6 Ways Corporate Lawsuits Kill Free Speech (and How to Fight Back!)

by Molly Dorozenski

May 8, 2017

Free speech is a right. So how can a corporation possibly stop you from speaking out? Using a legal tactic called a SLAPP, corporations like the massive Canadian logging company, Resolute Forest Products, are attempting to crack down on free speech by suing their critics into submission.

Resolute has filed two lawsuits, one in Canada against Greenpeace Canada for CAD$7 million, and a CAD$300 million suit in the United States against Greenpeace Fund, Greenpeace Inc, Greenpeace International, Stand.earth and several individuals.

Resolute is relying on the fact that this tactic is obscure and confusing, so arm yourself with all the information you need to protect your right to free speech.

1. The clue is in the name SLAPP.

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” As the name implies, they’re used by corporations trying to shut down public participation. SLAPPs are often filed without any kind of merit, just to cause financial harm to individuals and organizations who have to hire lawyers and engage in costly legal battles to continue their work.

2. They’re more than just a SLAPP on the wrist.

Many SLAPPs are for amounts of money that are nearly impossible to pay, forcing activists to choose between massive legal costs or shutting up. Resolute is suing Greenpeace in two separate suits for CAD$300 million and CAD$7 million respectively. The whole purpose? Intimidation.

3. Corporations are getting SLAPP-happy.

You’re not the only one who thinks this should be illegal. A handful of countries around the world and 28 state legislatures in the United States have enacted anti-SLAPP laws to prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed. The idea is that if lawsuits intended to burden individuals and organizations are terminated early, their impact could be limited.

But the laws remain imperfect and need to be strengthened and expanded to protect people everywhere. And even though anti-SLAPP legislation is popping up everywhere, SLAPPs continue to be on the rise.

4. That one where the residents of a small Alabama town got sued for $30 million for standing up against a coal ash landfill.

The ACLU represented individuals in Uniontown, Alabama — a poor, predominantly black town — who were sued by Green Group Holdings for $30 million for standing up to a coal ash landfill in their town. Due to public outcry and the support of the ACLU, they reached a settlement in February and agreed to better environmental protections — but they shouldn’t have had to deal with this corporate bullying in the first place. There are hundreds of others across America and beyond who won’t be so lucky.

5. Sometimes, it gets personal.

In the Resolute v. Greenpeace lawsuits, Resolute chose to name individuals because by serving them with a massive lawsuit, in their home, the company can provoke a reaction.

“It can be intimidating to be personally named in a fat lawsuit,” said Greenpeace USA Forest Campaign Director Rolf Skar. “You know you’ve got piles of legal papers and suddenly you wonder about, what does this mean for me? When do I have to show up in court? What does this mean for my future?”

Companies like Resolute count on this intimidation to make individuals think twice about speaking up.

6. Wait, what does the mafia have to do with this?

If you’re following the Greenpeace case, you might have seen that Resolute is using RICO laws to inflate the amount of money in the U.S. lawsuit and claim triple damages. Does RICO sound familiar? You might know about RICO laws from when they were first created– in an effort to prosecute the mafia more effectively. The filings in the U.S. call Greenpeace a “global fraud” and claim that “soliciting money, not saving the environment, is Greenpeace’s primary objective.”

When you’re SLAPPED, stand FIRM.

We created this easy acronym to remember what to do if you or your organization faces a SLAPP, or you want to stand up and support Greenpeace. Stand FIRM.

  • Fight back: SLAPPs don’t stand up to scrutiny and it’s important to explore your legal options and build a strong legal defense.
  • Investigate: continue to examine and expose the practices of the corporation suing you– they wouldn’t resort to these tactics if they didn’t have something to hide.
  • Rally. Bring together your free speech allies to help support the cause and amplify your message.
  • Make some noise. Refuse to be silent. Don’t give up your free speech.

For more information on fighting SLAPPs, check out Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Public Participation Project’s campaign for public laws to limit repressive SLAPP suits.

Most of all, don’t let Resolute silence you! Take action now!

By Molly Dorozenski

Molly Dorozenski is a Project Leader at Greenpeace US, where she has worked for eight years in creative and strategic communications. She has planned and executed comprehensive communications campaigns including campaigns on climate, the Arctic, the Gulf Oil Spill, as well as a variety of corporate campaigns that helped move companies towards more sustainable practices. In 2015 she received an Effie Award for work with the VIA Agency that pushed tech companies to commit to using more renewable energy.

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