The video of Jason Spencer walking backward with his pants down while screaming “America!” was widely viewed and mocked after it aired on Sacha Baron Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” While it’s certainly embarrassing for Spencer, who later resigned his position as a Georgia state lawmaker, is it worthy of a lawsuit?
Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to getting sued by people who appear on screen with him. His movies and TV shows tend to poke fun at people and put them in a less-than-flattering light, so it’s never a surprise when they become upset after seeing themselves on screen. The latest round of lawsuits looks like it might come from several politicians who appeared on Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” although it’s unclear exactly what their claims will be. Some of them have already made public comments saying they’ll pursue all legal remedies, but no lawsuits have yet been filed.
There are a few problems with these people trying to sue Cohen and/or the show’s producers. The first is the high probability that they all signed release agreements. While one upset politician has admitted to having signed a release, another said he doesn’t remember, but that it’s likely that he did.
If Cohen and his team can produce those releases, they shouldn’t have much trouble getting the lawsuits dismissed.
Even without the lawsuits, what claims could they list on a lawsuit? That they embarrassed themselves on camera? While the fact that they were misled into saying and doing certain things that they (allegedly) would never do otherwise, the fact remains that they are the ones who said and did them. A defamation lawsuit requires another person to have knowingly made a false statement with the intention of inflicting some sort of financial and/or emotional harm, but Cohen did not make any of the defamatory statements. Since a person cannot legally defame themselves under the law, these politicians have no claim against Cohen.
Even if Cohen had made any negative statements about them, they’d have a hard time proving defamation, since they’re all politicians. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was specifically written with the idea of protecting the public by allowing for the freedom of speech, especially about public figures and events. Since there is particular value in allowing for free speech about public figures, they have a higher burden of proof to bear when trying to make a case for defamation.
Not to mention the nature of Cohen’s show. Not only was he poking fun at public figures, but he was also making light of national and international events and relations, all of which is protected under the First Amendment.
Finally, there are the anti-SLAPP laws. “SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” Essentially, it means someone filed a lawsuit with the sole intention of preventing the defendant from participating in a certain activity. In Cohen’s case, lawsuits filed against him by people who appeared on his show could be perceived as efforts to silence Cohen as an actor and an artist – to prevent him from talking about politicians and national events that affect us all.
Anti-SLAPP laws exist in 28 states (including California) and Cohen and his team have successfully had other lawsuits against them dismissed by citing anti-SLAPP laws. Should these politicians attempt to sue him for the things he had them do on his show, their lawsuits will likely meet similar fates.
Our Lincolnshire, IL libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and 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. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation attorneys 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 Northbrook and Glencoe who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline 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.
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Lubin Austermuehle’s Chicago Northshore defamation and slander lawyers near Carol Stream and Wheaton have more than three 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 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 Northfield and Winnetka, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.