About three years ago, former Marine, Don Gaita, produced a video and posted it online. Like many YouTube screeds, Gaita’s video dealt with his political opinions. It incorporated footage of Marines training, and mentioned two local public figures, Matt Knickerbocker and Gary Chesley, the town’s First Selectman and School Superintendent, respectively.
Knickerboker and Chesley were understandably dismayed about Gaita’s handy work. Chesley went so far as to send out a mass email, which included members of the board of education, deriding the material as “hate speech.” He also asserted in the email that the video violated the US Marine Code of Conduct.
Upon hearing of the email, the ex-Marine decided to file a defamation lawsuit against the pair, claiming that it negatively affected his personal training business.
In Court Accusations
During the trial, Knickerbocker and Chelsey were represented by defamation attorneys; Gaita, on the other hand, was a pro se litigant – meaning he was representing himself. In court, Kickerbocker’s lawyer said that Gaita’s video was an example of “full-contact bloodsport” politics and argued that it was an attempt to discredit the selectman and that it made his client out to be an “un-American liar and gaita as a new leader.”
During closing arguments, Gaita pleaded to the jury to rule in his favor because he had “invested what little money I have had into this suit, as I cannot afford an attorney and I have been fighting for three years.”
The Question Of Copyright Infringement Arises In The Gaita Defamation Case
Interestingly enough, the Gaitia defamation lawsuit has an online copyright infringement aspect to it as well. Since G’s video included the footage of the training Marines, and the Marine Corps insignia is seen in some of the shots. Defendant Chelsey went on record as saying that he had spoken with a military official who indicated that it’s against ethics regulations to use the Marine insignia in any video created for political purposes.
The jury retired to deliberate on Monday. They came back with ruling in favor of the defense. Ultimately, the jury said the email was defamatory, but at the same time was squarely a case of “fair comment.” Under fair comment legal doctrine, “good faith” statements about an issue of public concern, which is directed to the “proper parties” is considered legal.
While Gaita wasn’t thrilled with the outcome, he took it like a Marine, patriotically opining, “I will be forever accused of crimes I didn’t commit, but at the end of the day it’s time to move forward. This is the system we fight to defend, and I have to respect their findings.”