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Parody Found Not to Be Defamatory Under the Reasonable Reader Test

In the case of Corso Ventures, L.L.C. v. Paye, 2023-Ohio-127, an appellate court held that an author of three articles posted to a website cannot be liable for defamation as the website articles in question were clearly parody under the reasonable reader test.

In this case, the restaurant argued that the website articles could not be considered parody because the articles labeled the business as a racist (e.g., the articles stated that restaurant had a white race night, was opening a new location to separate black people, and Googled how to keep black people out of the restaurant) and being labeled as a racist is defamation per se. In response, the author argued that no reasonable reader would interpret the articles as stating actual facts given the satirical tone of the articles, as well as the clear and express disclaimers on the website. The appellate court agreed with author.

In support of its decision in favor of the author, the appellate court explained that:

Under the reasonable reader test, the tone of all three articles indicates the statements are satirical, aimed at skewering the public news coverage of [the restaurant’s] implementation of the dress code, the ensuing public backlash, and the subsequent apology from [the restaurant]. The reasonable reader would not interpret the articles as stating actual facts. Additionally, the articles appeared on a website that clearly and expressly states that the contents of the website are fictitious and not to be construed as true by the reader. The other articles on the website are similarly satirical in nature, providing further context that the contents should not be construed as fact. In light of both the tone of the articles and the express disclaimer on the website that the contents are parody or satire and not to be construed as stating actual fact, we agree with the trial court that the reasonable reader would understand the statements to be parody or satire.

2023-Ohio-127 at ¶ 18.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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