I’m more than a little surprised at the interview which showbiz pitbull Marty Singer gave to The Hollywood Reporter Esq this week. Because it’s my opinion that, from now on, his threatening letters to media outlets don’t mean anything. The Lavely & Singer name partner admits that certain websites have defanged him: they simply publish the letters he writes “which make it a much better story”. As a result, he says “we don’t even bother” threatening them with missives anymore. So I can’t understand why mainstream media outlets should fear him anymore, either. Is Singer going soft? Tell me it ain’t so, Marty! (Which is why Portfolio‘s online Screed-o-Matic about Singer just looks old.) In the rest of the interview, I think Singer just embarrasses himself with his overt sliminess. Judge for yourself:
THR, ESQ.: Give us an example of your persuasiveness.
Singer: A lot of people come to me and our firm to deal with the media. You have a potential article that’s about to be published in four hours or 24 hours or somewhere in between, and you typically want to prevent an article from being published. At that point, you have to be persuasive because you can’t simply say the article is false and “We’ll sue you,” because they don’t really care. You have to be able to convince publications why they shouldn’t publish the article notwithstanding the law in the U.S. that relates to defamation, which is a difficult.
THR, ESQ.: How do you accomplish this?
Singer: When it comes to defamation, I believe we have the reputation that we will sue. If people know that you’re dealing with a lawyer that has perhaps more defamation suits in the last five years than anyone in the entire country, it makes a difference. I think it’s also being effective and writing a good letter so that someone might be scared when they get that letter. But you still have to know the facts and develop a relationship with the people you are working with to be successful.
THR, ESQ.: The “Marty Singer Letter” has become well known with the rise of Web sites like the Smoking Gun. Have these sites changed how you write threatening letters?
Singer: It hasn’t changed much, but you are correct that many times [we] are dealing with Internet sites that all they are going to do is publish a letter and make it a much better story. There are some Web sites we deal with that are a waste of time, so we don’t even bother [with a letter].
THR, ESQ.: You often claim in letters that publishing or posting the letter constitutes a copyright violation in itself. Have you ever litigated this issue?
Singer: I believe it is a copyright violation but the problem is, is a client going to be willing to file a lawsuit? The reality is, you aren’t going to file a lawsuit for simply publishing a letter. But we have been close where we’ve threatened, and the Web site has retracted the letter.
THR, ESQ.: Has the Web publishing revolution completely changed your media practice?
Singer: It’s a different society we’re living in right now. When you are dealing with traditional publications, they generally consider an article and the facts before they publish it. But some Web sites will just publish it. Sometimes the New York Post will publish it and then give you a sarcastic apology. But you know, recently they did that with Vince Vaughn and a lawsuit was filed in England.
THR, ESQ.: What happens if you find out a story about a client is true?
Singer: A lawyer is not supposed to ethically illicit lies, whether it’s civil or criminal. On the other hand, I might know a story is true and I’m still able to kill the story. But I won’t lie to the publication and say that the story is false. That’s not my practice. Perfect example: Someone may have a medical condition and it’s 100% true. You can still prevent that article from being published legally without denying the story. A person is relying on a source, and you believe you know who that source is, and that source has a propensity to lie or that person has an ax to grind or that source is getting paid for the story. These are factors that you look into to determine whether or not a person publishes a story with malice. So without denying the story, just simply putting it on their burner and saying you have a source that’s getting paid or a source that’s angry. Other times, they will have a proposed story and not know whether to run it because they don’t know how reliable the source is, and if you sit on your hands, which unfortunately a lot of publicists do — they say “No comment” — the publisher might feel that legally (they) gave you an opportunity to defend yourself, and you decided not to.
THR, ESQ.: Some litigators are developing relationships with the tabloids so there’s a give-and-take, meaning if you hold this story, we’ll give you another story.
Singer: I don’t do, “Hold off on this and I’ll give you another story.” But I do have good relationships with the tabloids.
THR, ESQ.: What’s your position on the rights of a free press?
Singer: I defend the right to a free press but I feel the right of free speech goes too far. I’ll give you an example. I think that some recent cases have just turned the First Amendment on its ear. I believe there is too much protection vis-a-vis the paparazzi. And California’s anti-SLAPP statute is requiring plaintiffs to prevail at an early stage (of litigation), sometimes without discovery. I don’t believe that the anti-SLAPP statute is (designed) to protect the tabloids. For example, we had a case where Britney Spears sued a publication over an issue of a sex tape — it didn’t exist — and we lost on the anti-SLAPP statute. The anti-SLAPP statute shouldn’t apply to that type of case. Now if it’s a case involving a public issue that’s in the news — the Borat cases have come down recently, and clearly that may be a public issue — but writing a story about somebody’s private life or something like that, I don’t think the anti-SLAPP statue should apply.