12:49pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Twitter Sends James Woods a Scathing Letter Over Attempt to Unmask Anonymous User
On Friday, an attorney for James Woods was in court in an attempt to push Twitter to produce records in connection with the anonymous user who suggested the actor was a "cocaine addict."
Woods is suing the individual tweeting as "Abe List" for $10 million. The defamation lawsuit aims to send the message to the defendant and "anyone else using social media to propagate lies."
After the lawsuit was filed late last month, Woods' attorneys followed up with a subpoena to Twitter in order to unmask "Abe List" as well as a second individual under the Twitter name "T.G. Emerson," who accused Woods of being a "notorious coke fiend and registered sex offender." What Woods might not have expected was the scorching response that would came back from the social media service, which has hired outside counsel to deal with this case.
In a letter dated August 21, Twitter's attorney Ryan Mrazik faulted Woods' lawyers Michael Weinsten and Evan Spiegel with not providing proper documentation, conducting unauthorized early discovery and making "vague, overbroad, and unduly burdensome" demands. The biggest objection, though, was reserved for a potential abuse upon the First Amendment.
"The speech at issue appears to be opinion and hyperbole rather than a statement of fact," wrote Mrazik. "Further, the target of the speech is a public figure who purposefully injects himself into public controversies, and there has been no showing of actual malice. Attempts to unmask anonymous online speakers in the absence of a prima facie defamation claim are improper and would chill the First Amendment rights of speakers who use Twitter's platform to express their thoughts and ideas instantly and publicly, without barriers."
Woods' lawyers believe they do have a prima facie case of defamation.
In a brief filed today they write: "The offensive Twitter postings were not in any way couched as opinion, joke or hyperbole. Nor were they qualified in any way whatsoever."
"Abe List" has hired his own attorney, Kenneth White at Brown White & Osborn, to defend the matter. The attorney is familiar to many as the caustic former federal prosecutor who tweets as "Popehat" and who blogged about the case after THR first reported it.
White was in LA Superior Court today as well and has filed his own opposition to early discovery in the case.
"Plaintiff James Woods is abusing the court system to lash out at a constitutionally protected political insult — the very sort of insult he routinely uses himself," opens the brief (read here. Twitter's letter attached as exhibit.)
With nods to Woods' own postings ("Put down your crack pipe," Woods once tweeted to a follower; "I wouldn't want you to spend your precious crack allowance being enlightened," the actor wrote to another), White calls out the plaintiff for "routinely" employing insults like "clown" and "scum."
"But Plaintiff apparently believes that while he can say that sort of thing to others, others cannot say it to him," White adds.
The brief goes on to argue that Twitter is a platform known for hyperbole, and that Woods himself is "a well-known part of Twitter's culture of political hyperbole." He cites a Daily Beast story that called him "Obama's biggest Twitter troll" and writes that "perhaps because he's so consistently combative, or perhaps because he's played the role of drug users in his movie career, 'James Woods is on cocaine' has become a Twitter in-joke or meme."
In Woods' own legal papers today (read here), references to other tweets are called a red herring.
"First, there is no reason any of Mr. Woods' followers, all of whom were exposed to the defamatory statements, would even bother to investigate the speakers and/or their Twitter sites to determine if they were reliable sources," writes Weinsten. "As to Mr. Woods, we are not aware of any false statements of fact made by Mr. Woods[,] and his sometimes sharp commentary on political matters is irrelevant to the allegations here."
The judge has yet to rule and instead has scheduled an Oct. 2 hearing to discuss the matter further.
In the meantime, White says he will be filing an anti-SLAPP motion. As such, the judge will first analyze whether the lawsuit targets free speech on a matter of public concern. If so, Woods would have to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing in the lawsuit before the case moves any further. To do this, he'll have to rebut the argument that the tweets are non-actionable hyperbole and opinion as well as show there's reason to believe these tweets were published with actual malice (knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth). If Woods can't do that, he could end up paying "Popehat" legal fees.