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At 50, landmark libel case relevant in digital age

March 8, 2014 • National News


FILE – This Sept. 20, 2010 file photo shows musician Courtney Love in New York. Love hadn’t been born and tweeting was reserved for birds when The New York Times won a landmark libel case at the Supreme Court in 1964. But when a California jury decided recently that Love shouldn’t have to pay $8 million for a troublesome tweet about her former lawyer, she became just the latest person to lean on New York Times v. Sullivan, a case decided 50 years ago Sunday, and the cases that followed and expanded it. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Singer Courtney Love hadn’t been born and tweeting was reserved for birds when The New York Times won a landmark libel case at the Supreme Court in 1964.

But when a California jury decided recently that Love shouldn’t have to pay $8 million over a troublesome tweet about her former lawyer, she became just the latest person to lean on New York Times v. Sullivan, a case decided 50 years ago Sunday, and the cases that followed and expanded it.

The Sullivan case, as it is known among lawyers, stemmed from Alabama officials’ efforts to hamper the newspaper’s coverage of civil rights protests in the South. The decision made it hard for public officials to win lawsuits and hefty money awards over published false statements that damaged their reputations.

In the decades since, the justices have extended the decision, making it tough for celebrities, politicians and other public figures to win libel suits.

Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations were the primary means of publishing when the Sullivan case was decided. Today, the case applies equally to new Login to read more

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