Mayor Reed Seeks to Silence National Website

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(APN) ATLANTA — Mayor Kasim Reed is using a high-priced law firm to attempt to silence a national website, Lipstick Alley, after some of its users on an open forum published comments that Reed claims are libelous.

On October 08, 2012, J. Randolph Evans, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge, sent a cease and desist letter to an Internet data center providing hosting for Lipstick Alley.

“This Firm represents the Honorable Kasim Reed, the Mayor of the City of Atlanta.  DEMAND IS HEREBY FORMALLY MADE that Lipstick Alley (www.lipstickalley.com) immediately cease and desist publishing any and all statements about Mayor Reed that are false, defamatory, and cause significant harm to his reputation and good name.  Lipstick Alley’s unwarranted actions and baseless allegations have caused and are causing irreparable damage,” the letter states.

“Lipstick Alley has published the following false, malicious and libelous statements, among others, about Mayor Reed,” the letter states, then quoting three examples.

The letter then goes on to outline three posts, dated September 11, April 25, and January 20, 2012, that make statements about the alleged sexual activities and sexual inclinations of the elected mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, and of several high-level city appointees.

“The statements, representations, and false light published by Lipstick Alley are categorically false. There is no factual basis for them.  Instead the facts establish that they are NOT true,” the letter states.

“At this point, any further republication by Lipstick Alley, after receipt of this letter, is a knowing publication of untrue statements, and as such, deliberately defamatory communications.  Further republication includes failure to delete the link and/or publish a correction,” the letter states.

“Toward this end, DEMAND is hereby made that Lipstick Alley remove from its website any false and defamatory statement regarding Mayor Reed’s personal life (including, but not limited to, those referenced above) and take aggressive steps to ensure that Lipstick Alley does not publish any false statements of this sort in any subsequent blog posts or other forums on Lipstick Alley,” the letter states.

“Lipstick Alley’s failure to comply with this demand by October 18, 2012, will leave us no choice but to recommend that Mayor Reed pursue all legal causes of action that he might have, which include litigation in which Mayor Reed would pursue damages, attorney’s fees, and costs,” the letter states.

The hosting company then took Lipstick Alley offline, but Lipstick Alley simply put the full website back online using another web hosting company.

On October 17, Paul Alan Levy of the Public Citizen Litigation Group responded to Reed on behalf of Lipstick Alley.

“This letter responds to your October 8, 2012 letter to Lipstick Alley, which you chose to send
not to Lipstick Alley but rather to the Internet data center that hosted Lipstick Alley’s web site at the time of your letter, and to another data center that had previously hosted the site,” Levy wrote.

“Your letter charges Lipstick Alley with legal responsibility for statements posted on Lipstick Alley about the sexual activities and sexual inclinations of the elected mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, and of several high-level city appointees.  You claim that, upon receiving your unsworn contention that these posted statements are false, Lipstick Alley becomes legally responsible for knowing that they are, in fact, false; you demand that Lipstick Alley retract that statements; and you assert that if the statements remain posted on or after October 18, Reed reserves the right to sue Lipstick Alley and, indeed, its former hosting companies for defamation,” Levy wrote.

“Your demands reflect a woeful ignorance of the facts and the law.  Lipstick Alley is a forum that allows members of the public to express their views about public figures such as elected officials, professional athletes, and popular entertainers and writers.  Lipstick Alley’s members are predominantly African American females, but all races and genders are welcome.  Messages are posted on Lipstick Alley without any involvement by the site’s creator, and Lipstick Alley does not express its own views about such subjects.  Each of the statements about which you complain has been placed on Lipstick Alley by one of it users,” Levy wrote.

“Lipstick Alley does not know whether its members are telling the truth about Kasim Reed, any more than it knows whether you are telling the truth when you deny the truth of those statements.  For all we know, the anonymous users of the web site may have personal knowledge of facts they discuss, but I am confident that you yourself have no personal knowledge about whether Reed or any of the other public officials have engaged in the sexual activities mentioned in your letter.  For all of these reasons, Lipstick Alley is in no more position to ‘retract’ the statements that it did not make than it would be to confirm them,” Levy wrote.

“Moreover, a federal statute, 47 U.S.C. 230, makes Lipstick Alley absolutely immune from being held liable for statements placed on its interactive Web site by other information providers, and indeed from being sued for those statements,” Levy wrote.

Levy told APN that his organization is particularly interested in this case because it wants to protect 47 U.S.C. 230, a statute which provides for free speech in open online forums.

Lipstick Alley is run by a woman in Michigan who has no interest in Atlanta politics and possesses no knowledge of Mayor Reed or other city officials.  The website is intended simply to provide an open forum for discussion, primarily for Black women, on a wide range of topics.

Levy said he received a follow-up threat from Evans.  

“There will be a response if you continue down this path.  But, I do not believe it will be the one you want… If you are unwilling to meet your legal obligations, there are other ways to make sure that you do.  You will be receiving a more formal response to you correspondence, and further other actions to assure your compliance with Georgia law, and accountability for the damages including fees that you cause,” Evans wrote.  

However, Levy said he has not received the follow-up letter as promised.

A technology blog, Techdirt, wrote an article about what they referred to as the “spineless web host,” PhoenixNAP, for taking down the original Lipstick Alley site.

(END/2012)

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