Chris Hand of Zeke’s Gallery was featured in a National report on lawsuits against blogs. The video was posted to YouTube in what I’m sure was an entirely legal non-infringement of CBC’s copyright.
Zeke’s Gallery is shutting down. Not the blog, the gallery itself. And now Chris “Zeke” Hand is looking for a new job (know anyone hiring?).
Here’s what he told me:
Back when I started, there was no other ‘underground/alternative’ gallery in town – English or French. Now there are easily half a dozen. My Hero, Red Bird, Monastiraki, Kop Shop, Usine 106U, DGC, L78 and probably some that I am not completely aware of. Back when I started it was a fight to just get in the listings, now spaces like Le Kop Shop and Usine 106U regularly get mainstream press coverage.
While I recognize that it ain’t all my fault – I’d like to think that at the minimum ,the folk running those places thought ‘Hey! If he can do it, I can too! and better as well.’ Which ain’t such a bad legacy if you think about it.
It also is not getting easier competing with 20 year olds in pushing art. The stuff they are doing and showing is quite compelling.
Toss in that I’d gotten tired of fighting to make rent – and to the general public there appeared to be a convenient fall guy, and I figured why not? My previous job had lasted about 10 years. The gallery will have gone 9 years, 3 months, and 18 days. So this wasn’t any out of character moment.
Though it’s not directly a result of recent legal problems, it certainly had an impact.
Michel Leblanc has comments from Pierre-Antoine Tremblay justifying his court cases against blogger Chris Hand.
Tremblay’s side has some valid points:
- This isn’t a case of freedom of speech, it’s a libel case. Bloggers are just as responsible as media outlets as far as not using their right to free expression maliciously. Assuming Tremblay’s interpretation of the original post is true (that Hand accuses him of fraud and links to the mafia), those are certainly things that someone could make a legitimate libel case out of.
- Tremblay hasn’t been charged with any of the crimes he’s been associated with. His dispute with Loto-Quebec was settled out of court (the result is sealed), the paintings are still on display, and he hasn’t been accused of any direct links to Frank Martorana or other members of the mafia.
- He’s not a rich mogul looking to shut down a blog. His injunction is very specific, and doesn’t even prevent Hand from discussing Tremblay, just from repeating the allegations.
- Hand was clearly exacerbating the situation through other media until recently when his lawyer told him to clam up.
On the other hand, he doesn’t answer some of Chris Hand’s main criticisms:
- Why hasn’t Tremblay attempted to contact Hand about all this, instead of issuing threatening lawyer’s letters every couple of weeks?
- Why not have Hand simply correct the post, which he indicates he was perfectly willing to do, instead of bringing him to court?
- Why is the Loto-Quebec press release, which Tremblay says is false, still available to the public? How are we supposed to know that the paintings weren’t fake (if that is indeed the case) if the settlement is secret?
- Why is he suing for $25,000, and now trying to increase that to $60,000?
- Why not simply try to settle the case out of court, since both sides are poor and the only people to win here are the lawyers?
Either way, unless these two can start talking to each other like humans, a judge is going to decide which story is more sympathetic. And lots of money and time is going to be wasted on both sides.
Chris Hand, the Zeke behind Zeke’s Gallery, spent most of today in the Palais de Justice with his lawyer and mother. At issue was an injunction which stops Hand from making specific statements about Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, an art dealer who is suing him for libel.
After hearing about an hour’s worth of arguments from both sides, the judge has ordered a renewal of the existing injunction against Hand, but without changes asked by the plaintiff (those seemed centred around preventing Hand from using other media to make statements against Mr. Tremblay). The injunction prohibits Chris Hand from saying that Pierre-Antoine Tremblay is associated with Frank Martorana and the mafia, or that he tried to sell fake paintings to Loto-Quebec. Both statements Tremblay’s lawyer says are entirly false.
The injunction lasts until Sept. 6, 2007, when further hearings will take place on this matter.
Among other things of note:
- Tremblay wasn’t present in court.
- Tremblay and his lawyer have increased their monetary demands. What was once $25,000 is now $60,000.
- Hand was barely recognizable. His hippie haircut has been replaced with a professional-looking crewcut. He sat well-behaved in a suit (no tie) and didn’t bite the head off even one chicken throughout the proceedings.
- The proceedings were held entirely in French, except for what was read from blog posts and newspaper articles.
- From the plaintiff’s lawyer: “Comment ça se dit en français ‘quack’?” Hand’s mother tried to explain before Chris cut her off and explained that she’s helping opposing council.
- Legal chit-chat between the lawyers and court reporter are always cute. They talk about the temperature of the drinking water in the courtroom, or what lawyer was at which firm when, or about the noise of construction on the floors above them.
- Shout-outs to Montreal Tech Watch and Hou-Hou Blog whose posts were used in evidence by the plaintiff. No mention of my huge post, but my article did get quoted so I won’t complain.
- Both lawyers were very effective at pleading their case. The plaintiff’s arguments boiled down to the fact that this is a very specific injunction (the facts of the libel case weren’t argued today), that Hand is using other media (Yahoo! Groups, other blogs, personal communication at YULblog meetings) to repeat the same allegedly libellous claims, and that Zeke’s Gallery is in competition with Tremblay’s Galerie 2000 (a claim Chris calls an exaggeration).
- There are still three related cases pending. All have been postponed to Sept. 6:
- The injunction preventing Hand from making these statements about Tremblay
- A contempt of court charge for allegedly ignoring the previous injunction
- The libel case itself
- Tremblay’s lawyer said outright that the paintings sold to Loto-Quebec were not forged. This is the first complete denial of this charge I’ve heard. The out-of-court settlement between Tremblay and Loto-Quebec is secret, but I’d love to find out what the real story is behind it.
- The Zeke’s Gallery blog remains effectively shut down. Hand isn’t sure if he’ll bring it back, even if he ends up winning the case.
Michel Leblanc has an interesting on-the-other-hand take to the Zeke’s Gallery situation. He points out that Tremblay hasn’t been convicted of anything, and just because the media accuses him of something doesn’t make it true.
The point is well taken. Chris Hand shouldn’t be immune from prosecution for libel just because he’s a blogger.
But this whole mess was caused by Tremblay himself, who instead of sending an email with his side of the story (a side he hasn’t expressed publically, in part because of a confidentiality agreement with the Loto-Quebec thing and in part because he’s just chosen not to) sent a lawyer’s letter to Hand. Then, when Hand complied with the letter, he sent another more threatening one making more demands.
Tremblay (as far as I know) didn’t sue Radio-Canada, Le Devoir
or the other media who first made these claims about him (UPDATE: He sued La Presse, who made much more outlandish statements about him, and lost). And despite an agreement which Tremblay implies was in his favour (as the paintings are still on display), the original press release which accused Tremblay of fraud is still online.
Hand and Tremblay (or their lawyers) meet in front of a judge tomorrow. Let’s hope they can still resolve this amicably.
UPDATE: Tremblay speaks out.
There’s some misinformation and faulty assumptions going around, so I’m going to do the best I can to explain what exactly happened here, in chronological order.
With the Zeke’s saga heating up the blogosphere (did I mention I was Geisted?), the Globe and Mail has a piece by Mathew Ingram about the libel chill affecting prominent bloggers. It lists the Zeke’s case as an example (though it for some reason weasels its way out of naming the guy who’s suing him).
The issue isn’t all that difficult to understand. Blogging has created an army of citizen journalists. Some write only about the actions of their puppies, others think they’re more important than those “MSM hacks”. But they all write. And anything you publish is subject to libel law.
What’s changed is the way the Internet has democratized media. When college newspapers commit copyright infringement or blatantly libel people, nobody really cares because it’s just a few thousand copies and everyone forgets after a while. But with the Internet, a single blog post by some idiot on his couch can reach worldwide exposure with a few good links. In the case of Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, the guy who’s suing Chris Hand, a Google search of his name is littered with pages about his lawsuit, and that’s what everyone’s going to know him by.
Of course, that’s all his fault. Had he not brought the legal action in the first place, nobody would have noticed the original post, his Google situation would have been salvageable and he wouldn’t be getting all this negative publicity.
On the other hand, these blogs and those college newspapers have one thing in common: they don’t have any money. That’s the real reason why small-time publishers don’t get sued for libel: It’s just not worth it. Even if you win, you won’t get any money. It’s only when you go after the big guys that you can get rich.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some people with sensitive egos and lots of time on their hands from launching frivolous, over-the-top lawsuits.
With great power comes great responsibility. We have to watch what we write, and hope that it doesn’t come to a point where we have to justify our words in front of a judge.
Kate has some thoughts on this issue as well.
Apparently it wasn’t so much of a happy ending for Zeke’s Gallery’s blog and the gallery owner with the big ego and lawyer friend. After apparently being reassured that a simple pronoun confusion was at fault for a misunderstanding, it turns out he wasn’t satisfied.
Now other blogs are taking notice and calling on the world to blog about how this guy sucks and bloggers are under attack from evil lawyers.
The lesson in all this is that in the eyes of the law, blogs are no different from major newspapers. Both are responsible for their words and subject to libel law. Of course, the main reason bloggers don’t tend to get sued as much (besides the relative lack of readership) is that they don’t have very deep pockets. I learned that as editor of The Link.
The flip side is that for these small bloggers, it’s cheaper to give in to demands than hire a lawyer to fight even the most frivolous charges.
It’s not so much a blogging issue. It’s a problem with the justice system.
Not news: Zeke’s Gallery blog pisses off local self-important gallery owner.
News: Gallery owner gets lawyers involved.
Jackass: Mise en demeure is in French, despite the blog posting being in English.
Funny story: Apparently the libel claim is based on a misreading of an ambiguous sentence in a blog post.
Happy ending: A simple conversation over the telephone solves everything.