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Jon Fleischman

Harmeet Dhillon’s Lawsuit Against Website Critical of Charles Munger, Jr., Summarily Dismissed

Last September, I penned this column calling on CRP Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon to drop her lawsuit against the blog known as The Munger Games:

The Now-Infamous Photo Of Dhillon

The Munger Games asserts that the purpose of the suit (which now includes a request to Google to provide email correspondence to and from the Munger Games’ Gmail account) is really a fishing expedition to try and expose the authors of the Munger Games.

I [urge] her to drop her lawsuit against the unknown authors of the Munger Games.  Not because she shouldn’t defend her rights to her photo (I’m no expert on that), but because we all lose if anonymous political speech is stifled because of the lawsuit.

Dhillon didn’t take my advice at the time, and it is too late to take it now because U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston has reviewed Dhillon’s lawsuit and found it so wanting that she didn’t bother with the hearing and summarily dismissed Dhillon’s lawsuit with prejudice, according to the latest post on The Munger Games. Judge Illston had no patience for Dhillon’s claims of copyright infringement because The Munger Games used a photo of her that is freely available on the Internet, and agreed with the argument made by The Munger Games attorney that use of the photo in question fell squarely within the “fair use” doctrine exception to copyright rules.

I applaud Judge Illston’s decision. If Harmeet Dhillon had won her lawsuit, it would have had a chilling effect not just on anonymous free speech, but all free speech. Bloggers and others involved in online activism would always be looking over their shoulders and second-guessing themselves before criticizing those who are rich, powerful and willing to spend a lot more money on attorneys than your average blogger can or would.

The Munger Games’ writers have stated publicly their conviction that Harmeet, in her lawsuit, is acting as an agent for Munger.  As I said in my earlier post, I couldn’t speak to that, although I do have direct knowledge of one other instance where Harmeet did, in fact, represent Munger in a legal matter. At the same time, the cost of Dhillon’s lawsuit must be north of $150,000 by now; even though she’s being represented by colleagues in her own law firm, the opportunity cost of time not billed to paying clients is high — especially for litigating over the $250 licensing fee Dhillon says The Munger Games owes her. I’m just saying you have to wonder if someone with deep pockets is making it worth her while.

Charles Munger, Jr.

Hopefully, Dhillon will respond to this courtroom defeat by not wasting any more time trying to muzzle a blog. It’s on understatement to say the California Republican Party has a lot on its plate this election cycle, and we can’t afford to have the party’s Number 2 official diverting her time, energy and attention toward snuffing out a blog that hardly paid her any attention until she sued it. Plus, the optics of the second-ranking state GOP officer filing a transparently political lawsuit against a critical blog isn’t the kind of optic the party should be giving to voters.

In closing, I do not choose (except on very rare occasion, only a handful I can think of over 8 plus years of publishing this site) to support unattributed or anonymous blogging on the FlashReport.  When I have it has been where I absolutely know the identity of the author and am trying to protect them for whatever the reason.  That said, anonymous free speech plays an important role in our political process.  In the case of the Munger Games, that site heaps a lot of criticism on Charles Munger, Jr., who engages in a lot of high profile, divisive behavior.  That’s his choice, as he is free to do so.  But it is perfectly understandable to me that some of his critics would prefer to not identify themselves.  It is up to discerning readers of The Munger Games to decide if the fact that the authors are anonymous diminishes the site’s credibility.