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Music Biz Agent Claims Colleague Defamed Him Through Twitter Impersonation

Joseph Cassiere's lawsuit over @QuotesOfJJ also provides one of the first tests of a fairly new California cyber-bullying law

Twitter Logo on Wall Street - H 2014
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Joseph Cassiere, a booking agent in the music industry, has brought a lawsuit against a former colleague who allegedly set up a Twitter account to impersonate him and make him "appear to be foolish, inept and sexually perverted."

The agent says he lost his job at The Agency Group, Ltd. because bands and industry professionals didn't take him seriously. He's now looking to exploit a fairly obscure California cyber-bullying law that was enacted in 2011 to recover damages. Additionally, he's pursuing a defamation/false light claim in his case that might have a judge exploring how communications are understood on social media.

Cassiere isn't the first individual to sue over a Twitter impersonation. Way back in 2009 when the new media platform was getting off the ground, Tony LaRussa also sued for defamation when an imposter set up an account under the recently inducted Hall of Fame baseball coach's name. But that lawsuit was against Twitter. This one goes after someone with a personal connection to the plaintiff — David Shapiro, who also works at The Agency Group and made Billboard's "30 under 30 list" in 2010 for representing a number of bands that have played the Vans Warped Tour.

According to the complaint filed late last month in L.A. Superior Court, Cassiere worked under Shapiro's "column," meaning that booking commissions brought in were considered part of Shapiro's gross. The plaintiff claims to have been successful in growing the roster of clients.

After being hired in 2010, Cassiere alleges that Shapiro began to cyber-impersonate him by creating a Twitter account called @QuotesOfJJ, with an actual photo of Cassiere in the profile page. The account followed other industry professionals.

The lawsuit doesn't provide any definitive evidence that Shapiro was actually behind @QuotesOfJJ. Instead, the basis for the suspicion that Shapiro is responsible is provided through nods to what others told Cassiere, the way that Shapiro mentioned @QuotesOfJJ on his own personal Twitter account, and the way that Shapiro responded when being accused of the impersonation and told to stop. The lawsuit says that Shapiro has denied involvement.

Cassiere says the tweets from this account were "abhorrent." One cited example of a @QuotesOfJJ tweet: "With Wrestlemania not being on tonight, i decided to have friends over. looking for a nut."

"This tweet was retweeted by Stefan Max, director of A&R at Atlantic Records and is still on the Internet as of the date this Complaint was filed," states the lawsuit. "Many tweets referenced Plaintiff trying to get 'nuts,' lewdly implying that Plaintiff was seeking the opportunity to promiscuously and publicly find sources of ejaculation."

Since Cassiere is suing under a false light claim, the emphasis is on whether the tweet caused a false impression. The law provides a defense of parody. As for Cassiere's cyber-bullying cause of action, California's 2011 law creates liability for credibly impersonating another person online for the purpose of harming, intimidating, threatening or defrauding someone, though the broad contours of the statute don't get into the nitty-gritty of how to distinguish teasing and joking from an unlawful impersonation. As Ryan Calo at Stanford Law School warned when the law was passed, the line between harmful intent and satire is blurred.

Nevertheless, Cassiere is pursuing such claims, saying that he had to constantly convince others that the Twitter account wasn't his. The agent says that in October 2011, he informed Shapiro that he'd be working from home until the Twitter account was taken down. A few days later, after some back and forth, @QuotesOfJJ was deactivated, and Cassiere returned to the offices.

But Cassiere says in the lawsuit that "the damage had already been done," with colleagues and clients continuing to ask about it and a general loss of confidence in his ability as an agent.

In 2013, Cassiere says he was in line for a raise before higher-ups allegedly backed off and terminated him. Cassiere says he wasn't given any explanation for the decision that locked him out of his email account and made it impossible for him to continue representing his clients. The complaint (read here in full) finishes off by recounting a trip to the Coachella Music Festival last April where he was allegedly told that his "perception and credibility was not good" within the music business.

For his emotional anguish, the plaintiff is seeking lost wages, medical bills and compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages. He is represented by Douglas Hayes at Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes.

We've reached out to Shapiro and will update with any comment he provides.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner