Former pro basketball star Scottie Pippen has lost his appeal of a lawsuit that sought damages for publication of inaccurate reports about his finances. The suggestion that he had financial troubles caused him to lose some endorsement business, he said.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Pippen had failed to show publications had falsely or recklessly reported information about Pippen, who now works as a consultant to the Chicago Bulls and as a “celebrity product endorser.” Also, a judge ruled that he hadn’t proved the stories caused a drop in his endorsements. The cause could have been that he was no longer playing basketball, the judge noted.
The suit broke some interesting ground in media law. From ABC:
To make matters more interesting, the judge invoked the Supreme Court ruling that “actual malice cannot be inferred from a publisher’s failure to retract a statement once it learns it to be false.”
While Pippen reached out via email to inform websites that he had not filed for bankruptcy, the judge said the former forward cannot sue them under the Illinois statute known as the Uniform Single Publication Act, which relieves publications from defamation suits if false claims are made at the time of first publication, according to the ruling.
Pippen’s attorneys tried to make the case that the act did not apply to websites, but the judge disagreed.
While Illinois courts haven’t considered how the single-publication rule applies to information online, the judge wrote “our job is to predict how the state’s highest court would answer the question if asked.”
Excluding the Internet from the rule would “expose online publishers to potentially limitless liability,” the ruling said.
“Pippen does not contend the defendants took any action beyond initially posting the stories to their websites, and we conclude that Illinois would deem the passive maintenance of a website not a republication,” according to the ruling.