frida-bredesen-IDO_a-dxrCY-unsplashThe thing about notoriety, or infamy, is that it places a magnifying glass over every part of your life, and that's particularly true of the reality television stars of today. That means any legal trouble of legal issues you face become fodder for the internet, because there's seemingly nothing we enjoy more than the rise and fall of stars.

Tiger King presented a shift to that paradigm; we were watching an already fallen star, as the show made it clear for the start that its breakout star, Joe Exotic, was offering commentary from prison, the show creators not attempting to obscure the outcome of the story from viewers. And while his status demonstrates that he had greater legal concerns over the course of the narrative, it hasn't stopped other aspects of his messy televised life from drawing questions.

From Slate comes an article from Joshua Lamel exhorting that "The Copyright Lawsuit in Tiger King Is an Outrage." In it, Lamel makes the case that Joe Exotic should not have settled the copyright lawsuit brought against him by his putative nemesis and the ostensible villain of the series (from the point of view Joe Exotic and the creators both seemingly embrace) Carole Baskin.

The case in question is fairly straightforward and somewhat banal, in a way that Joe Exotic's other legal woes clearly weren't: as part of an ongoing tit-for-tat between he and Baskin, the Florida-based animal-rights activist, Joe Exotic used a picture of Baskin and others holding up dead rabbits in an attempt to highlight perceived hypocricy. The catch, as you might have guessed, was that Baskin held the copyright to the photo, nad of course took the opportunity to try and score another point in hte ongoing feud.

As with anything related to the show, the issue was hardly so straightforward. Lamel points out that Joe Exotic's use of the picture is a clear example of fair use, in this case using the photo to offer commentary on Baskin, or, less charitably, to impugn her character. Still, regardless of how you feel about the people involved or the overall uneasiness everything from the show evokes, the copyright case itself is a high-profile example of a punitive lawsuit, one that falls under the category of a "strategic lawsuit against public participation" or SLAPP.

It's a strategy not unlike what patent trolls pursue: take up meritless suits with the knowledge that many defendants don't have the resource to fight a case in court, thus punishing and effectively silencing critics. Lamel lays out the chilling effect of such suits and the headwinds against anti-SLAPP legislation, namely the lobbying efforts of trial lawyers and copyright holders. From most observers, it's just another data point supporting an argument that the copyright system is broken.

Regardless of merit, Joe Exotic settled the case, and given everything that transpired, it's quite far down the list of his ill-advised moves throughout the course of the show. It's easy for a few tiger maulings and an attempted murder plot to obscure a rather quotidian legal case, but maybe there's a lesson to be gleaned about copyright law from Tiger King, if nothing else.