The New York Times yesterday described the dilemma of a Kalamazoo college student who created a Facebook page to complain about a towing company that hauled away his car from his apartment lot despite his having a permit to park there. The firm responded with a $750,000 defamation suit. Such lawsuits, says the Times, are becoming more common as consumers turn to blogs and social media to vent their feelings about products and services. Some first amendment advocates see this type of legal retaliation as a way for businesses and government to intimidate potential critics into silence. They refer to these seemingly meritless suits as SLAPPS (strategic lawsuit against public participation).
The public radio program On the Media recently reported on SLAPPs. The segment pointed out that federal anti-SLAPP legislation has been introduced in Congress. It's based on similar laws enacted by 27 states, including California, which is said to have the strongest statute. There's an advocacy group, the California Anti-SLAPP Project, whose mission is "protecting the right to participate in government and civic affairs and to speak freely about public issues." CASP has a useful chronology of the development of the California anti-SLAPP law.
-- Pete Basofin