Britney Spears Loses Sex Tape Libel Case

Michael Hayes
LOS ANGELES — Reporting that a couple has made a sex tape is not defamatory per se, according to a California Judge, who tossed a suit by pop star Britney Spears against Us Weekly, saying contemporary community standards and the singer’s high-profile sexual persona combined to create a set of circumstances under which it would be difficult to make the case for the media tort.

The dispute began with an Oct. 17, 2005 article, in which the magazine speculated that Spears and her husband, Kevin Federline, had made a sex tape.

The headline for the article read: “Brit & Kev: Secret Sex Tape? New parents have new worry.”

In the piece, Us Weekly reported that the couple had screened the tape for their lawyers after a member of the singer’s entourage had threatened to make the video public. The article said Spears and Federline were “acting goofy the whole time” as the tape played.

Spears and her lawyers denied the existence of the tape, bringing a suit for libel against the magazine two months later.

In the suit, Spears sought $10 million in damages, claiming that the “article is a false and outrageous fabrication,” which portrayed her in a “despicable light.”

Without addressing the accuracy of the article, Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole issued a three-page ruling, which held that Spears lacked the grounds to sue for defamation in this case.

“Applying any legal standard propounded by the plaintiff, is it sexually deviant, immoral sexual conduct, lustful and sexually promiscuous, pornographic, extremely promiscuous or series misconduct for any married couple to tape themselves having sex for their own personal use in this day and age?” Cole said. “Arguably not. Add to the equation that the plaintiff herself has put her modern sexuality squarely, and profitably, before the public eye, and the answer must be no.”

UCLA Law Professor David Ginsburg applauded Cole’s ruling, saying that the standards of what would be defamatory are always in flux.

Fifty years ago, suggesting that a single woman had engaged in sexual activity was actionable, Ginsburg said.

Under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute, Spears will now be liable for attorney’s fees.

The statute provides for attorneys fees in cases were the plaintiff’s alleged injury results from the defendant exercising its 1st Amendment rights.