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Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on First Amendment Rights Relating to Social Media and Internet Publications

The first amendment to our constitution provides us with an invaluable protection to say anything we want – or at least almost anything we want. Judges and attorneys frequently have to balance the rights granted by the first amendment with their duty to protect citizens of the United States. In certain instances, such as injurious false statements (defamation) or threats, protecting individual citizens takes priority over the right to free speech. Defining that line is something courts continue to struggle with.

In one lawsuit currently being argued before the Supreme Court, Anthony Elonis faces the possibility of jail time for posting violent song lyrics about his wife and children on the Internet. Elonis posted these lyrics under the rap persona of Tone Dougie, but he did not keep his true identity a secret.

According to the lawsuit, the rap lyrics include extremely violent images such as Elonis’s desire to see a Halloween costume that includes his wife’s “head on a stick”. He also talked about “making a name for myself” with a school shooting. The lyrics claim “Hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class.”

The lawsuit poses a particular challenge to the Court because art is especially protected under the first amendment. If free speech is valued in our society (as it undoubtedly is) that applies even more so to art. Art is a valued form of expression that has known therapeutic benefits. Some of Elonis’s posts included disclaimers or indications that the posts were meant as art or therapy. The question becomes, does that mean the court should not take them seriously as threats?

When the lower court ruled in this case, it determined that all that was needed to prove a statement was a threat was if “a reasonable person” would foresee that others would view statements “as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily injury or take the life of an individual.” Based on this definition, the court ruled against Elonis and sentenced him to 44 months in prison. In making this decision, the court considered testimony from Elonis’s wife that said “I felt like I was being stalked. … I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my family’s lives.”

However, this definition of a threat provides difficulties. How are courts to determine who is a reasonable person?

To support the idea that art is normally afforded special protections, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. cited Eminem lyrics in which the famous rapper appeared to threaten to drown his wife. Justice Roberts asked if that could be prosecuted. When Michael Dreeben, the government lawyer, started to say something about context, Justice Roberts interrupted him saying “Because Eminem said it instead of somebody else?” The law is intended to treat all citizens as equals, so if it would be unreasonable to expect Eminem to get arrested for the content of his songs, according to the Supreme Court, it is equally unreasonable to expect another writer of rap lyrics to go to jail.

Our Chicago libel attorneys concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.

Our Chicago defamation lawyers defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Schaumburg, and Palatine, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and off line media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorneys Peter Lubin and Vincent DiTommaso Super Lawyers in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation and Consumer Rights Litigation. DiTommaso-Lubin’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business law suits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

 

 

DiTommaso-Lubin’s Wheaton and Western Springs defamation and libel attorneys have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Wheaton and Joliet, we serve clients throughout DuPage County, Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business on line at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (877) 990-4990 or online by filling out our contact us form.