Hollywood Docket: Andrew Keegan's Kombucha Case; 'Gone Girl' Lawsuit; ESPN Settlement

A roundup of entertainment law news.
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Using "busted" and "arrested" interchangeably isn't grounds for defamation liability, at least when the writer is paraphrasing the reporting of a reputable source, according to a recent decision from a California appeals court. 

Examiner.com has beat a lawsuit from Andrew Keegan over a 2015 story that said the actor was arrested for selling alcoholic kombucha without a permit. The 2nd District Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 upheld a decision to dismiss the complaint under the state's anti-SLAPP statute.

Keegan sued Examiner and its parent company Anschutz Entertainment for defamation in Sept. 2015, alleging he was not at the church he co-founded, Full Circle Venice, when it was raided for kombucha sales.

Examiner argued the story was published in furtherance of free speech, was a matter of public interest and Keegan is a public figure who couldn't prove the outlet acted with malice.

The outlet also argued that the post was based on a Fox News article headlined “Andrew Keegan busted for selling kombucha at his New Age temple” and the writer's interpretation of it was reasonable.

“From my awareness of general reporting practices and common parlance, I understood the term ‘busted’ was synonymous with ‘arrested,’" said writer Mandy Robinson in a declaration quoted by the court. She said, at the time, she fully believed Keegan had been arrested based on the Fox News report. 

The trial court granted the anti-SLAPP motion, and the appellate justices held that was the right call. In this instance, the panel found both Keegan and his church are in the public eye, and a raid on the church is a matter of public interest. Even though it's undisputed that Keegan wasn't arrested, the court found he failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing on his claims. 

First, the court wasn't swayed by the fact that AXS does not review or edit all material written by contractors to be posted on Examiner.com.

"This alone does not create an inference that defendants’ manner of doing business is a purposeful avoidance of truth, or a deliberate decision not to acquire facts that might confirm the probable falsity of any particular article," writes presiding justice Tricia Bigelow. "Further, as it relates to the article in this case, defendants’ failure to review Robinson’s article before posting does not create an inference that defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the publication or a high degree of awareness of probable falsity."

Bigelow also explains that it's within the law for a publisher to rely on the investigation and conclusions of reputable sources unless there's a reason to doubt their accuracy.

"While being 'busted' or arrested in connection with kombucha may seem implausible, that there was a kombucha raid at all was improbable, yet true," writes Bigelow, adding that a more careful person may have sought additional information from another source but that's not what is required under the statute.

(Read the full decision here.)

In other entertainment law news:

— Reese Witherspoon, David Fincher, author Gillian Flynn and other individuals and companies connected to the Gone Girl book and film are being sued for copyright infringement by a woman who says the works ripped off her screenplay. According to a suit filed Wednesday in Illinois federal court, Leslie Weller claims her dramatic work Out of the Blue, which was written in 2005 and revised intermittently until 2008, and the Gone Girl works share a strikingly similar plot, characters and overall concept and feel. Weller says she shared her script with a consultant who could have passed it on to someone at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, which is mentioned in the acknowledgments section of Flynn's book. (Read the full suit here.)

— Lionsgate has reached settlement terms with a class of parking production assistants. The group sued in 2016, claiming they weren't properly compensated for overtime. It was one of many similar suits brought against multiple Hollywood studios. If the settlement is approved by the court, Lionsgate will pay about $350,000 to the class. (Read the details here.)

— ESPN has reached a settlement with Charles Smith Jr. and his production company 38 Films. It resolves a dispute over a documentary about Chucky Mullins, a college football player who was paralyzed during a 1989 game. Smith alleged ESPN used footage from his film Undefeated without paying a license fee or giving proper credit. The settlement comes after a Mississippi federal judge in October denied the sports giant's motion for summary judgment.

— Vice Media is being sued for copyright infringement by Radio Television of Serbia over its use of reenactment video from a documentary about the infamous Pink Panthers jewel thieves. RTS says the reenactments were the most expensive elements in their Pink Panteri film, and they were used in a 2014 Vice Reports piece without credit or attribution. Vice declined to comment. (Read the complaint here.)

— Sony Pictures general counsel Leah Weil was honored Tuesday night by the Anti-Defamation League's Southwest Pacific Region. ADL presented Weil with its 2017 Jurisprudence Award for her work as the studio's chief legal advisor as well as her philanthropic efforts on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America and Bet Tzedek Legal Services.