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Talk Radio Network Drops Suit That Aimed to Shut Down Web Sites Critical of Right-Wing Radio Host

Dec. 17, 2003

Talk Radio Network Drops Suit That Aimed to Shut Down Web Sites Critical of Right-Wing Radio Host

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Talk Radio Network today dropped a suit aimed at shutting down Web sites that urge people to boycott companies that advertise on a nationally syndicated right-wing radio show. The suit was filed against four people who operate three Web sites critical of right-wing radio host Michael Savage. Public Citizen, which has a history of defending speech on the Internet, is representing two of those Web site operators, Thomas and Gunilla Leavitt of Santa Cruz, Calif., who created www.savagestupidity.com.

Their site, which Public Citizen defended on First Amendment grounds, criticizes offensive and bigoted comments made by Savage, who rails against African-Americans, Hispanics, Jewish liberals, women, gays, liberals and a variety of other groups on his show, “Savage Nation.” The Web site also has audio clips from the show and calls for the public to write letters to Savage’s advertisers urging them to withdraw their support from his program. The Web site urges the public to boycott advertisers who continue to support Savage.

The Talk Radio Network, based in Grants Pass, Ore., filed suit on May 12 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that the defendants are running commercial Web sites that make false and malicious statements about Savage and attempt to interfere with Talk Radio Network’s relationships with advertisers, specifically Culligan, an Illinois-based company. The suit asked the court to shut down the Web sites and force the operators pay several hundred thousand dollars in damages.

In a brief (click here to view) filed in June, Public Citizen argued that the network’s suit was flawed in many ways. First, it was filed in the wrong court, because the Leavitts live in California. Second, the site expressed the Leavitts’ opinion about Savage, and the statements they made about him are to their knowledge true, so the criteria for libel of a public figure were not met. Finally, the network argued that the posting of clips of Savage’s show violated its copyright, but the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that such a “fair use” of material is protected under the First Amendment.

“The Leavitts have every right to criticize Savage’s statements. Also, calling for a boycott is a time-honored action that has long been protected by the First Amendment, and the court would have recognized that,” said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group who represented the Leavitts. “We’re pleased that the company has seen fit to drop its case.”

David Layden and David Bradford of Jenner & Block were local counsel for the Leavitts. Julie Trester of Meckler, Bulger & Tilson in Chicago, and Gregory Todd, a solo practitioner in New York, represented the other main defendant in the case.