LOS ANGELES — The long-running legal battle pitting former online adult sensation Danni Ashe against The Daily Mail of London has a court date at the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals next month.
Ashe’s $3 million defamation suit against the Daily Mail was put on hold last year after the publishing company appealed a federal court’s decision denying its anti-SLAPP, or anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation, motion.
The 9th Circuit, which will hear oral arguments in the case on Feb. 12 at its Pasadena courthouse, will decide whether the lower court ruled correctly that Ashe demonstrated “a probability” of actual malice, rather than negligence, in her libel case.
Ashe’s civil case against the publisher stemmed from an online article that surfaced in 2013 informing readers that a performer tested positive for HIV at the height of an STI crisis in Porn Valley.
The Daily Mail article in question disclosed that XBIZ reported that a performer — later identified as Cameron Bay — had testified HIV positive.
Within the Daily Mail post, a stock image of Ashe is depicted of her posing on a bed in lingerie in a provocative manner, accompanied with the caption, "Moratorium: The porn industry in California was shocked on Wednesday by the announcement that a performer had tested HIV positive."
Ashe in her suit claimed that the Daily Mail never sought permission to use her image and didn't include any disclaimer that she was not the HIV-positive performer in question.
The Daily Mail later removed Ashe' s picture but purportedly did not respond to demands to publish a retraction, later prompting the libel suit.
In its defense, the Daily Mail said that Ashe is so well known that she is an all-purpose public figure for the purposes of defamation and that neither an editor or production staff member who pulled the pic from a database knew who Ashe was and thus could not have intended to convey that she was HIV positive.
Ashe’s attorney, Steven Weinberg of the Wein Law Group, told XBIZ that he’s cautiously optimistic the panel will affirm the district court's order denying the SLAPP motion and that the case will get back on track in 2016.
“Boiled down to the basics, [The Daily Mail] is in essence asking the 9th Circuit to rule that the ‘reckless disregard’ standard is no longer applicable in actions by public figures against media defendants and that a public figure plaintiff must prove knowing and actual intent to report falsely at the outset of the case,” he said.
“While the 9th Circuit has shown that it can media friendly, I am confident the panel will not cross into this territory and will reign in any attempt to push boundaries in that direction.”
Ashe founded Danni' s Hard Drive in 1995 and later became known as the "most downloaded woman on the Internet." She appeared 30 movies, 23 TV appearances and made regular appearances on her website
Ashe's business made $6.5 million in profit in 2001 and maintained 50 full-time employees at the time.
Penthouse Media Group Inc. purchased her companies, Danni Ashe Inc. and Video Bliss Inc., for $3 million in 2006. The acquisition included Danni.com, DannisHotBox.com and DannisHardDrive.com — all known for busty models, live webcasts and girl-girl videos.
Pictured: Screen shot depicting Danni Ashe in The Daily Mail’s HIV story