In the light of Jane Litte’s revelation that she is also Jen Frederick, apparently a successful NA author, one of the sentiments that popped up pretty much on the spot was, “how dare she ask for money when she’s filthy, filthy rich!”
First, a few things:
- I am not a lawyer.
- I don’t pretend to be a lawyer.
- I don’t play a lawyer anywhere.
- What follows is not legal advice.
All clear? Okay, then.
I believe The Curious Case of Ellora’s Cave post is not defamatory in any way. The facts it presents are public, and the opinions of the author are, precisely because they are opinions, protected in the US by the First Amendment.
Let me repeat that last bit for you: even if the piece hadn’t been as well researched and backed up by information available to any person curious enough to hunt it up, as it was; even then, it would still be the author’s opinion, and therefore, protected speech.
Unfortunately, the US also has a culture of abusing the legal system to try to silence critics. Or, as someone else told me when the suit was filed, anyone can sue anyone for any damn thing.
The likelihood of the butthurt to sue someone for daring to express their negative opinion about the butthurt themselves, or the butthurt’s products, company, or own speech, rises exponentially every time one of these lawsuits succeeds.
Which they all too often do, either because the defendant simply doesn’t have the means to fight in court and settles, or because the process is incredibly onerous not just in money but in stress, and so the defendant settles.
Again, let me repeat: the person suing doesn’t have to be right in order to file a lawsuit for defamation.
The person being sued doesn’t have to have defamed anyone.
The specter of a lawsuit is enough to scare most people into apologizing, deleting commentary, back pedaling, and keeping silent forever more. Many individuals and companies routinely use the weight of the US court system to silence the public in the form of individuals. These lawsuits are so common they have their own acronym: SLAPP.
Because SLAPP are attacks on US citizens’ freedom of speech, some states have implemented laws that protect consumers leaving a review on a product (such as a book, in case anyone wonders), or bloggers writing an opinion on whatever they have feelings enough to form said opinion.
Ohio doesn’t have even the most cursory defense against a SLAPP.
When announcing to Dear Author’s readership that both herself and the blog had been sued by Ellora’s Cave, Jane Litte also announced that she would fight the suit, protect the identities of her sources (the authors and other creditors owed money by Ellora’s Cave) and commenters, using her own money for that purpose.
A quick aside here: I will not go into details because it’s none of the internet’s business, but I have been involved in legal proceedings on a much smaller scale than this, and I can tell you that $20K? Barely a retainer for a good lawyer for a case of this type.
Everyone who agreed that the lawsuit was an effort to silence Ellora’s Cave’s critics clamored to help in whichever way they could. I myself, in this tiny obscure corner of the internet, wrote this:
Dear Author as a whole, and Jane Litte in particular, have advocated for authors as much as for readers for years, and it has helped out bloggers whose right to speech has been threatened (by authors, by other blogs, etc) for about as long. And while there are asshats out there who are lacking in both vision and understanding to be gleeful about EC suing Dear Author, most of the online reading community is indignant and rallying around the blog and the blogger.
We will not be silenced, and we will not sit down and do nothing. Not only will many of us put our money with Jane and Dear Author to help her fight this frivolous, censorious suit, but we will act.
EC, meet the Streisand Effect
I stand by those words.
When Sarah Wendell set up the fundraiser for Dear Author’s and Jane Litte’s legal defense fund, she stated that Jane Litte had set aside $20,000 of her own money to fight the suit, explaining at some length why those twenty K would not last enough, and that the additional $50,000 sought would help enormously. She also said:
All funds will be used for Jane’s legal defense, minus the fees charged by GoFundMe, and because we don’t know what the end result will be, we have no way of knowing what the total amount required will be. If there are any funds left over when the suit is finished, they will be donated to the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund ( http://www.spj.org/ldf.asp).
Most people thought that was a great plan, and donations came in, fast and furious, so that the target amount was hit within four days.
Considering the actual size of the romance community as it pertains to both Ellora’s Cave and Dear Author is tiny, raising that much money in such a short period of time is nothing short of amazing. Ours is a very fragmented community where petty concerns very often blind us to what’s most important, and often many of the small factions are pretty adamant about shunning others they disagree with, whatever the reason.
And so, it was neither surprising nor rare to see that many of the people who donated–and some of them pretty substantial amounts too–spelled out that they did so not because they like or support Dear Author or Jane Litte, but because of the wider implications of the suit.
Go, romance readers and authors.
Go, freedom of speech.
Then came last week’s bombshell.
After an initial period of untrammeled support and rejoicing, concerns were raised.
People like me re-examined their feelings about things (“it’s…complicated” about sums it up for now) while people who had been holding on to their grudges jumped at the chance to bring Dear Author and Jane Litte down.
And more power to them–their freedom of speech is also protected, so they can continue to show their ass in public all they want.
So can I, for that matter.
This brings me (finally) to the point of this post.
One of accusations that floated up from the cesspool was that Jane Litte was benefiting financially from the defense fund.
I honestly can’t even with that one. The idiocy defeats me.
The next one was that because she’s a lawyer (which she was when the suit was filed, by the way), she doesn’t need financial help to fight the lawsuit.
One hundred percent bullshit here. See what I wrote above about the cost of litigation?
Then came the because she’s a successful author and there’s a movie option, she doesn’t need financial help to fight the lawsuit.
As far as the successful author bit…please do define success for me here. E. L. James is successful. Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockmann are successful. So are Ann Aguirre and Courtney Milan. So are a number of other authors, and guess what? That doesn’t mean they all can or should spit out tens of thousands of dollars because someone is butthurt and sues them.
The only accusation (and that’s what they are, however they want to pretty them up) about the fund and Jane Litte’s Jen Frederick identity that has merit for me is this:
Jane Litte should have revealed her Jen Frederick identity before she allowed Sarah Wendell to set up the fundraising efforts.
Not because her identity materially changes the facts or makes The Curious Case of Ellora’s Cave defamation or any of that.
She should have disclosed her second pseudonym then to allow the people willing to support free speech to make a fully informed decision.
Unfortunately, now, every word said, every choice made, by everyone involved in helping Jane Litte keep her Jen Frederick identity a secret while interacting with both personae is suspect–starting with Jessica Clare and Sarah Wendell, and moving on down the line.
Me? I’m sure there are those who consider me profoundly stupid, because I have enough faith in romance readers and writers to believe that the fund would still have reached its goal within days, because it was never about Jane Litte and Dear Author.
It has always been about Ellora’s Cave shady and shitty dealings with its authors, editors and cover artists, and about freedom of speech.
But each person who donated should have been able to make the choice while in possession of all the facts.
To be honest? I don’t much care if she had a full $100.00 to fight the suit, I would still have wanted to contribute, because the fight for free speech is *my* fight as well.
You may have noticed that I blog on a free wordpress account. You know why? Because I don’t have enough income for a paid one, or a domain, or anything else. I live pretty much check to check. So it’s not like I can throw even $25 dollars out at once without thinking about it.
If someone gets a bug up their ass and decides to sue me because I wrote a profanity laced review skewering a book they wrote or published, I have nothing to fight that with. Every time a precedent is set when a blogger is sued over opinions, and the blogger loses, my right to say whatever the hell I feel or think is compromised.
That is why I donated my humble $10.00 to Dear Author’s legal defense fund and why I would do it again today¹ if it’s necessary to ensure that my right to speak up in the future is protected.
¹ though I would not go through GoFundMe, the assholes, to do so.