ACLU advises Taylor Swift’s BigLaw lawyer to ‘shake it off’

First Amendment

Taylor Swift/Shutterstock

The American Civil Liberties Union worked in some Taylor Swift references in a letter criticizing a lawyer for the pop star who sent a takedown notice to an obscure blog that suggested Swift has an alt-right following and it could partly be her fault.

The letter (PDF) by lawyer William Briggs of Venable called the PopFront blog post “baseless fiction masquerading as fact” and claimed his takedown letter itself is confidential and protected by copyright, Slate, NPR, the Washington Post, Above the Law and Entertainment Weekly have stories; an ACLU press release is here.

PopFront says in a new blog post that it sought the ACLU’s help, which responded with a letter (PDF) to Briggs.

“Criticism is never pleasant,” the ACLU says in its letter, “but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation.” The blog’s claims about Swift don’t constitute defamation, “not even in your wildest dreams,” the letter says. “Shake It Off” and “Wildest Dreams” are Swift hit songs, while “Reputation” is the name of her upcoming album.

The original PopFront article pointed to Swift’s lyrics in “Look What You Made Me Do” in which she says, “I don’t like your kingdom keys. They once belonged to me.” The blog viewed the lyrics as an echo of the white supremacist chant, “You will not replace us.” In a music video for the song, the blog said, “Taylor lords over an army of models from a podium, akin to what Hitler had in Nazis Germany. The similarities are uncanny and unsettling.”

Briggs’s letter asks PopFront to retract the blog post and to remove it. Swift “has repeatedly and consistently denounced white supremacy” and the blog post is defamatory, Briggs writes.

“This is a confidential legal notice and is not for publication,” Briggs writes at the conclusion of his letter. “Any publication, dissemination or broadcast of any portion of this letter will constitute a breach of confidence and a violation of Copyright Act. You are not authorized to publish this letter in whole or in part absent our express written authorization.”

The ACLU tells Briggs in its letter that PopFront “will not in any way accede to your attempt to suppress their constitutionally protected speech. The blog post is a mix of core political speech and critical commentary; it discusses current politics in this country, the recent rise of white supremacy, and the fact that some white supremacists have apparently embraced Ms. Swift, along with a critical interpretation of some of Ms. Swift’s music, lyrics, and videos.”

Swift is a general public figure for First Amendment purposes, and the blog’s statements are protected opinions, the ACLU says. And the “ominous paragraph” declaring the letter to be a “confidential legal notice” is “utter nonsense,” the ACLU says.

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