Defamation lawsuits have been a celebrity favorite for almost as long as celebrities have existed. They use these lawsuits to counter false claims and rumors spread by paparazzi or even other A-listers. It’s thought of as a tool to maintain and enhance reputations.
According to the law, a claim of libel is valid if the news or information being spread is false, and the plaintiff can prove in court that the ‘defamation’ in question has caused reasonable damage to them, be it economic, emotional, or social.
Since the burden of proof lies on the filer, making them prove the falsehood of a claim and further proving substantial damage resulting from it, only 10% of plaintiffs end up winning defamation cases. Let us have a look at some celebrity defamation cases where the plaintiff did emerge successfully.
J.K. Rowling vs. the Daily Mail
British tabloid the Daily Mail came under fire in 2014 when it published a claim that J. K. Rowling, author of the globally popular fantasy Harry Potter series, was lying about a story she had told in an interview.
In the particular story, Rowling had relayed that she was stigmatized by members of her church for being a single mother, and a Daily Mail article followed soon after.
The article alleged that the author had made false accusations against churchgoers. It was headlined “How JK’s sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her.”
When Rowling sued them for libel, the tabloid had to pay her “substantial damages” and was required to issue an apology in their paper which was thus concluded: “We accept that Ms. Rowling’s article did not contain any false claims and apologize for any contrary suggestion and have agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms. Rowling, which she is donating to charity, and a contribution to her legal costs.”
The Daily Mail often seems to be in the news itself as far as cases of defamation and libel are concerned. In 2007, the tabloid published a piece about anorexia taking the life of a young girl, which included a picture of Keira Knightley wearing a bikini on the beach. The title of the article sporting the photograph was “If pictures like this one of Keira carried a health warning, my darling daughter might have lived.”
Previously, Daily Mail had also published another article titled “It’s itsy bitsy teeny weeny Keira Knightley” referring to Knightley’s denial that she suffers from the eating disorder.
The actress sued the newspaper for £3,000 and won, donating her winnings to Beat, an eating disorder charity. Knightley also matched the damages sum being donated to Beat. The Daily Mail also agreed to reimburse the actress’s legal costs and publish an official apology.
Knightley’s lawyer Simon Smith made a statement in which he maintained that the claims published were “entirely false”. He added that the actress found the suggestion that she had anything to do with the young girl dying of anorexia doubly troubling as she had been vocal about a family suffering from anorexia, and that she was aware of the devastating effects it can have on a person.
Rebel Wilson vs. Bauer Media
Australian actress Rebel Wilson has often been in the news for breaking gender stereotypes and sparking conversations about body positivity in the industry. In 2015, she sued Bauer Media over eight articles that were published in their magazines calling her a serial liar.
She took her case to the Supreme Court of Victoria, which heard the pieces that alleged she had lied about her name, age, and childhood in Australia. Her lawyer claimed that the actresses’ “world collapsed” after their publication. Initially, Bauer firmly denied that the articles were defamatory.
Wilson received A$4.7m (£2.6m; $3.5m) in damages and interest from Bauer Media over the articles in question according to a Supreme Court ruling. However, in an interesting turn of events, Wilson was asked to pay back the millions of dollars that she had won in the case due to an appeal by the media outlet later that year.
In 2005, a British High Court awarded £50,000 in damages to Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski after he sued Vanity Fair for an allegation against him.
The article said that the director Polanski had tried to come on to a “Swedish beauty” in a New York restaurant bar, delivering sweet nothings in her ear as he touched her thighs and said he would turn her into “another Sharon Tate”
The director claimed that the article had made him seem “callously indifferent” to the memory of his late wife Sharon Tate, who had been murdered.
Kate Winslet vs. the Daily Mail
After the tabloid claimed that Kate Winslet was lying about her exercise routine in an article titled “Should Kate Winslet win an Oscar for the world’s most irritating actress?” she filed a defamation case against the notorious Daily Mail for £25,000 and won. She said that she was ‘delighted’ to hear the newspaper had also apologized.
Winslet further added, “I was particularly upset to be accused of lying about my exercise regime and felt that I had a responsibility to request an apology… I strongly believe that women should be encouraged to accept themselves as they are, so to suggest that I was lying was an unacceptable accusation of hypocrisy.”
International cricketer Chris Gayle won his defamation case against Fairfax Media. The media outlet had published several articles claiming that Gayle had exposed himself to a female masseuse in the Drummoyne Oval changing room in 2015.
Fairfax proposed two defenses against the lawsuit, claiming truth and qualified privilege; both were rejected by the jury, who found the Fairfax articles to be malicious and defamatory. Fairfax later issued a statement claiming that it had received an unfair trial, but it was rejected by the courts.
In 2016, Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn sued Lee Daniels, co-creator of the Fox series “Empire,” for $10 million in a defamation suit. Reportedly, Lee had compared Penn to “Empire” star Terrence Howard, who has been accused of domestic abuse against his ex-wife. “[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn and all of a sudden he’s some f**kin’ demon,” Daniels told The Hollywood Reporter.
Penn’s lawyer termed it a “malicious and reckless repetition of rumors and innuendo.” The lawsuit resolved as a settlement, in which Sean Penn received an apology from the producer and ‘generous’ contributions were made towards charities.
In 2014, The Sun had to pay Russell Brand a “substantial” amount in libel damages over the false claim that Russell had cheated on his then-girlfriend, Jemima Khan.
The paper’s publisher apologized following the lawsuit and agreed to reimburse Brand’s legal costs and damages, which are said to be five figures long. Brand has vowed to give the money away to ‘diverse, just and decent causes.’
The star-powered couple Brangelina filed a complaint after a series of articles were published in News Corp’s magazines, claiming that Pitt and Jolie were divorcing. The publication printed a front-page story on the topic, going as far as to allege that the actors had already visited divorce lawyers to decide how to separate their sizeable assets.
The lawsuit was filed early in 2010, but instead of retracting their articles, News of the World actually published a follow-up story, making up news as they went.
After the courts ruled in the celebrity couple’s favor, News Corp. admitted that their stories were based on falsehood, and further agreed to pay an unrevealed amount of money in damages and legal fees to one of Pitt and Jolie’s charities.
In 2014, professional wrestler Jesse Ventura walked away victorious with $1.845 million from a defamation lawsuit filed against late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. A jury in Minnesota decided that Ventura had been ‘defamed’ when the ex-military man admitted that he had punched Ventura in a bar in 2006 over some comments the latter had made. Kyle said that the wrestler had insulted Navy SEALs by saying that they “deserved to lose some” for their exploitative acts in the war.
Ventura, on the other hand, insisted that the whole story was fabricated, and the majority of the jury appeared to agree with him
Even having won the case, there was considerable damage done to Ventura’s reputation since his anti-military and anti-nationalistic views had come into the open, due to which he lost a number of supporters.
These cases are not the only of their kind and new ones spring up every day; while several are in the process of settlement. Although filing a libel case against tabloids may seem frivolous to some, gossip and rumors can sometimes turn out to be hurtful to our favorite celebs. Let’s keep that in mind before buying the next issue of the Daily Mail!