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Taylor Swift criticised over blog post cease-and-desist

By | Published on Wednesday 8 November 2017

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has been criticised for having her lawyers send off a stern cease-and-desist letter to a blogger who posted an article titled ‘Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation’. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the legal missive misrepresented the law and, in trying to push said article off the internet with talk of defamation action, attacked the US blogger’s First Amendment free speech rights.

The blog in question is called PopFront and carries the strapline “culture and politics from the left coast”. The article that offended Team Swift reviews white supremacist politics past and present, and looks at how some in the modern alt-right movement have chosen to interpret some of Swift’s lyrics as being supportive of their beliefs. It then criticises Swift for being generally silent on political issues, and therefore failing to distance her songs from the right wing groups who have adopted them in some way.

The piece was by no means the first to observe the adoption of Swift’s songs by some in the alt-right movement, and PopFront states that its blog post “was an attempt to continue the discussion, as well as call on Swift to denounce this hateful group”.

Swift’s lawyers weren’t impressed with any such discussions. “On behalf of Ms Swift”, they wrote, “we demand that PopFront immediately issue a retraction of a provably false and defamatory story about Ms Swift, as well as remove the story from all sources and cease and desist from publishing or disseminating it … The story is replete with demonstrable and offensive falsehoods which bear no relation to reality or the truth about Ms Swift”.

The blog post’s writer Meghan Herning turned to lawyers at the ACLU for help, and they have now penned their own letter which beings: “Ms Herning and PopFront will not in any way accede to your attempt to suppress their constitutionally protected speech”.

The letter argues that much of what Team Swift has taken issue with in the blog post is simply PopFront’s opinion, and “a statement of opinion cannot constitute defamation”.

It then picks holes in various other legal statements made in the original letter, including its insistence that Herning must not publish or disseminate the law firm’s correspondence because doing so would breach the laws of confidence and copyright. And, for good measure, it points out that Swift’s lawyers demanded that the PopFront article be removed the day before they actually sent their letter.

As the ACLU published both Swift’s legal letter and its response, the organisation’s Michael Risher said of the former: “This is a completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech”. Meanwhile his colleague Matt Cagle added that “intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable”.

The ACLU has now demanded that Swift and her lawyers confirm whether or not they disagree with anything in the union’s critique of their letter. Meanwhile PopFront has posted a new article about the cease-and-desist, with Herning herself stating: “The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon. These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down”.

Which means, I reckon – if we were to borrow a phrase from the annals of English defamation law – PopFront is simply referring Swift and her team to “the reply given in the case of Arkell v Pressdram”.



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