Lawsuit Filed Against S-Town Podcast

S-Town is a very popular podcast. The show has won three Webby Awards (Best Series, Best Writing, and People’s Choice). It also won a Peabody award. Participant Media has acquired the rights to turn S-Town into a movie.

The latest news about S-Town involves a lawsuit.

S-Town is a podcast from Serial Productions and This American Life. It is hosted by Brian Reed. The S-Town podcast focuses on a man from Alabama named John who “despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it.” John asked a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder.

The lawsuit against S-Town was filed by Craig Cargile, the executor of John B. McLemore’s estate. The suit was filed in Bibb County, Alabama. The lawsuit contends that McLemore didn’t give permission to broadcast the intimate details of his sexual orientation, mental state or other aspects of his life.

Forbes reported that Alabama passed a right-of-publicity statute.

It says that it is fair use (and not a violation of the law) if the use of a person’s identity “is in connection with a news, public affairs, or public interest account, political speech or a political campaign, live or prerecorded broadcast or streaming of a sporting event or photos, clips, or highlights included in broadcasts or streaming of sports news or talk shows, or documentaries, or any advertising or promotion of the same (public interest work), or is part of an artistic or expressive work, such as a live performance, work of art, literary work, theatrical work, musical work, audiovisual work, motion picture, film, television program, radio program, or the like (artistic work), or any advertising or promotion of the same, unless the claimant proves…that the use in an artistic work is such a replica as to constitute a copy of the person’s indicia of identity for the purposes of trade.”

The statute also says: “It is not a fair use and is a violation… if a person’s indicia of identity is used, without such person’s permission, in a manner stating or implying that such a person has endorsed or supports a candidate for public office.”

The Associated Press received an emailed response about this lawsuit from Julie Snyder (S-Town’s executive producer). She said that she could not comment on the litigation other than to say it “lacks merit”. She also said, “S-Town is produced consistent with the highest journalistic standards and we intend to defend against this lawsuit aggressively.”

The Associated Press also reported that the lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive damages.