“Girls Gone Wild” Defamation Suit Nets $3 Million

Kids these days. The use of fake IDs by teens is nothing new, but when that ID contains the name of a real person, and the imposter goes on to do naughty things while posing as someone else, the law of defamation can come into play. And if you’re inclined to post a YouTube video of that identity thief engaged in acts of questionable moral character, you’d better conduct some due diligence to ensure you don’t destroy someone’s reputation. That’s a lesson that Joe Francis, the entrepreneur behind the risqué “Girls Gone Wild” videos, may have just learned as a result of a $3 million default judgment entered against him earlier this month in New Jersey federal court.

In a complicated scenario typical of the Internet age, in 2008 Francis wanted to take advantage of that year’s scandal involving New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and a prostitute named Ashley Alexandra Dupre. He offered Dupre $1 million to appear in a magazine spread and participate in a promotional tour for “Girls Gone Wild,” but withdrew his offer when he found that he already had useful footage of Dupre from five years before, when she was 17 years old.

After Francis used the footage, Dupre sued him, claiming that she was underage and did not understand the release she had signed. However, Francis was able to come up Fake IDs.jpgwith a video of Dupre providing consent to appear in “Girls Gone Wild,” stating that she was 18, and showing the driver’s license of another woman who was of legal age. Dupre then dropped her suit against Francis.

But Francis’s legal troubles weren’t over. The other woman whose driver’s license was held aloft by Dupre was Amber Arpaio, who was in no way involved in “Girls Gone Wild.” Arpaio sued Francis, Dupre, and the companies that produce the DVDs for defamation, invasion of privacy, misappropriation of her name, and conspiracy.

The judge wrote that a person is liable for defamation if he makes a statement regarding a private person (as opposed to a public figure) with knowledge that the statement is false, reckless disregard of its truth or falsity, or negligence by failing to determine the truth or falsity of the statement. He noted that Arpaio had alleged that the defendants produced a video in which Dupre represents herself as Arpaio, and thus by implication states that Arpaio is affiliated with the “Girls Gone Wild” franchise, a false statement. Arpaio also alleged that the defendants knew the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. The court therefore found it appropriate to enter a default judgment.

As for arriving at the $3 million figure, the judge referred to Arpaio’s “distress from being mistaken as somehow affiliated with Dupre or ‘Girls Gone Wild’ ” as well as her fear that she might lose job opportunities because a prospective employer would search for her name on the Internet and find her ID being brandished by Dupre. He also noted that if she were to have children, they too might suffer emotional damage from being exposed to the material. “Given the unique nature of the Internet,” the plaintiff’s Internet expert wrote, “this branding is for life.”

 

 

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