The mullet that launched a thousand memes: is it defamation or fair game?

Mullet photo

 

You may be familiar with the viral image accompanying this article. Its subject, Ali Ziggi Mosslmani, brought proceedings against three major news organisations for publication of the image on 21 July 2015 in the Daily Telegraph (both online and in print), on DailyMail.com, on 961.com.au, on kiis1065.com.au, and on KIIS 1065’s Facebook page.

 

Mr Mosslmani claimed that the publications of the image defamed him by imputing that he, among other things:

 

  • justifiably exposed him to ridicule by reason of his mullet hairstyle;
  • is a joke;
  • is a ridiculous person because he wears a controversial haircut; and
  • is hideously ugly.

 

The news organisations applied to the Court to have parts of Mr Mosslmani’s claim struck out. The main questions required to be determined by the Court were whether or not the imputations were specified with sufficient clarity to enable the news organisations to know the case they had to meet; and whether or not the imputations differed in substance.

 

The news organisations were successful in nearly all of their objections to Mr Mosslmani’s imputations, and the Court ordered that Mr Mosslmani pay the news organisations’ costs.

 

Rather than imputing that Mr Mosslmani was ridiculous, the publications made the point that Mr Mosslmani’s “striking mullet haircut has generated a great deal of interest on the internet, most of it humorous, and some of it in the form of clever observations, such as the “Pythagoras” direction in one of the memes”. For those who are unaware, a meme is an image, typically humorous in nature, which is copied and spread rapidly by internet users. The judgment helpfully annexes the publications complained of by Mr Mosslmani, including the DailyMail.com article containing the “Pythagoras meme” referred to by the Court.

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In respect of Mr Mosslmani’s claim that the Daily Telegraph publication imputed he was hideously ugly, the Court noted that his “mullet hairstyle is the subject of attack, but [the publication] says nothing about the rest of his physiognomy… No imputation of ugliness, let alone hideous ugliness, could arise…”.

 

The Court compared the present case to other “ridicule” cases, noting that it is often difficult to draft claims in circumstances where the publications are of an informal and humorous nature. In McDonald v The North Queensland Newspaper Co Ltd [1997], a photograph of a footballer being tackled depicted the footballer in a state of undress. This was considered defamatory because the footballer was photographed in circumstances outside the normal: namely, with disregard to the social taboo of nakedness.

 

In contrast, Mr Mosslmani “was not photographed naked or looking in any way different to his normal appearance; the subject of comment is the way he styled his hair (namely a hairstyle known as a “mullet”). In other words, Mr Mosslmani ordinarily wears a mullet hairstyle, and as a result, it cannot be argued that the publication of the image makes him appear ridiculous.

 

Despite this setback, we haven’t seen the last of the mullet that launched a thousand memes. Mr Mosslmani was granted leave to redraft his pleadings, and at this stage, it looks like the matter will go to trial.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice. This article is intended to provide general information in summary form only. You should not rely on the content of this article as legal advice. If you would like advice specific to you and your situation, please contact us.

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