Online legal experts are salivating over cookies.
Specifically, they are leaping to comment on the legal precedents involved over a lawsuit by Dr. Sanford Siegal, creator of the "Cookie Diet," and his company, Dr. Siegal's Direct Nutritionals, LLC, against celebrity, model, socialite, and actress Kim Kardashian over what they allege is libelous material in a Tweet.
“According to the complaint, Dr. Siegal's company sent diet samples to Kardashian's publicist last Spring after the company's CEO read an article claiming Kardashian, and other celebrities, had lost weight using the cookie diet,” noted David Obrien on the Citizen Media Law Project, which is monitoring the case. “The complaint states that neither Kardashian nor her publicist confirmed or denied the accuracy of the article, but acknowledged they received the samples. Subsequently, the company posted a hyperlink on its website, alongside other news articles written about the diet, to a subsequent article that again stated that Kardashian and other celebrities had lost weight using the cookie diet.
"On October 29, 2009, two tweets posted to Kardashian's Twitter account:
14(a). Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet is falsely promoting that I'm on this diet. NOT TRUE! I would never do this unhealthy diet! I do QuickTrim!
14(b). If this Dr. Siegal is lying about me being on this diet, what else are they lying about? Not cool!
"More than a month later, on December 11, 2009, Kardashian's legal team took aim at the hyperlink and sent a cease and desist letter to Dr. Siegel's company, which, according to the complaint, promptly removed the hyperlink despite (apparently) not having a legal obligation to do so.”
What could also be a factor is that Kardashian, who reportedly makes $10,000 for each Tweet endorsing products, had signed on to endorse the QuickTrim product she mentions in her Twitter posting.
The problem, agree the legal beagles, is that Twitter’s
140-character limit makes it pretty difficult to add the amount of nuance required to prevent such lawsuits.
“One hundred and forty characters, the limit for a tweet, simply isn't enough to spell out the facts behind an opinion,” said Julie Hilden, a First Amendment specialist, on FindLaw. “Granted, a follow-up tweet might be provided as a clarification – but will courts allow a succession of tweets to come under the privilege for "opinion based on disclosed fact"? I wouldn't bet on it. Defending an opinion is much easier when it is coupled with a series of strong, true supporting facts, but Twitter may not allow enough space to effectively provide them.”
Kardashian may end up being protected either because her posting will be taken as opinion, not fact, or because Siegal is considered to be a public figure, which makes libel more arduous to prove. However, in the meantime, she has an expensive legal case to fight.
When talking about a company or another person, Twitter users need to be careful about their word choice, Hilden said. “Most of us toss around words like "unhealthy" every day without thinking much about it. But when it comes to libel law, such words can be bombshells that trigger liability.”