The disgraced and dismissed former CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, Brian France returned to the headlines on Thursday, as details of a pending lawsuit have become public.
France is claiming invasion of privacy, appropriation of name/likeness, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress against John L. Steele.
For those who don’t know, Steele — a long-time NASCAR fan — is the man behind the Twitter handle @DrunkBrianF, a parody account that originally started as a spoof of France, but has since morphed into a channel for Steele to break insider information about happenings in the sport that he hears.
Steele opened the account in February 2014, but it wasn’t until August 5, 2018 that France was arrested for DUI and possession of a controlled substance (Oxycodone). As a result, France was released from his position as CEO and Chairman of NASCAR and replaced with his uncle Jim France.
Now, nearly nine months after France issued a guilty plea to his charges, he is suing the parody Twitter account.
In the lawsuit paperwork, it states that France is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 excluding interest and court costs.
The Twitter community has begun to rally around Steele, who’s parody account has more than 15,000 followers. Keen Parts/CorvetteParts.net’s Teresa Keen has offered to help pay for Steele’s legal fees.
I will help with legal fees for @DrunkBrianF , it’s a parody account and the real one needs to lay down so stupid
— TJ (Teresa) Keen (@keenparts2) March 5, 2020
Additionally, a Go Fund Me has been set up in an effort to aid Steele with any legal fees he may face.
This lawsuit is intriguing, as it potentially opens a can of worms about the lines of protection for free speech in the first amendment.
The first amendment protects satire and parody as free speech.
Steele’s Twitter account features the word Parody in the bio, which Twitter requires any Parody Twitter account to do. Steele has also posted numerous pictures of himself over the years on the account, which has revealed his identity to anyone who may have — for whatever reason — believed that the real Brian France was using a Twitter handle with France’s mug shot as the avatar and the label of drunken in the name.
This isn’t the first time that a public figure has filed a lawsuit in the aftermath of a satirical or parody posting .
A similar incident back in 1983, where Hustler Magazine ran a satirical advertisement depicting televangelist Jerry Falwell as a drunk, among other things, led to a lawsuit from Falwell citing intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Initially, Falwell won his case against Hustler Magazine. But eventually, after running through the appeals process, the United States Supreme Court sided unanimously with Hustler Magazine and declared that the magazine’s depiction of Falwell was protected under free speech.
Currently, there is also an ongoing lawsuit between California Rep. Devin Nunes and a couple of anonymous Twitter parody accounts.
Will the same parody protection that won the 1988 lawsuit for Hustler Magazine come into play for Steele? Or will this case even go to trial?
This will be an intriguing, yet odd story to keep an eye on.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.