Hollywood Docket: Fox News Defamation Lawsuit; Univision-Charter Settlement; Gawker Bankruptcy Decision

A roundup of entertainment law news.
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A civil rights activist who advocates ending police violence is suing Fox News and Jeanine Pirro for allegedly endangering him by falsely reporting that he instructed protestors to attack an officer during a Black Lives Matter protest in Louisiana. 

DeRay McKesson says he was falsely arrested while attending a 2016 protest in Baton Rouge after Alton Sterling was shot and killed by officers there. He and 185 other people arrested during the event sued the Baton Rouge Police Department, which resulted in a six-figure settlement.

During the protest, a police officer was hit by a rock that knocked him to the ground and caused severe injuries to his jaw and head. He later sued Black Lives Matter and McKesson for his injuries. After a judge dismissed his claims against BLM, Pirro appeared on Fox & Friends and, according to the complaint, "made a series of outrageously false and defamatory statements about Mr. McKesson, including that he directed someone to hit the police officer in the face with a rock."

McKesson claims Pirro, a seasoned lawyer, knew what she was saying was false and her statements damaged his reputation and endangered his physical safety. He's suing for damages and an injunction preventing Fox from publishing or republishing the defamatory statements. (Read the full complaint here.)

A Fox spokesperson sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement in response to the claims: “We informed Mr. McKesson‘s counsel that our commentary was fully protected under the First Amendment and the privilege for reports of judicial proceedings. We will defend this case vigorously.”

In other entertainment legal news:

— The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday declined to reconsider its decision to toss defamation claims against Bill Cosby made by one of his accusers. Kathrine McKee, who accuses Cosby of raping her in 1974, sued in December 2015 claiming he defamed her when his then-attorney Martin Singer called a New York Daily News story about her allegations defamatory and demanded a retraction. A Massachusetts federal judge in February 2017 dismissed her suit, finding Singer's letter to the outlet was too subjective to be considered defamatory. McKee appealed and the 1st Circuit in October affirmed the district court's ruling. 

— Univision and Charter Communications have reached a settlement in their licensing dispute. The legal fight began in the summer of 2016, after Charter closed its $71.4 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Univision claimed the cable provider was using its acquisition of TWC to impose below-market license fees. The networks licensing agreement with Charter expired in June 2016, but its deal with TWC was set to run through 2022 — and the media companies disagreed on which contract now controls their relationship. A joint stipulation of discontinuance with prejudice was filed Dec. 8. 

— Gizmodo Media Group isn't on the hook for a defamation claim arising from a Deadspin article that was published before its acquisition of the site's parent bankrupt company Gawker was finalized. "The sale order included provisions that shielded Gizmodo from liability for claims against Gawker," notes U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein. Nonetheless, after the sale, Pregame LLC and Randall James Busack sued Gizmodo and Ryan Goldberg for defamation and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage over a story titled "How America's Favorite Sports Betting Expert Turned a Sucker's Game Into an Industry." They argued that their lawsuit was based on post-sale conduct because Gizmodo failed to remove the story after it took control of Deadspin. Bernstein described the argument as "disingenuous" and barred the plaintiffs from asserting claims arising from the publication of the article. He did not grant Gizmodo's request that any related post-sale republication claims also be rejected, leaving that issue for the state court. (Read the full decision here.)