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Ryan Kavanaugh’s legal feud with a husband-wife podcasting duo isn’t over, but an L.A. judge has found his social video platform Triller can’t pursue claims that they directed fans to tank the app’s ratings via thousands of “troll” reviews.
The legal battle started in May 2021 when Triller sued Ethan and Hila Klein alleging they pirated Triller Fight Club’s copyrighted materials on their H3 Podcast — namely a match between influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul and MMA fighter Ben Askren. That launched an out of court “war,” according to Triller, as part of which the Kleins “instructed their rabid fans — known as ‘foot soldiers'” to leave negative reviews for the Triller app in the Apple and Google Play stores and promoted this “unlawful conspiracy” in a series of YouTube podcast videos and on other sites like Reddit.
Triller in July sued the Kleins claiming interference with existing and prospective economic relationships, and separately Kavanaugh in November sued them for defamation.
The Kleins in September filed a special motion to strike Triller’s complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which brings an early end to frivolous litigation arising from the exercise of free speech on an issue of public interest. They argued that Kavanaugh’s company was abusing the judicial system to “to harass, punish and silence” them.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Helen Zukin on Wednesday sided with the defendants, granting their motion and denying Triller’s request to amend its complaint. (Read the full ruling below.)
Zukin finds the Internet is “an electronic bulletin board open to literally billions of people all over the world” and, as publicly accessible websites, YouTube and Reddit qualify as public forums. The comments at issue, she notes “relate to the user experience of the Triller App,” which has had millions of downloads and been the subject of considerable press coverage and therefore is of public interest.
As to the merits of Triller’s claims, Zukin found Triller failed to point to a specific contractual relationship that was disrupted by the alleged conduct and hasn’t established any wrongful acts in furtherance of underlying defamation and incitement claims.
“Plaintiff has provided evidence that negative reviews were left in the Apple and Google app stores using similar language as the Podcasts at issue to show that Defendants directed their fans to commit wrongful conduct. That evidence, however, is insufficient to show a likelihood of success on the merits for incitement because, while they provide evidence of negative reviews, they do not put forth sufficient evidence to establish Defendant directed or ratified tortious activity,” finds Zukin. “Defendant states in the Podcasts that fans should not leave fake reviews and condemns such behavior. While Plaintiff argues Mr. Klein’s demeanor communicates something more sinister, the evidence put forth does not show that Mr. Klein authorized or ratified specific tortious activity.”
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