Monday, August 5, 2013

Federal Judge Blots Out Noted Art Authenticator's Libel Suit

The New Yorker
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a 51-page ruling in Biro v. Conde Nast et al. (Case No. 11-civ.-4442), United States District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge J. Paul Oetken tossed a defamation claim brought by a forensic art expert arising from an unflattering 2010 article in The New Yorker.

David Grann, author of the article, The Mark of a Masterpiece: The man who keeps finding famous fingerprints on uncelebrated works of art, was sued for defamation by Canadian art authenticator Peter Paul Biro, as was The New Yorker's publisher, Conde Nast, and in subsequent amended complaints, Gawker Media, Business Insider, among others. The 16,000-word article casts a suspicious eye on Biro's methodology that matched fingerprints on artwork to the artists who painted the pieces.

Oetken, who according to accounts by Courthouse News Service and The New York Times, has been widely published in scientific journals and often lectures at universities, was deemed a limited public figure by the Court. Judge Oetken ruled Biro failed to meet the elevated burden of proof of actual malice in his defamation claim or show that Grann fabricated quotes or relied on "wholly unverified or patently unreliable sources" in preparing The Mark of a Masterpiece.

In granting the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, Judge Oetken found: "There is little question that a reader may walk away from the article with a negative impression of Biro, but that impression would be largely the result of statements of fact that Biro does not allege to be false."  Attorneys for the plaintiff plan to appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
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