Bill Cosby’s defamation case, McKee v. Cosby, presented the Supreme Court with an interesting question: whether a purported victim of sexual misconduct’s allegation of her victimhood thrusts her to the forefront of a public debate, thus transforming her into a limited-purpose public figure and requiring that she show “actual malice” to prevail in any defamation claim.1
The latest development in one of the three pending defamation cases brought by families of Sandy Hook shooting victims against Alex Jones is an accusation against Jones (and his associate company, Infowars LLC) of intentional destruction of evidence relevant to the case after written notice of the preservation obligations.
While corporations don’t have human rights obligations, the notion that businesses should respect and promote human rights in their activities has become a key element of many corporate social responsibility programs. Increasingly, governments have used both political tools and regulatory enforcement powers to keep companies in check, with potentially damaging consequences for a company’s reputation if there are allegations of human rights abuses on its watch.
On Monday, July 17, 2017, world-renowned antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam sued the parent company of a popular newspaper alleging that a story it published defamed him. The article, titled “Prominent Art Family Entangled in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Investigations,” discussed two potentially unrelated stories: (1) incidents of the Islamic State’s antiquities looting; and (2) a number of potentially separate investigations by European and American authorities “looking at,” but not charging, Aboutaam and his family business for “handling” or “trafficking” looted antiquities. While the newspaper has stood by the story, calling it “thoroughly reported, fair and wholly accurate,” Aboutaam maintains that he “has suffered personal humiliation (…) public contempt, ridicule, or disgrace, which has induced an evil opinion of him in the minds of many people.” In his complaint, one of the more intriguing claims levied by Aboutaam is that the layout of the article, along with the images accompanying it, constitutes defamation by implication because it led to the natural conclusion that Aboutaam had ties to ISIS looting. Beyond the merits of the specific claims on either side, the case highlights potential new complications in the field of defamation by implication.
On July 20, 2016, a jury awarded Dr. Hayat Sindi $3.5 million for damages suffered as a result of actions taken by Samia El-Moslimany and El-Moslimany’s mother, Ann. Dr. Sindi is a Saudi Arabian scientist who runs the i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity—a nonprofit dedicated to creating “an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and social innovation for scientists, technologists and engineers in the Middle East and beyond.” Sindi brought the suit against El-Moslimany and her mother for libel and tortious interference with contractual relations.