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Jon Pfeiffer
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Entertainment Trial Attorney
Entertainment Trial Attorney

32 followers
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"A Private Life is a Happy Life"

Because private individuals generally choose to stay out of the public sphere, they are naturally afforded greater privacy under defamation law. While public figures must prove that a publisher of a defamatory statement acted with actual malice, private individuals must only demonstrate that the publisher acted negligently in publishing the statement.

The Supreme Court established the negligence standard for defamatory statements regarding private individuals in the 1968 case of Gertz v. Welch.

After Chicago police officer Robert Nuccio shot and killed a youth named Nelson, the boy’s family hired attorney Elmer Gertz to represent them in civil litigation. Robert Welch was a publisher of American Opinion magazine, a magazine that had been reporting on a supposed Communist scheme to disempower law enforcement and recreate a national police force. In connection with this investigation, Welch published an article entitled “FRAME-UP: Richard Nuccio and the War on Police.” Welch alleged in the article that Gertz was directly involved in the Communist scheme, and labeled him a “Leninist” with a criminal record and a history of involvement with Marxist and Socialist associations. Though Welch did not try to defend the accuracy of these blatantly false statements, he did argue that the public figure standard set forth in New York Times v. Sullivan ought to apply. After all, Gertz had achieved some notoriety based on the Nuccio case and was recognizable to many people.

The Supreme Court, however, held that Gertz was not a public figure, meaning the “actual malice” standard would not apply to Welch’s statements in the American Opinion article. But why? Why would the Court classify Gertz as a private individual? He was a lawyer in a high-profile case, after all.

The Court considered this and determined that Gertz was not entirely a private individual, but also not entirely a public figure; Gertz fell somewhere in the middle of the two categories. He had been thrust into the public sphere, but only in relation to that specific trial. After the case was over, he would return to his prior status as a private individual. As a result, the Court created a new classification of plaintiff: the limited-purpose public figure.

A limited-purpose public figure is an otherwise private individual who is treated as a public figure, but only in the specific context in which they gained their fame. In this case, Gertz would be treated as a private individual under defamation law unless the published statements were regarding his role as the prosecuting attorney in the Nuccio case. Because Welch went beyond reporting on Gertz’s role in the case when he accused him of Communist affiliation, Gertz was granted private individual privacy rights.

As a private individual, Gertz only had to demonstrate that Welch’s inaccurate reporting met the standard for negligence. Where actual malice requires the publisher’s knowledge of the statement’s falsity or a display of reckless disregard for the statement’s truth, negligence only requires proof that a responsible party failed to fulfill a duty that a reasonable person would be expected to perform. The Supreme Court ruled that, by failing to adhere to journalism standards and ethics, Welch had acted negligently and was guilty of defaming Gertz.

In our next post we will look into where the line is drawn between the truth of a statement and the just plain ridiculous.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.
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Reading, Writing, Speaking... Published?

In order for a statement to be defamatory, it must be published. This means that the statement must be seen or read, as well as understood by a third party. So, your little brother finding your diary where you “defamed” him won’t count, nor will sending a defamatory letter to someone who can’t read your sloppy handwriting.

In the 1964 case filed by Curtis “Curly” Hunter against Harry Hornby of the Uvalde Leader-News, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals upheld the district court’s verdict, ruling that a newspaper is considered published as soon as it goes into circulation.

The case involved an article published in the Uvalde Leader-News, where Mr. Hornby reported that a warrant for Mr. Hunter was issued in connection with the theft of a stolen Cadillac. The trial court confirmed that the article was referring to Hunter, yet Hunter had no connection whatsoever to the stolen car. The Court found that the article was defamation per se. Hornby then filed an appeal to the trial court’s ruling, making three main arguments: 1) there was in fact a pending indictment against Hunter; 2) Hornby had not explicitly accused Hunter of violating any criminal statute; and 3) Mr. Hunter had no proof that the material was ever read.

The appellate court rejected all three of the defendant’s arguments. Though there was a pending indictment against Hunter for receiving and concealing of stolen items, the Court held that an individual’s guilt for one crime was not a sufficient defense for defamation concerning a falsified and unrelated second crime. While Hornby did not write that Hunter had actually stolen the car, the claim that there was a warrant out for his arrest pertaining to the stolen car was sufficient cause for a reasonable person to assume guilt. Finally, while Hunter lived in Nueces County, some 200 miles from where the newspaper was published, Hornby’s wife testified that several Nueces County businesses subscribed to the paper and the article in question had been distributed in Nueces County. The Court ruled that a newspaper article is published as soon as it is circulated, and it is not necessary for a victim of defamation to prove that the article was actually read.

In our next post, we'll take a look at the "of and concerning" element of a defamation claim and dive into how a person who has not been identified by name can prove they are the subject of a defamatory statement.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.
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Defamation may seem simple, but when it comes to present day American defamation law, there are five requirements a statement must meet in order to be considered defamatory in court. Though we will cover each element in more depth in the following posts, let’s start with a brief overview.

First, the statement at issue must be false. Because the First Amendment’s protection of the right to freedom of speech is fundamental to American democracy, a true statement cannot be considered defamatory no matter how offensive or injurious.

Second, the statement must be published. Though there are various ways for a statement to qualify as being “published,” this element essentially requires that the statement reach at least one third party individual.

Third, the statement must be considered to be “of and concerning” the plaintiff. This element can get tricky, and context becomes key. The jury ultimately determines whether or not they find statements to be of and concerning the plaintiff, but past precedents are available to help guide their determination.

Fourth, the statement must be harmful—that is, the plaintiff must show that they were actually damaged by the statement. Some injuries, such as financial harm, are relatively easy to prove. Others, like a person’s reputation, become more subjective.

Lastly, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is at fault for defaming him or her. Even if a statement is deemed defamatory on all other grounds, the accused can only be found guilty if they are actually responsible for the defamation.

Next week, we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these elements.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 
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Defamation, Let's Begin

Today, because defamation is a civil tort, the burden lies with the plaintiff to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, i.e. he must be able to convince the jury that it is more likely than not that the speech was in fact defamatory. Libelous speech refers to defamatory speech that appears in print, while slanderous speech refers to defamatory speech that is spoken verbally.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, distinguishing whether speech is defamatory may be quite difficult. There are traditionally two types of defamation claims: defamation per se and standard defamation.

A statement that is defamatory per se is one that is obviously defamatory and does not require contextual interpretation. Traditionally, four types of false statements were considered to be per se defamatory: 1) allegations of criminal conduct; 2) assertions injurious to a person in their trade, business, or profession; 3) imputations of a loathsome disease; and 4) accusations of unchastity in a woman. Defamation per se increasingly uncommon in modern times and is rarely taken to trial in California.

By contrast, a standard defamation claim requires further information to determine whether the statement at issue is defamatory. If a magazine were to falsely claim that a celebrity has a new boyfriend, it would more likely be considered defamation if she was already married to another man. If the woman was single and the statement would not cause any harm beyond potential embarrassment, then the statement would probably not be considered defamatory. As the statement itself is not defamatory without providing context, standard defamation claims typically require proof of actual damages.

The difficulty of proving defamation is also dependent upon the individual who believes she has been defamed; public figures and private individuals have varying degrees of privacy rights. Where private figures retain their right to privacy in most cases and must only prove that a defamatory statement was made negligently, public figures involved in matters of public interest must prove that the writer or speaker made his statement with actual malice. The meaning of these terms and their established precedents will be discussed in coming posts.

If a plaintiff is able to prove that a defamatory statement fulfills each of the five requirements outlined in the coming posts (falsity, published, of and concerning, harm, and fault), the responsibility falls on the defendant to establish a defense. This series covers three common defenses to defamation—opinion, satire/parody, and privilege—each of which will be covered further in later posts.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 
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Defamation or Gossip Law?

“Jamie told Jesse that Frank heard from Sam…”

Statements and writings that are labeled “gossip” by both media tabloids and middle school students alike fall under a different category in the legal realm: defamation. As defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, defamation is “The act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person.”

Defamation law is quickly becoming one of the most highly publicized topics in all of entertainment law. Public figures ranging from comedians to future presidents have shined a spotlight on some of the murkier areas of so-called “gossip law.”

But just like those middle school secrets whispered at recess, the subtleties of defamation law can get complicated pretty quickly. When determining whether or not a statement is defamatory, we must begin by asking some questions: Was the statement true? Who heard the statement? Who was the speaker’s source? Was the statement actually harmful? Was it even believable?

In the coming posts, I will break defamation law down to the basics and shed light on exactly what qualifies as a defamatory statement. Stay tuned because things are going to get interesting.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 
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Peter Jacob, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: We recently heard in the news that an ex-playboy bunny used Snapchat to publicly body shame an overweight woman in her gym. Do you feel it was within her rights to share the nude photo of the woman? How should she have been punished?

I Can’t Unsee This

Snap! And just like that a picture Is taken and put on a Snapchat Story for the whole world to see. Dani Mathers, the Playboy’s Playmate of the Year 2015, was at a L.A. fitness gym and when she saw another woman’s nude body she was offended. She then took a picture of this woman and uploaded it to her Snapchat Story with the caption “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either. Premack” The question to ask is whether Dani Mathers was within her rights to share a nude photo of this woman? The answer is absolutely not. Dani Mathers invaded the privacy of another and also harmed the reputation of this woman and should be punished.

First off all, Dani Mathers was not within her rights to take the photo itself. The photo was taken in a L.A. Fitness bathroom, which is against the facility rules. It is an invasion of the woman’s privacy to take a photo of her in a bathroom let alone a nude photo of her. It is a common art of decency to give everyone their privacy in a bathroom. It is an expectation that everyone follows. The woman also did not give permission to Mathers to share the photo of her and let alone the woman had no knowledge of the picture before it was taken. That is also an invasion of privacy, as the photo was posted without the consent of the woman herself.

Dani Mathers’ post also harmed the reputation of the woman due to the caption and mood of the photo. Mathers body shamed the woman stating “I can’t unsee this.” A comment that insults the woman’s body image and states that she can’t put the image of the woman’s body out of her mind. Mathers post was absolutely offensive and intentional completely harming the woman herself and her identity. The intent of her actions was obvious and deserves severe punishment.

Mathers’ actions suffered severe backlash by the public, which resulted in her deletion of her social media platforms. I think Mathers should be punished by being fined for damages to the social reputation of the woman in the photo and also serve time in jail from 3-6 months. Mathers could also be registered as a sex offender due to the invasion of privacy combined with the nudity in the photo. If Mathers was a male, the situation would be completely different and the male would be ultimately a registered sex offender and fined a severe amount of money as well as jail time.

In conclusion, Mathers’ action cannot be reversed. She invaded the privacy of a woman by taking an illegal photo in a L.A. Fitness bathroom. She was not in her rights for the actions she committed and should be severely punished. People deserve their privacy in many areas of their life, especially in the areas where their “private parts” are showing. Mathers must serve time for her actions as the picture is now permanent and just like her caption, her actions can’t be unseen.
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Peter is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Economics/Media Production.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 
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Free Things or Free Hassle

Ian Mankoff, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: We frequently hear about people winning a lifetime supply of pizza, or a lifetime supply of shampoo. How do you think having one thing delivered to you, repeatedly, for free might change your life?

It has always been a dream of mine to win something for life. I’ve always thought that something like that would be incredible and take some major burden out of your life. I always imagined something like free gas for life or free coffee and bagel each morning at Starbucks. Depending on what the product or service you’ve won for life is, it could change you and your life exponentially. This also could change depending on what that person needs more in their life or enjoys more. In this country anyone would love something like free gas for his or her car for life. That would change their lives forever and allow them to completely budget out their money each month differently. Free gas for life could save you thousands upon thousands of dollars while you live. Also something like coffee or pizza for life would be helpful to almost anyone. This again could potentially save you tons of money and may people love to get pizza and/or coffee often. One thing you need to take into account is what said winner likes. For instance my mom, who is an avid golfer, would love free golf balls for life; while Lane, my brother who loves Chipotle would want burritos for life.

Now I’ve reached an interesting scenario changer for me personally. What if what I’m winning for life isn’t something I use often or ever in my life? Yes it’s possible to not want free things, many Americans pass up free or discounted things daily. What I mean by this is if I won a life supply of tampons I could do nothing except sell them, which would be a hassle. In addition to this scenario, another one I would struggle with is free fish or mixed nuts for life. Both of these foods I am severely allergic to and could die if I ingested either of them. Every person has a few of these items or things in their life that they wouldn’t need for life or have any use for it in their lives. Depending on who you are and what you’ve won it might be worse off, but I would safely bet that almost everyone would be happy with anything for free for life.
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Ian is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Advertising.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 

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Ripple Effect

Cora Lakey, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: We frequently hear about people winning a lifetime supply of pizza, or a lifetime supply of shampoo. How do you think having one thing delivered to you, repeatedly, for free might change your life?

I’ve often heard of people giving back to those less fortunate and felt incredibly touched by their gestures. Those with abundance who choose to give back to society are truly admirable. For example, for her birthday model Gigi Hadid asked her boyfriend for gift cards to fast food restaurants to hand out to the homeless in her community. She did this so those on the street could have a hot meal, and in gift card form she knew exactly where the money was going. When this news became public, her request created a ripple effect, and soon McDonalds, KFC, and other restaurant chains gave Gigi hundreds of gift cards to handout across New York City. Often we hear of people winning lifetime supplies of various things like doughnuts, shampoo or gift-cards. I have always wondered what a person could possibly do with the same thing being repeatedly delivered to them. Do they really use it all? Do they really need it all? I also wonder how that would change their life. A person certainly doesn’t need something like pizza delivered to them weekly, but the effect that the delivery can create could potentially be amazing. If the person decided to simply indulge themselves in pizza and only pizza that would be their prerogative (and their digestive systems), but imagine if that person decided to make weekly pizza deliveries to their local homeless shelter. Instantly, because of a silly gimmick several people who would not normally eat dinner got to bed full. Something like shampoo being delivered weekly to a woman’s shelter would create a huge impact, and could publicize the need for personal care items at shelters everywhere. A person who has the ability to pay it forward and chooses to do so can make a lasting impact and inspire many people. Gigi’s request for gift cards certainly impacted her younger fans and perhaps changed the way they viewed the homeless, and I would think that someone given a “lifetime supply of insert product here”, would do the same. I can only imagine the ripple effect that a person in this position cold create, should they choose to use their earnings for good.

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Cora is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Public Relations.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.
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PFEIFFER LAW CORP OPENS NOVEMBER 1

We are proud to announce the opening of Pfeiffer Law Corp, a boutique entertainment law firm located in Santa Monica, California. The firm will be led by Jon Pfeiffer, a battle tested trial attorney who has served as one of the top entertainment lawyers in Santa Monica for more than thirty years. From successfully litigating high-risk trials to negotiating big money deals for all levels of Hollywood talent, Mr. Pfeiffer has proven time and time again just how valuable the combination of hard work, dedication, and first class legal acumen can be. The team at PLC will draw upon Mr. Pfeiffer’s experience to provide the focus, diligence, and tenacity necessary to exceed the expectations of each and every client.

In addition to providing top-notch legal counsel, Pfeiffer Law Corp is dedicated to delivering individualized service and an unparalleled client experience. Gone are the days of overbilling and underperforming lawyers. Working in that spirit, PLC promises the following: 1) to return phone calls and answer questions in a timely fashion; 2) to update its clients regularly and in a timely manner about the progress of their case; 3) to provide clients with consistent, high-level work product; and 4) to do everything in our power to help our clients achieve their business and personal objectives. These values stand at the core of Mr. Pfeiffer’s vision for Pfeiffer Law Corp, and the entire legal team at PLC will work to apply them to every client we serve.
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Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy. 
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#Pedorazzi

Hannah Prater, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: Kristen Bell started an initiative called “No kids policy,” stating that paparazzi should not be legally allowed to take photos of the children of celebrities. Her philosophy behind this idea is that just because the parents are celebrities, the children did not ask for it and it greatly hinders their childhood. Discuss whether photographs of children should be allowed.

Kristen Bell’s “No Kids Policy”, also referred to as #Pedorazzi on social media, has gained a lot of attention in the past few years. The initiative is motivated by a desire for famous parents to protect their children from the harassment they often experience themselves from the paparazzi. Several celebrities such as Jennifer Garner have backed Bell and her husband Dax Shephard in boycotting magazines that purchase photos of celebrity children. Bell even went so far as to condemn People Magazine on Twitter for publishing photos of celebrity children, “dear @peoplemag – scaring & harassing kids isn’t ‘entertainment news’. pls agree to stop using #pedorazzi shots. #nokidspolicy RT IF U AGREE.”

Bell’s movement takes Halle Berry’s Parazzi bill to a new level. In January of 2014, just one month before Bell’s tweets to People Magazine were posted, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 606 into California State Law, granting a year of jail time to any paparazzo who should harass a child of 18 years or younger because of their parent’s famous occupation. I believe this bill is both necessary and effective, as the primary issue of placing children as a focus of tabloid photography is the manner in which it is executed. If tabloid photographers are disrespectful of personal space and pester the children and their parents, I believe consequences should be enacted. However, in a case where the child may not even notice the paparazzo, I don’t believe there is must of an issue. While it is difficult for any child to grow up in the limelight, it was the parents’ choice to bring children into a life in the limelight at the end of the day, and as long as paparazzi are respectful of their subjects and discrete in their execution of projects, I don’t see a problem with their work.

While I believe that taking photos of a child with their celebrity parent can be accurately construed as a form of harassment, I feel that Halle Berry’s bill just action enough. It goes straight into the root of the problem, enacting punishment on disrespectful paparazzo. Demanding that a publication stop purchasing photos of celebrity children altogether seems like an excessive and irrelevant measure to me. To ask a company to alter the way they conduct business seems like a deflection mechanism. If Kristen Bell doesn’t find Halle Berry’s bill as resolution enough, I think she should have thought more about having children while continuing to pursue a career in entertainment.
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Hannah is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Advertising and Multimedia Design.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Mass Communication Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.
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