Update (November 16, 2017, 3:45 p.m.):
The ACLU has issued another statement after neither Taylor Swift nor her attorney responded to their letter.
"The deadline has passed and we have not heard from Ms. Swift or her attorney. Their failure to respond shows that the letter to Ms. Herning was full of empty threats and designed to intimidate," said Senior Staff Attorney Michael Risher. "We remain concerned about threat letters of this type that effectively discourage people from seeking the legal advice they need to fight back. We encourage anyone who receives them to contact an attorney."
Update (November 6, 2017, 5:35 p.m.): Refinery29 has spoken to Meghan Herning, the writer behind the piece being contested by Swift’s lawyer, who believes rather than going after mainstream outlets that have published similar sentiments, Swift’s team is targeting people who “can’t really fight back, who don’t know what’s going on, who don’t have a general counsel.”
“PopFront is a collective of writers,” she explained of the website, which launched in 2013. “There’s four founders, including myself.” For all of them, including their roster of contributors, writing is a hobby. By day, Herner is an entrepreneur whose background in law allowed her to think twice after receiving the letter from Swift’s lawyers and contact the ACLU. Since the ACLU published its rebuttal today, Herner has not heard from Swift’s team. She hopes this news will encourage other journalists to stand their ground and seek legal advice if ever faced with accusations of defamation, and that this forces Taylor Swift to make a public statement denouncing white supremacy.
As of this update, Refinery29 has not received a comment from Swift's team.
Original story follows.
Fresh off her last victory in court, and shortly before the November 10 release of Reputation, Taylor Swift has embarked on another potential legal battle. This time, she's up against blogger Meghan Herning, who wrote an article titled "Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation" on culture and politics website PopFront. The post explores Swift's relationship with the alt-right, and the way Herning claims the singer has been lauded as a figurehead in the movement.
"Taylor’s lyrics in 'Look What You Made Me Do' seem to play to the same subtle, quiet white support of a racial hierarchy," she writes in the September 5 post. "Many on the alt-right see the song as part of a 're-awakening,' in line with Trump’s rise. At one point in the accompanying music video, Taylor lords over an army of models from a podium, akin to what Hitler had in Nazis Germany. The similarities are uncanny and unsettling."
Then, on October 5, Herning received a letter from Swift's lawyer claiming that the blog post is defamation, insisting the writer issue a retraction, remove the story from all media sources, and cease and desist, threatening a lawsuit.
"The story is replete with demonstrable and offensive falsehoods which bear no relation to reality or the truth about Ms. Swift," the letter reads. "It appears to be a malicious attack against Ms. Swift that goes to great lengths to portray Ms. Swift as some sort of white supremacist figurehead, which is a baseless fiction masquerading as fact and completely misrepresents Ms. Swift."
William Briggs, Swift's attorney, goes on to say that this letter represents "yet another unequivocal denouncement by Ms. Swift of white supremacy and the alt-right," however, the very last line forbids Herning from ever showing it to the public without their authorization.
Now, in a new blog post, the ACLU of Northern California is firing back, saying that Herning contacted them after the letter, and that Brigg's legal claims are unsupported.
"This is a completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech,” said ACLU of Northern California attorney Michael Risher.
"Intimidation tactics like these are unacceptable,” added ACLU fellow attorney Matt Cagle. “Not in her wildest dreams can Ms. Swift use copyright law to suppress this exposure of a threat to constitutionally protected speech." ("Wildest Dreams" is a Taylor Swift song from her album 1989, something I find very hard to believe is a coincidence). Refinery29 has reached out to Taylor Swift's team for comment and will update if we hear back.
For her part, Herning has told the ACLU that "the press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon. These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down."