Christian pro-life singer loses libel case against YouTube

By Karen Kidd | Dec 21, 2017

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A Christian pro-life singer and songwriter who claimed she was libeled when YouTube removed her video in 2014 on an alleged terms of service violation has failed to state a claim in her libel case against the online video service, an appeals court recently ruled.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A Christian pro-life singer and songwriter who claimed she was libeled when YouTube removed her video in 2014 on an alleged terms of service violation has failed to state a claim in her libel case against the online video service, an appeals court recently ruled.

Joyce Bartholomew, who also is the national spokesperson for the "Mission: PreBorn" concert series, had appealed her case after the trial court sustained YouTube's demurrer without leave to amend. On Dec. 1, California's 6th District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision and awarded costs to YouTube. 

The 22-page appeals court ruling agreed with the trial court "that Bartholomew has not stated a claim."

The ruling also questioned whether Bartholomew could have been libeled by YouTube's decision to remove her video. 

"Given the sheer breadth of the items covered in YouTube's terms of service, and even taking into consideration Bartholomew's profession, we do not think that the removal statement can be deemed to subject her to 'hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or (cause her) to be shunned or avoided' or tend to 'injure (her) in (her) occupation,'" the ruling said.

The case began Jan. 14, 2014, when Bartholomew uploaded the video of her pro-life song, "What Was Your Name" to her YouTube account. The chorus of which was "What was your name, what were you meant to be? I wish I could’ve known you. What was your name, what were you meant to be? I wish I could’ve known you, before you saw eternity." Bartholomew claimed that by the end of April that year, the video had been viewed more than 30,000 times.

The opinion states that at about that time, YouTube removed the video from the URL location on which it had been aired. Throughout the case, YouTube counsel has maintained the video had not been removed entirely but had been moved to a new URL location and its view count was reset, a subtlety that the ruling addressed in a footnote in the opinion.

"This does not appear in Bartholomew’s pleading, but it is irrelevant for the purposes of our analysis," the footnote said.

'The opinion states visitors to the original URL were greeted by the message "This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service" and a link to the video services "Community Guideline Tips" page with 10 categories of limits and exceptions for video posting. 

The limits and exceptions on the list were sex and nudity, hate speech, shocking and disgusting, dangerous illegal acts, children, copyright, privacy, harassment, impersonation and threats.

Bartholomew filed her libel lawsuit after YouTube declined her request to restore the video. Bartholomew alleged she had not violated YouTube's terms of service and that YouTube published libelous statements that imputed her character.

The trial court found that while the removal statement had been false, it was not defamatory on its face, as is required in a libel per se case, because the statement had not mentioned Bartholomew and contained nothing that would have subjected her to hatred or contempt.

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