Tony La Russa's lawsuit against Twitter, which we first published in the Legal Threats Database back on May 29, seems to have hit the mainstream over the past week. Following the path of the case through the Internet and into the mainstream media provides a fascinating case study in the the possibilities of Twitter and other social media platforms for disseminating and amplifying a message. (And indicates that I should revise my previous Cluetrain addendums to include sports managers.)
It all started back on May 21st, when this client alert from law firm Howard Rice caught the attention of those of us in the CMLP offices. (The alert may, in fact, have been sparked by this post over at SFGate, which seems to have flown under the radar when first posted.) By the end of the following week, the Legal Threats entry on La Russa v. Twitter, Inc. was live on the CMLP website. That same day, Twitter user @socialmediainfo sent out a tweet about the case, with a link back to our entry. This was soon followed by tweets from @Jenn822 and @FO_Brooks relaying information about the case.
By the evening of June 1, @KrisKetz, news anchor for KMBC-TV / KCWE-TV in St. Louis, had retweeted the information, and La Russa had received his first negative publicity about the case, with Twitter user @SheepODoom inquiring "[a]nyone tell LaRussa the world does not revolve around him."
By June 3, @noapransky, reporter for WTSP-TV in Tampa Bay, had picked up on the story. From there, the story spread to NBC Sports and several baseball websites, including The Biz of Baseball and FanHouse.com. At that point, it was but a hop, skip and a digg to ESPN and Internet infamy.
While LaRussa has some defenders on Twitter, the majority of responses agree with those that find humor (or ridicule?) in La Russa's actions. Take Twitter user @rklau, for example, who tweeted upon learning of the case that "I was 5 feet from LaRussa on the field before the game on Sunday. Should have told him I loved him on Twitter."
Of course, the potential futility of suing an intermediary like Twitter wasn't lost on many of the commentators about the case. (Not to mention the problem with brining a cybersquatting claim against the use of a URL, rather than a domain name.) Peter Kafka over at MediaMemo also noted an interesting First Amendment angle to the case, noting that "[i]n theory, [Twitter] should have been ok with the fake LaRussa, because its terms of service allows for parody accounts, and this one was labeled as such." (The fake "TonyLaRussa" included the phrase "Bio Parodies are fun for everyone" in its Twitter bio.)
Adding to the amusement for those following the La Russa saga, the AP reported on Friday that La Russa had settled his case with Twitter, with Twitter agreeing to pay his legal fees and make a donation to his charity. The claim was subsequently repeated by the Wall Street Journal and others. Twitter quickly denied the statement in a blog post on Saturday, however, with the company stating that "Twitter has not settled, nor do we plan to settle or pay," and calling La Russa's lawsuit "an unnecessary waste of judicial resources bordering on frivolous."
The same post to the Twitter Blog did, however, announce plans to move forward with beta testing a Verified Accounts program to confirm the identities of certain Twitter accounts, beginning with "public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well known individuals at risk of impersonation." While some have interpreted Twitter's announcement of Verified Accounts as a response to the La Russa litigation, at least one commentator has noted that it may be the ultimate case of throwing Br'er Rabbit into the briar patch.