By Hanna Diamond

I. Introduction

Nona Gaprindashvili, “a pioneer of women’s chess,” is making the first move and suing Netflix over a false statement made in the Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit (the “Series”). [1]  The Series was based on a fictional novel, The Queen’s Gambit (the “Novel”),[2] about an “American chess prodigy Beth Harmon,” and her determination to “take on the world’s top Grandmasters.”[3]

Gaprindashvili filed a First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) in the Central District of California pursuant to diversity jurisdiction on September 20, 2021.[4]  While Netflix has yet to answer Gaprindashvili’s Complaint, it appears that it intends to defend the lawsuit given its statement that “Netflix has only the utmost respect for Ms. Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”[5]  Gaprindashvili believes that she is “[serving] as an example to wronged people by reminding them that they have the right to fight back against such cynical misconduct.”[6]

II. False Light Invasion of Privacy and Defamation Per Se

Gaprindashvili is bringing suit for false light invasion of privacy (“false light”) and defamation per se, but she asserts that the two causes of action are “alternative theories of liability” and does not seek a “double recovery.”[7]  When a complainant brings both a false light and defamation claim, “the false light claim is essentially superfluous, and stands or falls on whether it meets the same requirements as the defamation cause of action.”[8]  

Both claims have three elements, but the first two elements are substantially similar and require the plaintiff to show (1) a publication or broadcast of a false statement, and (2) a demonstration by clear and convincing evidence that the statement was published or broadcasted with actual malice.[9]  Since the first two elements are identical, this Blog Post first looks at whether there was (1) a publication of a false statement, and (2) actual malice.

A. False Statement

Gaprindashvili, as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleges that Netflix published a false statement when the Series (1) stated that she never competed against men, and (2) portrayed her as Russian.[10]  By 1968, the period portrayed in the Series, Gaprindashvili had competed against “at least 59 male chess players”[11] and had been doing so for 5-6 years. [12]  

Additionally, Netflix falsely described Gaprindashvili as Russian when she is Georgian.[13]  Gaprindashvili alleges that Georgians “suffered under Russian domination when part of the Soviet Union.”[14]  When Gaprindashvili confronted Netflix over the false statements, Netflix claimed that the statement was “innocuous.”[15]  Gaprindashvili’s Complaint described Netflix’s response as an “arrogant refusal to take responsibility for its actions . . . given the sexism and offensiveness of its lie.”[16]

Gaprindashvili alleges that this falsehood undermined and degraded her accomplishments,[17] before “62 million households.”[18]  A false light claim requires that the statement be made to the “public at large, or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge.”[19]  With such a large number of viewers, it is likely that Gaprindashvili was placed in the public eye.  Since Netflix inaccurately stated Gaprindashvili was a Russian who never competed against men, and because Netflix knew of the falsity of its statements yet proceeded to broadcast them to millions of viewers anyway, it would seem that Gaprinadshvili’s claim successfully demonstrates that Netflix publicized a false statement about her.

B. Actual Malice

Next, Gaprindashvili must show actual malice “knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for truth or falsity,”[20] for both claims.  Actual malice is appropriate when the subject of the alleged defamation is a public official or a public figure.[21]  Actual malice may be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence, and all relevant circumstances may be shown including “reckless disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.”[22]  Gaprindashvili alleges that by “deliberately alter[ing] the text of the Novel” from which the Series follows, actual malice can be inferred.[23]  The Complaint alleges that this is direct evidence of actual malice as “a deliberate falsification of the truth.”[24]

The statement from the Series compared to the statement from the Novel is illustrated below with the bold font preserved as written in the First Amended Complaint:

The Series stated “[t]he only unusual thing about [Elizabeth Harmon], really, is her sex.  And even that’s not unique in Russia.  There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”[25]  However, this statement was derived from the Novel, which stated “the only unusual thing about her was her sex; and even that wasn’t unique in Russia.  There was Nona Gaprindashvili, not up to the level of this tournament, but a player who had met all these Russian Grandmasters many times before.[26]

Further, Netflix hired consultants who are “renowned experts and historians of chess.”[27]  Those experts would likely have discovered that the subject matter of the Series, Gaprindashvili, participated in Georgian politics, held “positions within the Georgian Parliament” and participated in protests opposing “Russian aggression and subjugation.”[28]  Netflix’s hiring of experts and historians of chess to study the subject matter of the series—the game of chess and Gaprindashvili herself—together with the fact that Gaprindashvili was an open protester of Russian aggression against Georgians may help her show that Netflix recklessly disregarded the truth.

Lastly, the Complaint alleges that a reasonable jury could infer actual malice because Netflix refused to apologize or make a correction.[29]  Actual malice must be determined at the time of the publication, but Gaprindashvili alleges that a failure to react can be probative of actual malice at the time the statement was made.[30]  However, the Central District of California has not adopted that failure to retract supports actual malice, and this question has been left open by the Supreme Court.[31]  Thus, while the Complaint alleges that these facts establish that Netflix “acted with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth,” [32] the argument is more likely to succeed based on the knowledge of the experts, not based on the theory of failure to retract.

C. Third Element Distinction: Highly Offensive to a Reasonable Person vs. Proof of Injury to Reputation

The causes of action for false light and defamation per se differ greatly, however, when it comes to the third element.  For a false light claim, the publication must be deemed “highly offensive to a reasonable person.”[33]  Yet for a defamation per se claim, the plaintiff must show proof of injury to her reputation.[34]

For the false light claim, Gaprindashvili alleges that a reasonable person would find Netflix’s false statements highly offensive because Gaprindashvili overcame gender barriers and spent a “large part of her career facing men.”[35]  The Complaint alleges that Netflix’s false statement would also be highly offensive to a reasonable person because Netflix portrayed her as Russian despite her Georgian descent and history of political opposition to Russian attempts at Georgian subjugation.[36]

The defamation per se standard is a more stringent standard that requires a plaintiff to allege a “defamatory meaning” or injury to reputation. [37]  In California, special damages are available for defamation if the plaintiff proves she “suffered in respect to [her] property, business, trade, profession or occupation.”[38]  

Gaprindashvili’s lifelong profession or business is competitive chess.[39]  She alleges that stating she did not compete against men is defamatory as it “cut[s] to the heart of her standing in the world that she has made as her profession.”[40]  Her ability to currently participate in “the chess world, and her ability to earn income from that participation, remains tied to her historical success and accomplishments.”[41]  

Finally, Gaprindashvili’s professional reputation is “inextricably bound up with her courageous efforts to face and defeat” male opponents.[42]  The Complaint alleges that by providing false statements that speak to the opposite, Netflix caused her “professional reputation and brand egregious harm.”[43]  Further, the Complaint alleges that she has suffered “pecuniary losses and lost business opportunities.”[44]  Damages may be assumed for defamation per se.[45] Thus, injury to reputation can be professional or occupational, and Gaprindashvili proved she suffered from lost business opportunities due to her damaged reputation in the chess world.

In conclusion, Gaprindashvili is bringing claims for false light and defamation, which have the same two first elements of false statement and actual malice.  Here, there is likely a false statement when the Series said that Gaprindashvili had not played chess against men and when it described her as Russian.  Actual malice is required for both because Gaprindashvili is a public figure.  While actual malice can likely be shown by deliberately altering the language from the Novel or from Netflix hiring experts, it is unlikely that the court will adopt actual malice from failure to retract the statement.  The third elements differ for the two causes of action in that false light requires the plaintiff to show that is was offensive to a reasonable person, while defamation requires the plaintiff to show injury to reputation.  There is a viable argument that it is offensive to a reasonable person given Gaprindashvili’s history as a woman in a then-male dominated career and the political relationship between Russia and Georgia.  Further, Gaprindashvili may be able to establish injury to reputation in the chess world by showing resulting lost career opportunities.  While Gaprindashvili has alleged facts for each of the elements, it will be interesting to see Netflix’s next move.

[1] First Amended Complaint at 1, Gaprindashvili v. Netflix, Inc., No. 2:21cv7408 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 16, 2021) [hereinafter First Amended Complaint].

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Fatima Hudoon, The Real-Life Queen’s Gambit: How Georgia’s Nona Gaprindashvili Conquered the Chess World, Calvert J. (Nov. 27, 2020),

[4] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 1.

[5] Rachel Treisman, A Chess Trailblazer is Suing Netflix Over Her Portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit, NPR (Sept. 18, 2021, 2:51 PM),

[6] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 4.

[7] Id. at 21.

[8] Eisenberg v. Alameda Newspapers, Inc., 74 Cal. App. 4th 1359, 1385 n.13 (1999).  

[9] See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652D (Am. L. Inst. 1977); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E; Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 156, 170 (1979); see also First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 20.

[10] Tresiman, supra note 5.

[11] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 3.

[12] Id. at 5.

[13] Id. at 3.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at 4.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 9.

[19] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652D cmt. a (Am. L. Inst. 1977) (emphasis added); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E (listing the elements of a false light claim and noting in Comment a that “[t]he rule stated here is [] limited to the situation in which the plaintiff is given publicity.  On what constitutes publicity and the publicity of application to a simple disclosure, see § 652D, Comment a, which is applicable to the rule stated here.”).

[20] Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 156 (1979); First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 17.

[21] See generally Gertz v. Welch, 418 U.S. 323, 334 (1974) (stating that a public official must prove the statement was made with actual malice to recover defamation damages).

[22] Herbert, 441 U.S. at 164 n.12 (quoting 50 Am. Jur. 2d. Libel and Slander § 455 (1970)).

[23] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 17.

[24] Id. at 18.

[25] Id. at 2.

[26] Id. at 18.

[27] Id. at 18–19.

[28] Id. at 8.

[29] Id. at 19.

[30] Id.

[31] See D.A.R.E. Am. v. Rolling Stone Mag., 101 F. Supp. 2d 1270, 1287 (C.D. Cal. 2000), aff’d sub nom., 270 F.3d 793 (9th Cir. 2001) (holding that a failure to retract a statement “upon which grave doubt is cast after publication” is not supported by authority to constitute actual malice).

[32] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 19.

[33] Mallory v. S & S Publishers, 168 F. Supp. 3d 760, 776–77 (E.D. Pa. 2016).

[34] Id.

[35] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 20.

[36] Id. at 20–21

[37] Mallory, 168 F. Supp. 3d 767 (citing Gibney v. Fitzgibbon, 547 Fed. App’x 111, 113 (3d Cir. 2013)).

[38] Thompson v. Civ., No. CV 19-5690-RSWL-AS, 2020 WL 1189837, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 21, 2020), motion for relief from judgment denied sub nom., No. CV 19-5690-RSWL-AS, 2020 WL 8610841 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2020).

[39] First Amended Complaint, supra note 1, at 22.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] See DeMartini v. DeMartini, 833 F. App’x 128, 131 (9th Cir. 2020).

Post image by Ulrik Slot Christensen on Flickr

By Greg Berman

Controversy erupted last week after a George Washington University professor, Dave Karpf, tweeted a joke at New York Times columnist Bret Stephens’s expense.  Quoting an 8-word post about a bedbug infestation in the Times’ newsroom, Karpf joked that “[t]he bedbugs are a metaphor.  The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”[1]  Although this tweet did not initially gain much traction, it later went viral when Stephens personally emailed Karpf, as well as the George Washington University provost, demanding an apology for the insult.[2]  After several more tweets and an off-scheduled column post by Stephens with visible references to the controversy, both sides of the feud seem to be slowing down.[3]  Although this back and forth is just one isolated incident between two individuals, it highlights a growing trend in our discourse.  With the growing usage of social media in our society, these sorts of ideological clashes have seemingly become more prevalent than ever.[4]  And even though these virtual arguments tend to be more of an annoyance than a liability, reputation-damaging attacks (even those made on the internet) still can run the risk of triggering a costly libel lawsuit.[5] 

The tort of libel is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as “[a] defamatory statement expressed in a fixed medium, esp[ecially] writing but also a picture, sign, or electronic broadcast.”[6]  The enforcement of libel laws in the United States dates predates the ratification of the Constitution, most notably with the trial of John Peter Zenger, whose 1735 jury acquittal established the idea that someone cannot be charged with libel if the remark is true.[7]  Even today, the accuracy of the allegedly libelous statements continues to be one of key factors for courts to consider in libel cases, with each state setting their own standards for liability.[8]  Another key consideration for courts comes from New York Times v. Sullivan, where the Supreme Court differentiated defamation claims involving public figures and private individuals, holding that any libel suit against a public figure requires the inaccurate statement to be made with “actual malice.”[9]  Actual malice has been defined by the Court as “knowledge that (the statement) was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”[10]  Additional protections against libel claims were enacted nine years later, when the Supreme Court limited libel laws to apply only to intentionally false statements of fact, even if a trial court is presented with baseless opinions that are similarly incorrect.[11]

Our ever-increasing move toward a digitalized world raises the question of how these libel laws can be applied to internet publications.  To start, no claim for libel can be made against any social media site, such as Facebook or Twitter, for content posted by a user of that social media site.[12]  This is primarily due to the expansive legal protections given to these “interactive computer services” by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.[13]  That being said, individuals may still be held liable for content that they post on the internet, with each state continuing to apply its own standards for libelous conduct even as information crosses state lines.[14]  When it comes to the question of jurisdiction, the Supreme Court clarified in Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc. that a state can claim jurisdiction over a non-resident when injurious information is intentionally disseminated to its citizens.[15]  Specifically, the Court cited each state’s interest in protecting its citizens from intentional falsehoods as a key consideration in its decision.[16] While online information is disseminated in a different manner than the magazines from Keeton, courts have begun allow jurisdiction for internet libel cases when the online post directly targets one or more residents of the state.[17]

When applying libel laws to online statements, courts have used similar substantive principles to those used for print publications.  In 2009, former musician Courtney Love was sued by her former attorney after tweeting allegedly libelous remarks.[18]  As this was the first reported case to go to a jury decision for remarks made over Twitter, the trial court was left with a case of first impression.[19]  In a landmark decision, the court opted to apply traditional libel laws.  A jury found that Love did not know that the statements were false at the time they were made; she therefore lacked the actual malice required to be considered libel.[20]  

There have also been other cases involving libelous comments made over Twitter.[21]  For example, one such case took place after a tenant complained on her personal Twitter account about her “moldy apartment.”[22]  After seeing the post, the landlord sued the tenant under Illinois libel laws; the case was later dismissed with prejudice because the tweet was too vague to meet the requisite legal standards for libel.[23]  Another lawsuit took place after a mid-game conversation between an NBA coach and a referee was overheard and tweeted out by an AP reporter.[24]  The referee insisted that the reported conversation never took place, and the subsequent lawsuit ultimately resulted in a $20,000 settlement.[25]  Each of these cases present factually unique scenarios, but all together indicate a growing trend: even as the medium for public discourse has been rapidly shifting towards the digital sphere, traditional libel laws still continue to apply.

In addition to substantive treatment, there also remain unresolved legal questions stemming from courts’ application of the single publication rule.  The single publication rule provides that “any one edition of a book or newspaper, or any one radio or television broadcast, exhibition of a motion picture or similar aggregate communication is a single publication” and therefore “only one action for damages can be maintained.”[26]  The justification behind this rule is simple: by aggregating all damages allegedly caused by a publication to a single action, a party would not be perpetually bombarded with litigation long after their active role in publication has ended.[27]  This rule has already been adopted in “the great majority of states” and was implemented within the 4th Circuit in Morrissey v. William Morrow & Co.[28]  However, some academics have proposed that the single publication rule should not always be applied to social media posts, citing the possibility that a publisher could personally solicit shares or retweets and thereby maintain an active role in republishing libelous information.[29]  The issue of continual dissemination by means of retweeting seems primed to be raised in later litigation, but thus far has not been brought before any court.[30]  Still, many circuits have already begun the process of implementing the single publication rule to online posts in general (so far these cases have been litigated over personal blogs rather than Facebook or Twitter posts), so it will be interesting to see how courts handle the issue if eventually raised by litigants down the road.[31]

As the social media presence in our society grows stronger each day, only time will tell if courts will craft separate libel principles for online publications.  There are arguments to be made on both sides, especially now that online mediums are increasingly taking over many of the informational functions previously held by their print counterparts.[32]  For now, at least, courts are continuing to use the same traditional libel laws that have been evolving and changing since John Peter Zenger’s 1735 acquittal. [33]  And while the jury is still out on whether Dave Karpf actually thinks Bret Stephens is a metaphorical bedbug, he can likely rest easy knowing that current libel laws will protect his joke from any future legal trouble.

1. Dave Korpf (@davekorpf), Twitter (Aug. 26, 2019, 5:07 PM),

[2] See Dave Korpf (@davekorpf), Twitter (Aug. 26, 2019, 9:22 PM),; Dave Korpf (@davekorpf), Twitter (Aug. 26, 2019, 10:13 PM); see also Tim Efrink & Morgan Krakow, A Professor Called Bret Stephens a ‘Bedbug.’ The New York Times Columnist Complained to the Professor’s Boss, Wash. Post (Aug. 27, 2019), (summarizing the context of Korpf’s tweet and the resulting controversy).

[3] See Dave Korpf (@davekorpf), Twitter (Aug. 30, 2019, 7:58 PM),; Bret Stephens, Opinion, World War II and the Ingredients of Slaughter, N.Y. Times (Aug. 30, 2019),

[4] Jasmine Garsd, In An Increasingly Polarized America, Is It Possible To Be Civil On Social Media?, NPR (Mar. 31, 2019)

[5] See id.; Adeline A. Allen, Twibel Retweeted: Twitter Libel and the Single Publication Rule,15 J. High Tech. L. 63, 81 n.99 (2014).

[6]  Libel, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

[7] Michael Kent Curtis, J. Wilson Parker, William G. Ross, Davison M. Douglas & Paul Finkelman, Constitutional Law in Context 1038 (4th ed. 2018).

[8] James L. Pielemeier, Constitutional Limitations on Choice of Law: The Special Case of Multistate Defamation, 133 U. Pa. L. Rev. 381, 384 (1985).

[9] 376 U.S. 254, 279–80 (1964); see also Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 351 (1974) (defining a public figure as either “an individual achiev[ing] such pervasive fame or notoriety” or an individual who “voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular public controversy”).

[10] Sullivan, 376 U.S. at 280.

[11] See Gertz, 418 U.S. at 339 (“[u]nder the First Amendment, there is no such thing as a false idea.”).

[12] See Allen, supra note 5, at 82.  Of course, Facebook and Twitter are not immunized against suits for content that they post on their own platforms.  Cf. Force v. Facebook, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-397, 2019 WL 3432818, slip op. at 41 (2d Cir. July 31, 2019), (“If Facebook was a creator or developer, even ‘in part,’ of the terrorism-related content upon which plaintiffs’ claims rely, then Facebook is an ‘information content provider’ of that content and is not protected by Section 230(c)(1) immunity.”).

[13] 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(1) (2017) (“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”).  “Interactive computer service” is defined by the act as “any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server”). Id. at §230(f)(2); see also Allen, supra note 5, at 82 n.100 (describing additional protections provided by the Communications Decency Act, including how Twitter falls under its definition of “interactive computer service”).

[14] See Allen, supra note 5, at 84; Pielemeier, supra note 8, at 384.

[15] 465 U.S. 770, 777 (1984); see also Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 791 (1984) (holding that personal jurisdiction is proper over defendants who purposefully directed libelous information at the plaintiff’s home state with the intent of causing harm).

[16] Keeton, 465 U.S. at 777.

[17] See, e.g.,Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119, 1124 (W.D. Pa. 1997); Young v. New Haven Advocate, 315 F.3d 256, 263 (4th Cir. 2002); Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693, 707 (7th Cir. 2010) (each applying traditional libel tests for personal jurisdiction to online publications, requiring the publication to be intentionally targeted towards citizens of the state). 

[18] Gordon v. Love, No. B256367, 2016 WL 374950, at *2 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2016). The exact language of the tweet in question was “I was fucking devastated when Rhonda J. Holmes, Esquire, of San Diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote.”  Id.  The tweet was deleted five to seven minutes after it was posted.  Id. at *3.  This was Love’s second time being sued for defamation over comments made on her Twitter account, although the first lawsuit resulted in a $430,000 settlement before trial. Matthew Belloni, Courtney Love to Pay $430,000 in Twitter Case, Reuters (Mar. 3, 2011),

[19] See Allen, supra note 5, at 81 n.99.

[20] Love, 2016 WL 374950, at *3.  The reason actual malice was required in the case is because Love’s attorney had gained public figure status, which was not disputed at trial. Id.

[21] See Joe Trevino, From Tweets to Twibel*: Why the Current Defamation Law Does Not Provide for Jay Cutler’s Feelings, 19 Sports Law J. 49, 61–63 (2012) (describing a series of libel lawsuits stemming from social media posts).

[22] Id. at 61.

[23] Andrew L. Wang, Twitter Apartment Mold Libel Suit Dismissed, Chi. Trib. (Jan. 22, 2010),

[24] Trevino, supra note 21, at 63. 

[25] Lauren Dugan, The AP Settles Over NBA Twitter Lawsuit, Pays $20,000 Fine, Adweek (Dec. 8, 2011),

[26] Restatement (Second) of Torts § 577A(3–4) (Am. Law Inst. 1977).

[27] Id. at § 577A cmt. b.

[28] 739 F.2d 962, 967 (4th Cir. 1984) (quoting Keeton, 465 U.S. at 777 n.8).

[29] Allen, supra note 5, at 87–88.

[30] See Lori A. Wood, Cyber-Defamation and the Single Publication Rule, 81 B.U. L. Rev. 895, 915 (2001) (calling for courts to define “republication” in the context of internet publications).

[31] See, e.g., Firth v. State, 775 N.E.2d 463, 466 (N.Y. 2002); Van Buskirk v. N.Y. Times Co., 325 F.3d 87, 90 (2d Cir. 2003); Oja v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 440 F.3d 1122, 1130–31 (9th Cir. 2006); Nationwide Bi-Weekly Admin., Inc. v. Belo Corp., 512 F.3d 137, 144 (5th Cir. 2007).  But see Swafford v. Memphis Individual Prac. Ass’n, 1998 Tenn. App. LEXIS 361, at *38 (Tenn. App. 1998).

[32] See Allen, supra note 5, at 91 n.157.

[33] See Trevino, supra note 19, at 69.