Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff, PG's Thoughts (such as they are) » Taylor Swift is Threatening to Sue a Blog for Calling Her a White Supremacist

Taylor Swift is Threatening to Sue a Blog for Calling Her a White Supremacist

9 November 2017

From Newsweek:

Taylor Swift’s lawyers threatened to sue a blog if it didn’t take down an article that refers to the pop superstar as a white supremacist sympathizer.

In a letter dated October 25, William J. Briggs, II, an attorney at Venable LLP, a firm based in Los Angeles, demanded Meghan Herning, editor of PopFront, retract and take down her article titled, “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.” Otherwise, Briggs said, “Ms. Swift is prepared to proceed with litigation.”

Herning’s 2,200-word article, posted on September 5, centers around Swift’s support among figures of the alt-right and neo-Nazi groups.

. . . .

Swift’s attorney charges Herning with malice and reckless disregard for the truth, claiming that “even a small amount of research shows that the notion that Ms. Swift either belong to or silently supports such an infamous and reprehensible group is a fabrication.”

The letter ends with a warning for Herning not to publish its contents.

“Any publication, dissemination, or broadcast of any of the letter will constitute a breah of confidence and a violation of the Copyright Act,” it states.

On Monday, the ACLU of Northern California came to Herning’s defense. In a letter addressed to Briggs, the group argues that the article is protected under the First Amendment.

“Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damager her reputation,” the letter reads.

The ACLU also contends that the copyright claims made in Briggs’ letter are “total nonsense” and malicious.

Link to the rest at Newsweek

The ACLU of Northern California released a statement about this matter. PG particularly liked the following bits:

“Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable,” said ACLU attorney Matt Cagle. “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech.”

. . . .

“The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon,” said Herning. “These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down.”

PG had never heard of PopFront prior to reading the OP and suspects a great many of the visitors to TPV and internet denizens in general had not either.

The attorney’s letter is a classic example of how to transform a complaint from a client from a minor, relatively private matter to a giant public fiasco.

PG has no doubt that Ms. Swift was quite upset when she contacted her attorney and further suspects that Ms. Swift is the source of much profitable legal business for the law firm. However, one of the responsibilities of experienced attorneys is to cool a client down and help the client avoid the consequences of turning a molehill into a mountain.

Counsel could followed his client’s wishes by sending out something that was obviously a boring form letter containing nary a quotable sentence to PopFront. He could have larded the letter with case citations guaranteed put any reasonable reader to sleep.

Instead, in PG’s litigiously humble opinion, the attorney’s letter poured a truckload of fuel onto a tiny little fire that would have otherwise burned itself out in a couple of days.

Here’s the letter from ACLU of Northern California to Swift’s attorney (and a lovely letter it is in PG’s musically humble opinion):

Download (PDF, Unknown)


Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

62 Comments to “Taylor Swift is Threatening to Sue a Blog for Calling Her a White Supremacist”

  1. Everyone’s a white supremacist now. It has completely lost its meaning. From what I can tell, it’s anyone that doesn’t want to completely tear down the current structure of society. Which is just about everyone.

    So really there’s nothing to be offended over if you are Swift. It’s just run of the mill internet chatter at this point.

    Threatening suit? Hahha. Yah. That’s just going to blow this thing up, and give attention to the troll who wrote it.

    • “Everyone’s a white supremacist now.”

      The point that got lost here was that the original piece pointed out how Swift had been adopted by white supremacists because of the imagery in her videos and some of her lyrics, not that she was one.

      She could have repudiated the charges by covering the right song and giving away a couple hundred grand to the right causes. This would have also gotten her great PR.

      But you’re right in this kind of nonsense is almost background noise now.

      This lwsuit, not so much.

      • Yeah, c’mon, Tay-Tay. Prove you’re not a Nazi!

        Seriously, Nate? You have no right to require that she contribute money to the “right” causes and cover the “right” song.

        Taylor Swift has maintained a completely apolitical public face, and I’m quite happy she does. Really, really tired of celebrities telling me how to think. Not very fond of anyone doing that, actually

      • Never mind the song.
        Sending a few million to the right shakedown artists would make the problem go away.

        It always does.

        “That’s a nice career you have there Ms. Swift. Be a real shame if a whisper campaign happened to it.”

        She’s a smart lady.
        This is one case that making a mountain out of a molehill will work for her precisely because of the Streisand effect.

        Drag it out into the open and out of realm of whispers and urban legend.

        • “This is one case that making a mountain out of a molehill will work for her precisely because of the Streisand effect.

          Drag it out into the open and out of realm of whispers and urban legend.”

          I have to agree with Felix. Anyone who starts a whisper campaign, especially one that tries to label her a white supremacist, deserves to be cut off at the knees. Whether she planned this or not, she now controls the issue, and that’s a good thing. Ignoring posts like this one only invites more.

      • Why should Taylor Swift be bullied into demonstrating she has the ‘correct’ views?

        Mark you, she’d have done far better to ignore the post, and be the big dog that lets the little ones bark.

      • Nate I’m afraid you are saying she should cave to bullies or ignore them. I don’t like that. I hope she clobbers them with legal drama.

        It seems petty and small but this incident isn’t isolated. Perhaps she is donating to the right cause by fighting the white supremacy hysteria.

        Upon second thought, I think this was planned. To blow the issue up. Likely not a mistake.

        • Whether or not she morally should “cave,” ignoring it would have been the wisest move in this case. Leaving aside the validity of the blogger’s opinion, now many of the people who read about this will think that if Taylor Swift feels that threatened by some random unknown blogger’s opinion, maybe there’s actually something to it. As Shakespeare put it, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

          • People are assuming she’s a moron who doesn’t know these things. I also don’t buy, at all, that defending yourself points to guilt.

            But again, being grouped in with white nationalists seems to be a go to move nowadays. A twist on the old Hitler thing, where every internet thread devolves into Hitler.

            You can see below that even I was accused of being a sympathizer with white nationalists. Lol. I’m hoping Swift is responding to this absurdity, drawing a line.

            Or she could be off her rocker, or her lawyer is. Hard to know.

            • Off the rocker is unlikely given how she has handled her career and catfights.

              If nothing else it is now a matter of record that she objects to being demonized by association. That won’t change whether the suit is tossed or moves on.

            • It’s just funny given how quick many musicians have been to publicly take offense when the wrong political party decides to use their music for an event, that this one doesn’t say anything at all when neo-Nazis start using her music–and instead turns around and sues a blogger who points that out.

      • Claiming letter copyright was, of course, silly. Could be the lawyer was just being a jackwagon, could be they were serious.

        • I’ve thought a letter’s author holds copyright ever since J. D. Salinger won his lawsuit over his letters. No?

          I didn’t read all of this post, but did read a news story about it a few days ago. I didn’t see why the ACLU was stepping in, and I certainly didn’t see how Look What You Made Me Do indicates Taylor is a racist. I play that song a lot and don’t see anything racial in it.

          • Could be there’s a distinction between personal letters and legal actions? I dunno.

            Don’t worry about listening to TayTay. She’s great! Haters just like to hate.

          • I think the ACLU letter addresses the copyright issue in the Swift lawyer’s letter pretty well.

            What the letter consists of is the key thing.

            If an author writes a novel via a series of letters, that’s a different thing than if a lawyer, acting in his/her role as an advocate for a client, makes demands, threats, etc., in letter form. With the copyright claim, the lawyer is essentially trying to say that the author of the OP can’t use the contents of his letter to defend herself.

            • Ah. Kind of a lame move. One wonders if the lawyer did it to be a butt head or be a bully? Both?

              • A lot of people find it easier/safer/cheaper to back off when a lawyer threatens them. In this case though, the lawyer doesn’t seemed to have considered his opponent very well. As others have said, this was a little nothing troll and no one would ever have noticed it – until they sent that letter and made it news.

                Even worse was using the wrong arguments on ‘why’ they wanted it taken down, that just made them look dumber.

                Smart thing to do (not that they’ve shown any signs of being smart) would be to agree to drop it. There’s no way to win and lots of ways to get to pay the troll’s court costs …

              • I get the sense that “this letter is protected by copyright, nyah nyah nyah” is a standard part of the lawyergram boilerplates these days. I don’t think they expect it to stand up in court, but they probably believe it has a reasonable chance of scaring the recipient into complying without questioning it, since the lawyer knows the law and all.

      • She could have repudiated the charges by covering the right song and giving away a couple hundred grand to the right causes. This would have also gotten her great PR.

        Now, there’s a growth industry.

    • “Everyone’s a white supremacist now.”

      Except for those of us who are S.J.W.’s. 🙂

    • “Everyone’s a white supremacist now. It has completely lost its meaning. From what I can tell, it’s anyone that doesn’t want to completely tear down the current structure of society.”

      White supremacy has a very specific meaning that one hopes still only applies to a minority, albeit a resurgent one, in this country: the belief that possessing white skin makes one inherently superior to people of color as well as Jews, who are often considered non-white by white supremacists and racial bigots.

      “From what I can tell, it’s anyone that doesn’t want to completely tear down the current structure of society.”

      Wow, you sure revealed where your sympathies lie. People who stand for equal rights under the law regardless of skin color want to destroy the social order. It’s indeed comforting to know that the current structure of society is safely in the hands of those very nice neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and assorted bigots who uphold the social order by running their cars into people standing on the sidewalk because they are endangering said social order.

      • Haha. What the hell are you talking about? Sometimes satire and stupidity are hard to separate on the web. Are you calling me a white supremacist sympathizer? That’s pretty vile.

        Try to remember the stupid stuff you say on the web can follow you around, satire often looks serious out of context.

        It looks like you posted this under your author name.

        It’s been awhile since I posted regularly here. I think I remember why I stopped.

        • Well, let me see. Peter has “identified” you as a white supremacist (or at least a sympathizer). So, by the logic of the Left, Passive Guy is also a white supremacist – because you happen to like reading his blog. Yup, completely obvious – when you are completely insane.

          Well, I am now “outed” as a white supremacist, too, I suppose. Hard to reconcile with my alter, who is a card-carrying socialist, since I truly love Eric Flint’s writing. I’m also a misogynist feminist, since I like both John Ringo and Anne McCaffrey. A conservative liberal (or a liberal conservative), or a libertarian authoritarian, I could go on all night.

          I’d better go take my pills now…

          • Have you read any of S.M. Stirling’s DRAKAS books?
            Or Tom Kratman’s CALIFATE?
            Best not admit it: either will get you villified by the hand-wringers.
            Modern day dangerous visions.

            • Ah, well, I don’t care… I’ve read most of Tom’s output.

              Much as I like his other works, though, I could never get into the Drakas for some reason.

              • I don’t think you’re supposed to get into the Drakas. 😉
                It’s more of a train wreck exercise, a look at what a victory by a truly evil empire might look like. It reminded me of the first volume of Saberhagen’s EMPIRE OF THE EAST.
                Stories where the bad guys win are rare.

                And likely to remain so with the reactions they generate among the closed minded.

                • I think you’ve pegged the major reason why I never got into the series.

                  But I wouldn’t call it “closed minded.” Most people read, most of the time, for entertainment. I am one of those. I do read some “bad guys win” things, and watch some “bad guys win” video fare – but not for entertainment.

                  (Note that some of those things that I think are “bad guys win” are quite popular – but I believe that is because a lot of people see “good guys” where I see “bad guys.”)

                • Sorry.
                  I wasn’t clear: not liking “bad guys win” isn’t what I was referring to with “closed minded”.

                  That was in reference to an entirely different breed who can’t recognize a cautionary tale or writing experiment or are simply offended the story exists at all and consider it excuse to brand the author and its readers as deplorable.

                  The sensitivity changes with the orthodoxy of the times but it seems there will always be visions deemed too dangerous to tolerate. 50’s, 70’s, 90’s, new century, the attitude persists.

          • Haha! Thank you for that.


  2. As the kids say, “Oh my f***ing god.”

    Swift should fire that lawyer for making that big a fool of them – and if this is what Swift had demanded they do the lawyer should have quit.

    Beautiful comeback, that reply was simply beautiful …

  3. (…and a lovely letter it is in PG’s musically humble opinion)…

    I also quite liked the letter. Thank you, PG.

  4. “’Any publication, dissemination, or broadcast of any of the letter will constitute a breah of confidence and a violation of the Copyright Act,’ it states.”

    I found this amusing because I happened to read a collection of Mike Royko’s columns recently. Roughly in the eighties, Royko wrote a column that mentioned a hair piece and annoyed Frank Sinatra. His lawyers sent Royko a nastygram in which some foolish things were said, including a similar notice that the letter was copyrighted.

    Royko, not anyone’s fool or easily pushed around, wrote a hilarious column that took apart Sinatra’s letter as stuff-shirted arrogance, including the threat of pursuing copyright violations for publishing the letter. I do not know how Sinatra’s team responded, but I suspect they realized that they had met their match and the more they said, the deeper they would slip into the muck, because Royko republished the column a few years later in a book with impunity.

    I guess claiming copyright on letters is an old trick, and not a very good one.

    • Royko was a true Chicagoan.

      No letter from a scuzzy Hollywood lawyer was going to intimidate him. He remembered the Chicago mob and knew more than a few of the mobsters during their older years.

      Here’s an excerpt from one of his columns:

      Let`s have a fast little multiple choice quiz on name recognition.

      — Tony Accardo is (1) a baseball player, (2) a famous chef, (3) an alderman, (4) a gangster.

      — Jackie Cerone is (1) an opera star, (2) an auto racer, (3) a disc jockey, (4) a gangster.

      — Chuckie English was (1) a dress designer, (2) a hockey player, (3) a country-western singer, (4) a gangster.

      That wasn`t hard, was it? Even if you are only a casual observer of Chicago social matters, you probably correctly identified all three men as gangsters.

      . . . .

      I was startled when I heard about the amazing ignorance of one Louis DiMenna.

      As you probably have read, Mr. DiMenna, who is a bailiff in Circuit Court as well as a village trustee in Elmwood Park, was one of English`s dining companions the evening the ski-mask boys put one between English`s eyes.

      English had been one of a dozen people who were guests of the owner of Horwath`s restaurant, on Harlem Avenue in Elmwood Park.

      The guests also included Judge Benjamin Di Giacomo; Judge Louis J. Hyde; and Don Storino, another Elmwood Park trustee.

      Naturally, there was some curiosity as to why judges and village trustees would be having dinner with so prominent a gangster.

      Judge Di Giacomo said he used be English`s lawyer and met with him to discuss some work he had done in the past.

      Trustee Storino said he hardly knew English, other than to see him in the restaurant they both frequented. Judge Hyde said he went to the meal with his bailiff, DiMenna. He said he knew English only because DiMenna had introduced them.

      And DiMenna? It turns out that DiMenna has known English for a long, long time.

      “I knew him from the old neighborhood–Taylor Street–for about 30 years.“

      And did you see him occasionally?

      “Sure. I met him occasionally at the restaurant (Horwath`s). We`d have lunch. Sit together. We`d talk.“

      What kind of things did you talk about?

      “Oh, sports. Other things.“

      What about English`s business, his profession, occupation, trade–in other words, his racket?

      “I don`t know what he did for a living. I never asked him. We didn`t talk about such things.“

  5. So we can say whatever we want about whomever we want and are protected by the first amendment. Just like that, libel and slander are protected speech. Huh. Who knew?

    • It seems that if you’re famous, people are entitled to slander and libel you. At least that’s been my takeaway when I look at the news.

      “journalists” are too busy trying to get the story out two seconds before everyone else. Who has time for fact checking?

      ETA: I bet I spend more time fact checking for my fiction than journalists do.

      • I’m positive I do.

        I find that any time there is a news story about anything I have even the shallowest amount of knowledge about, the news story is infuriatingly inaccurate or misleading.

        So I have to assume that all the other stories that I know nothing about are equally shoddy…

        I’m not a pessimist I swear!

        • Nope.
          Just an informed realist.

        • This anecdote might amuse you:

          At his retirement party, a copy editor pulled an old strip of newsprint out of his pocket and read it to us. It was a blurb about him when he was a little boy, when his bike had been stolen. The reporter misreported: 1) his age, 2) what kind of bike it was, and 2) where the bike was stolen from.

          He said that when he’d read that blurb the first time he decided he could do better than that. And he hoped that he had.

          And to be fair, sometimes errors are the result of bad information from sources (the police, a victim’s family, a medical examiner who misses a bullet and thinks someone died of natural causes, etc). Other times it’s because the team on the story really has a screw loose, like the people behind the chainsaw bayonet story at USA Today 🙂

          But this case looks malicious and stupid.

    • Actually the lawyer took the OP words and dropped or changed them to try to make his case. The reply points this out, as well as all the other BS that wasn’t real law.

      Like Streisand, there was nothing to be seen – until they opened that can of worms.

  6. My favorite part of the ACLU’s letter was where they said “The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon” thereby claiming the sort of journalistic integrity that comes with association of real journalism, while, in the same letter, pointing out that blogs and message boards aren’t held to the same standard as real journalists:

    Here, as is often the case under the First Amendment, context matters: because “online blogs and message boards are places where readers expect to see strongly worded opinions rather than objective facts,”

    That’s a nice bit of double speak there.

    • It’s just the kind of logic needed to defend slander and support shakedown artists.

    • I don’t think it’s doublespeak at all. The same principle could apply to newspaper op-ed columns, which are themselves “places where readers expect to see strongly worded opinions rather than objective facts.”

      Why would the idea that “statements of fact may be actionable as libel, [but] statements of opinion are constitutionally protected” mean that expressions of opinion are less important, or that attempts to bully or frighten their authors into submission are less reprehensible? It seems to me that subjectivity is as necessary as objectivity.

      Honestly, this letter reminds me of how much I love the United States of America. (Not the ACLU; the Republic).

  7. My favorite part of the letter:

    Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off

  8. the lawyer sounds inexperienced, particularly in the idea that no one can quote from his/her letter. PG says if was a letter in a series, say for a novel, there might be restrictions [perhaps on length]

    I wonder if the lawyer is a senior member of the group, or a new hire.

    • In a case that wasn’t a novel, a true crime author was unable to quote letters that helped convict the culprit because of copyright. He had to paraphrase them throughout. Can’t recall the title of the book because it was decades ago when I read it. Might have been something by Ken Englade. I don’t know if the Salinger letters were part of a non-fiction book or a novel.

    • USAF, My guess is the letter was written by a green associate with insufficient supervision. The foul-up with the dates is unforgivable.

      Once I got a letter that quoted the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) to me. Signed by a partner. I kinda knew him. Now, the UCC is only a model for the states to adopt. Most of the UCC is adopted as written, but every state puts a twist in somewhere. I wrote back to point out that in Texas we used the Business and Commerce Code and that it did not apply in that specific instance. Marked the envelope ‘Private’ and ‘Confidential’ so’s the secretary would not open it. Got a nice phone call from the partner to thank me for my courtesy. He handled the matter himself after that.

      My take on the reply with all its citations is “We’ve already done the research. We’re holding a full house, kings over aces. We raise. You in or out?”

  9. Look what they made her do.

  10. My favorite part regarding the lawyer’s copyright warning: “You may no more use copyright law to hide the contents of your letter from public scrutiny than a kidnapper could use it to prevent his victim’s family from giving a copy of the ransom note to the police.”

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