If Sally Ferreira‘s allegations are true, she has a valid claim for defamation per se against rapper 50 Cent which could possibly result in a seven-figure damages award. Ms. Ferreira, an actress, model, and dancer, sued 50 Cent (real name Curtis J. Jackson, III) for defamation and emotional distress in federal court in New York, making the following allegations:
Ms. Ferreira has appeared in music videos for various artists such as 50 Cent, Kanye West, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, and Lil’ Kim. In March, Ms. Ferreira participated in 50 Cent’s music video for the song “Big Rich Town,” filmed on the subway in the Bronx. Shortly after the video shoot, leaked photographs of Ms. Ferreira and 50 Cent taken during the shoot appeared on Hip Hop Weekly and MediaTakeOut.com, along with commentary speculating (erroneously) that the two were spotted riding the subway together and that they were romantically involved.
The complaint alleges that 50 Cent, suspecting Ms. Ferreira as the source of the leak, took to Instagram (where he has 1.8 million followers) to post a picture of Ms. Ferreira with the following direct accusation superimposed over her image: “WARNING: do not attempt to work with this thirsty Video bitch [Her name is Sally Ferreira and she’s a model…] she sent photos Of the video shoot to Mediatakeout Saying I’m in a relationship With her Can anyone say RESHOOT.” Ms. Ferreira says she did no such thing; that she never possessed any photographs of the event and never claimed to be in a relationship with 50 Cent. Forty minutes after the posting, it had received 6156 likes and over 850 comments.
Ms. Ferreira asserts that three separate entertainment industry projects that she was working on were put on hold as a result of the postings and associated negative publicity.
If New York law is anything like Virginia law, this case could go the distance. To state a claim for defamation, Ms. Ferreira needs to show that 50 Cent’s Instagram post contained a false and defamatory statement of fact, and that he made the statement with the requisite level of intent. Her complaint appears to do that. While 50 Cent has a First Amendment right to call Ms. Ferreira a “thirsty video bitch” should he wish to do so, his accusation that she leaked photos of a video shoot to the media claiming to be his new girlfriend is a statement of fact, not opinion, that is not necessarily protected by free-speech rights. It’s defamatory in nature because it’s the type of accusation that would tend to deter other artists from hiring her to appear in their music videos, and perhaps also deter others in the entertainment industry from associating with her.
Moreover, because the statement is the type of accusation that could “prejudice” Ms. Ferreira in her line of work, it will likely be considered libel per se, which would make it far more likely she could recover a substantial damages award. If the court finds the statement is of the “defamation per se” variety, the jury would be instructed to presume compensatory damages even if not proven, and they would be authorized to award punitive damages even in the absence of proof of harm to Ms. Ferreira’s reputation.
50 Cent may have a defense to the case if he can show justification for making the statement. To be held liable for defamation, a defendant needs to be at fault on some level. The precise level of fault required is going to depend on whether Ms. Ferreira is deemed a “public figure.” If the court finds that her multiple appearances in music videos for famous artists make her a public figure herself, than she will not be able to recover unless she can show that 50 Cent made a false statement with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.
In any event, at a minimum, Ms. Ferreira will need to prove that she did not send photos of the video shoot to MediaTakeout.com. But if what she is claiming is true, a quick subpoena or deposition should make that pretty easy to do.