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$40 million defamation suit over TLC biopic to proceed

By | Published on Tuesday 26 September 2017


A defamation dispute between MTV owner Viacom and the former manager of TLC could as yet go before a jury after a judge denied the broadcaster’s latest attempt to have to case thrown out of court.

Perri ‘Pebbles’ Reid sued Viacom over a TLC biopic that aired on its VH1 channel back in 2013 called ‘CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story’. Reid claims that the VH1 film – which had input from both surviving TLC members, Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas – portrayed her in an unfairly negative way and misrepresented various elements of the group’s early career, defaming her in the process.

Her rather ambitious defamation lawsuit is seeking $40 million in damages. And why not? Though Viacom has always insisted it need not write a $40 million cheque to Reid, arguing that ‘CrazySexyCool’ was “a docudrama about the experiences of the members of TLC told from their perspective” that is definitely protected by First Amendment free speech rights.

Viacom’s lawyers will gladly present that argument to any future jury, though it would much rather have the whole case thrown out on a bunch of legal technicalities. But this time last year a judge dismissed the broadcaster’s bid for summary judgement in its favour, resulting in a ‘motion for reconsideration’ being filed by Team Viacom.

Last week the judge overseeing the case pretty much denied that motion too. Much of the legal argument to date has centred on whether there was ‘actual malice’ in Viacom’s allegedly defamatory portrayal of Reid, and whether having biased sources who may or may not be pursuing some kind of grudge constitutes malice.

The judge did concede in his latest ruling – published by The Hollywood Reporter – that he had previously erred by considering the grounds for ‘actual malice’ across the biopic in general (plaintiffs argued that the movie as a whole had “a defamatory gist”), rather than on a case-by-case basis for each of the scenes Reid has taken issue with.

As a result a number of those scenes have been removed from Reid’s litigation – which is the second time the number of specified grievances in the defamation suit has been cut down.

However, on the whole the judge said that last year’s ruling denying Viacom summary judgement in its favour was solid and should stand. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t other legal tactics the media firm could still employ to try and kill this case, though for the time being the matter is still on its route to jury trial.