A federal judge said Friday she’s inclined to dismiss a lawsuit by conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage against a Muslim rights group that reprinted his attacks against Islam and called for an advertising boycott.
Savage sued the Council on American-Islamic Relations in December after the organization posted excerpts from an Oct. 29 broadcast in which he called the Quran a “hateful little book … a document of slavery” and said, “I don’t want to hear one more word about Islam. Take your religion and shove it.”
His lawsuit accused the group of violating Savage’s copyright by posting more than four minutes of excerpts on its Web site without his permission. He also claimed that the group was engaged in racketeering, saying it poses as a civil rights organization but is actually a “mouthpiece of international terror” that helped to fund the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The broadcaster’s syndicated program “Savage Nation” has about 8 million listeners a week on 400 stations, including on KNEW-AM in the Bay Area. He said the Council on American-Islamic Relations was harming him by taking his statements out of context, urging visitors to its Web site to complain to his advertisers and using his material to raise money for illegal activities.
The group called his claims about its activities preposterous, denied any connection to terrorism and said in court papers that Savage was trying to “intimidate and silence (the organization) in retaliation for (its) criticism of his radio rants.” Numerous companies have withdrawn their advertising from his program, the group said, including Sears, AT&T and Wal-Mart.
Lawyers for the group said its use of Savage’s comments to generate criticism was permitted by copyright law and protected by the First Amendment.
At a hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco said that she found much of the organization’s position to be persuasive and that she had tentatively decided to dismiss the suit.
She added, however, that she would probably allow Savage to refile the suit and fix its defects, which she did not specify.
Savage’s lawyer, Daniel Horowitz, disputed the group’s contention that its excerpting of his broadcast was protected by the legal doctrine of fair use, which allows portions of copyrighted material to be reprinted for the purposes of commentary, criticism or parody. Horowitz contended the organization had disqualified itself from protection because of its allegedly illicit motives and commercial use of the material.
“It is speech, Mr. Horowitz,” the judge replied.
Thomas Burke, a lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at the hearing that the organization was entitled to excerpt Savage’s words for fundraising purposes. He cited a 1986 ruling by the federal appeals court in San Francisco allowing the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s organization to use copyrighted material in a Hustler magazine parody of Falwell to generate contributions.
Savage’s lawsuit “is about punishing (the council) for exercising its First Amendment protected rights,” Burke told reporters.