A rather unusual story has surfaced recently. Apparently, a lawyer representing the producers of the motion picture, “Mary, Mother of Christ” is threatening legal action against the news site TechDirt. We took a look at what happened and couldn’t really find anything that would reflect poorly on TechDirt.
The story starts an article that was published on TechDirt saying that the government is somehow receiving 10% royalties for a film that is to be produced. Shortly after, TechDirt received a legal threat saying that the article was defamatory and that the damages would run in to hundreds of millions.
Apparently, there are two sources of contention that we verified by reading the letter included in the article. The first was the headline in which someone involved was called a “drug smuggler”. Apparently, it was more accurate to say that the person in question was a “Mexican Drug Cartel Money Launderer” (which the article’s headline now reads). The second main source of contention was the alleged accusation that drug money was involved with the film somewhere along the line. We looked at the article in question, trying to find where TechDirt said that. We really couldn’t find any comment in the TechDirt article that said that. Unless the current version online now is vastly different from the original version (which, we have no evidence of outside of the change in the headline), then we are unsure where the accusation came from.
If you read the articles though, the details of everything, it is, at least for me, an extremely confusing affair. As I’m reading these, I find myself thinking to myself, “OK, so someone wrote a script, but then got extorted out of it, then the government gets involved, it’s discovered that there is an association with a Mexican drug cartel money launderer, then TechDirt comments on this, but that sparks an accusation of defamation from the film producers- wait, I’m confused.” I have to be honest, I’ve read scholarly papers and complex legislation in the past and some of these weren’t anywhere near as complicated as this.
Of course, this does spark a question in my mind. If sending in the lawyers in something like this isn’t the best first step, what is? So, hypothetically speaking, lets say a website said that Drew Wilson has stuffed a dozen sugar plum fairies in a bag and stuffed it in the attic. Of course, I know this is untrue, but this website is claiming that. The first step that comes to my mind is contacting the author of that story and saying that this is not the case and I don’t have any sugar plum fairies in my possession to begin with. What if the author doesn’t respond to the e-mail and refuses to change the article? Well, if nothing happens in a week, I would contact the editor and just politely explain what happened, and why I dispute the fact and why I want my side of the story on the site as well. What if the editor refuses to acknowledge me and the article is unchanged? the next step is to see if anyone else is republishing the article. Is it spreading like wildfire or is no one else really noticing? If no one else is really noticing, then I’d personally just drop the whole thing and move along. If people are making entire memes on it and it’s on every major news outlet you can think of and it’s really hurting my reputation, then I’d contact some of these sites to get my side of the story out there. Chances are, someone will be willing to listen somewhere along the line. Sure, one could refine this plan and make it better or go for a completely different approach that would work as well, but I think it’s still leaps and bounds better then the plan of someone publishing incorrect comments about me and just immediately sending in the lawyers right off the bat.
We’re not aware of any indication that the lawyer in question is pressing ahead with legal charges at this stage or any update beyond the two articles. Still, I think it highlights what is so dangerous about being in the journalism business in the first place. There’s pretty much no telling whether something you say is groundbreaking and important or randomly landing you in legal hot water somewhere along the line.