A SLAPP suit (short for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a public relations tactic in which a company files a frivolous lawsuit against an opponent of lesser means in hope of silencing them due to a lack of funds to contest the suit in court. In countries without a "loser pays the fees" system of legal proceedings, SLAPP suits are often seen as an abuse of process by observers; however, as a general rule, the domain of tort reform lobbying belongs to the same companies filing abusive lawsuits in the first place.
A common procedure involving SLAPP suits goes as follows:
- Party A hosts a website or service in which one participant has posted or raised objectionable material. This material may or may not be subject to copyright, but it is nonetheless inflammatory or potentially significant.
- Party B raises an objection to Party A hosting or posting this content. They demand that the material in question be removed from service, oftentimes disregarding the idea of Fair Use. A fee is oftentimes discussed for legal reasons.
- Party A, having a limited budget (if any at all) will remove the offending post, regardless of whether Fair Use is in play, or whether it is indeed legal for Party B to threaten them in this manner.
- Party B drops the lawsuit.
In short form, Party B is engaging in a malicious practice, demanding that Party A either pay legal costs which it cannot properly afford (even with a Pro Bono lawyer), or remove material which is not specifically libelous. The goal is to erase any material with which party B does not agree. As one might imagine, this has certain consequences.
In the United States, various laws have been enacted to prevent the use of SLAPP suits, but this varies widely by local jurisdiction. Other countries take a dim view of SLAPP suits, as, in many cases, the onus of proof (and resultant legal fees) tend to weigh on the litigant instead of the defendant.