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  1. #1

    Question Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Hi,

    I have a few simple questions, thanks in advance for anyone who is kind enough to assist me.

    I'm interested in starting a "satirical newspaper" web site that focuses solely on making fun of celebrities. It will be something of a "fake tabloid" featuring extremely outrageous stories. The stories may be INCREDIBLY insulting and completely tasteless (including fake quotes, badly photoshopped photos, and ridiculous allegations) in addition to being completely false. I have written a good amount of hilarious fictional stories featuring the names of real celebrities and am anxious to launch the site, but I'm afraid that I'll be sued for libel because the site intends to "cross the line" in terms of political correctness and good taste. The site would clearly be something of a "startup," so I don't really have money to hire an attorney on just an idea. Here are my questions:

    1. Is it illegal to write fictional stories about real people if you disclose that the article is completely fabricated? If so, is there an "opinion loophole" that I could use?

    2. Assuming I have a legally acceptable disclaimer in plain view (which claims that the material is intended only for humor) on every "page" of my online newspaper, will it protect me from being sued by an angry celebrity who claims I crossed the line?

    3. What can I do to properly protect myself against a lawsuit? If a lawsuit is inevitable, how can I bulletproof my site so that I will have the best chance to win any lawsuit brought against me.


    Thanks for your time,
    J

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Well, if you're using somebody else's pictures without licensing them, you have potential copyright violations.

    As for the stories, without knowing what you might write, it's hard to gauge your chances of either being sued or prevailing in court. Some celebrities are very sensitive about certain subjects. Jerry Falwell lost his suit against Hustler over a parody, but it cost both sides a great deal of money to litigate.

    If you do this, get insurance.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Thank you very much for your reply. You seem to have all the answers on this board.

    I'm not so much worried about the pictures, I'll take care to get those legally from the many web sites offering royalty-free photos for blogs.

    I would write very offensive things, crossing the line intentionally but in such a ridiculous way that it couldn't be taken seriously by a reasonable person. A few example headlines might be: "Tucker Carlson has head surgically removed from own arse." or "Kobe threatens rape spree if not traded." It wouldn't just maliciously make fun of celebrities, but would do so in more of a "tabloid satire" type of way by making fun of the "serious" publications that have become so popular reporting on this type of nonsense at the same time.

    I see a market for this type of thing because I can observe the absolute disgust of the "celebrity gossip" phenomenon that is embraced by seemingly most of our society and loathed by the rest. The whole thing is just so ridiculous that it needs to face extreme ridicule.

    Since this will be entirely web-based, could I avoid any possible litigation in a US court by incorporating in a country with strict privacy laws such as Panama?

    Thank you again for your time.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Going after public figures in an exaggerated fashion over publicized acts or scandals, as you suggest? Probably not a big risk. Going after them on rumors? Some are really, really sensitive.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Yeah... Tom Cruise would be an easy target too... If I have the website hosted offshore, would it be immune to US civil litigation? Would I have to have the corporations bank accounts held offshore also?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    If you're based here, or doing business from here, you can be sued here.

    But at least you're not in the U.K.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Right, but what if I form an IBC legally based in the Cayman Islands and host my website anonymously offshore in Panama (or another place where internet privacy is the law) so they can't even find out who I am? I won't be doing anything against the law so there's little or no chance of governments getting involved with anything, right? Also, if I've formed a corporation or international business company entity, is there any way they can come after my personal assets or will the liability be limited to the assets of the entity?

    Thank you.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    You can try to dodge liability any way you choose. Trying and succeeding are two different things.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    Are there other, perhaps better ways I can dodge liability besides offshore hosting and corporate-style business entities?

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Liability For Posting Fake Stories About Celebrities

    My litmus test of this type of endeavor is always - if you have this many questions and are thinking about going through such involved measures to avoid prosecution, you need to be talking to a lawyer.

    If you cannot afford a lawyer, I would not start the website. Simple as that.

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