Apr 4, 2010

SLAPP Lawsuits - Silencing Free Expression

Do you know what a SLAPP lawsuit is?

A SLAPP lawsuit stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and is a lawsuit that is filed by corporations, companies and individuals against people to burden them with legal fees to get them to drop their opposition and silence their criticism. A SLAPP lawsuit is not meant to be won, only to bully someone into silence (source: Wikipedia).

Let's say a group of people oppose a motion or business practice by a corporation or person. That corporation or person would then sue the protesters for defamation and slander, forcing them to hire expensive lawyers. Many people drop their opposition and protest rather than fight an expensive and potentially ruinous legal battle, even if the lawsuit has no merit. Bingo: protest has been silenced, and the corporation is free to continue the practice that inspired the protest.

Fortunately, states are beginning to enact laws to discourage SLAPP lawsuits. This link has a list of the more notable SLAPP lawsuits, including one filed by singer Barbara Streisand. SLAPP lawsuits are an abuse of the legal system to silence legitimate criticism  and stifle constitutionally-protected speech.

The Streisand case led to the term the Streisand effect, in which an attempt to silence criticism or a point of view leads to so much publicity that it would have been better had the SLAPP-filer never filed a lawsuit in the first place (a nice lesson for those who would try to silence others). Read more about the Streisand effect HERE.

In California, a group has been formed to fight SLAPP lawsuits; read about them here.
NPR (National Public Radio) has a program examining the issue of SLAPPs; check it out here.

Just another way groups are attempting to silence constitutionally protected speech.

No comments: