes had been bribed, but rather that Holmes had abandoned Cobain for an unknown reason."

Unless there is a further appeal -- which seems unlikely -- the unpublished decision brings to an end what appears to be the first libel trial in the United States stemming from posts on Twitter. (Other twitter libel cases were settled (1, 2) or dismissed before trial.) But it is certainly likely not to be the last.

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