Congressional subcommittee holds hearing on federal anti-SLAPP bill

While the Democratic sit-in protesting gun control garnered the nation’s attention this week, a less publicized piece of legislation gained traction in the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice heard testimony Wednesday on the SPEAK FREE Act (H.R. 2304), a federal anti-SLAPP bill. The bill extends speech protections for defendants subject to SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to federal court and to states without anti-SLAPP laws.

Currently, 28 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes with varying degrees of protection. SLAPPs are brought against those exercising their speech rights under the First Amendment and on matters of public concern. Often the goal of SLAPPs is to silence critics by subjecting them to costly and burdensome litigation. Anti-SLAPP laws grant defendants of these suits mechanisms in which to quickly dismiss claims, stay discovery, and receive attorney’s fees. These laws deter litigants from filing speech-chilling lawsuits.

The SPEAK FREE Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) in May 2015, permits anti-SLAPP protections to apply in federal court and in states lacking an anti-SLAPP law.

Wednesday’s hearing (video here) included testimony from Bruce D. Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Aaron Schur, Senior Director of Litigation at Yelp, Inc.; Laura Prather, Partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, and board member of the Public Participation Project; and Alexander Reinert, Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law.

For more on the hearing, visit the Reporters Committee’s website here.

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U.S. Supreme Court denies review in right of publicity and anti-SLAPP cases

The odds are never in your favor when seeking U.S. Supreme Court review. Out of the 7,000 – 8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari received each term, the Court grants and hears oral argument in around 80 cases. Thus, this morning’s news that the Court denied review in two cases of media law interest came at no surprise.

The High Court denied cert in EA v. Davis and Mebo International v. Yamanaka, leaving open questions of right of publicity, the First Amendment, and the application of state anti-SLAPP statutes in federal court.

EA v. Davis asked the Court whether the First Amendment protects a speaker against a state-law right-of-publicity claim that challenges the realistic portrayal of a person in an expressive work. Former NFL player Michael Davis sued Electronic Arts, the producer of Madden NFL, for violations of his right of publicity. EA filed a motion to strike under California anti-SLAPP statute asserting Davis’ claim was barred under the First Amendment. The Court’s denial of cert left in place the Ninth Circuit’s affirmation of the district court’s denial of EA’s motion to strike.

Mebo International v. Yamanaka asked the Court whether state anti-SLAPP statutes are properly applied in federal diversity cases, or whether doing so runs afoul of the Erie doctrine. The Court’s denial cert left in place the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the California anti-SLAPP statute does apply in federal court.

 

Media law minute: Dancing babies, government gags, nobody knows I’m a lesbian t-shirt, and a controversial clock

Media law minute is aimed to give readers a recap of the week in media law and First Amendment news using 140 characters or less. Here are the highlights from the past week via Twitter: