EXCLUSIVE: The legal war of words over where the money to make The Wolf Of Wall Street came from has just heated up again. Late last week, lawyers for financiers Red Granite and principals Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland sent another dense cease and desist letter to UK-based blogger Clare Rewcastle Brown and her Sarawak Report over her alleged “recent unlawful and outrageous activities in violation of our clients’ rights, including your persistent fabrication and dissemination of false information about our clients and their business.” As of yet, no official legal action has been taken against Brown over her numerous posts about Red Granite, where its money comes from, and who its investors really are. Still, in a 7-page letter (read it here) sent Friday, Red Granite attorney Sunny Brenner of Santa Monica firm Loeb & Loeb says: “Make no mistake: Our clients will not hesitate to take whatever steps they deem necessary or appropriate to safeguard their rights and protect their reputations, and your time to take the necessary corrective action is rapidly running out.”
Brown, sister-in-law of former UK PM Gordon Brown, told me today from the UK that she has no intention of pulling down her posts, which have been published over the past month. “I believe the substance of my articles are correct and much of what I have printed is drawn from already published material in the United States,” she said. “If there are any unintentional inaccuracies, I am always willing to address and correct and indeed apologize for them. However, the pages of blanket and contradictory criticisms from Mr. Aziz’s lawyers only have one objective, which is to threaten and intimidate me into withdrawing my articles in their entirety. This I have no intention of doing.”
Red Granite was first announced in 2011 with a Kanye West concert and a big Cannes party. The producers behind Friends With Kids and Out Of The Furnace provided all of the approximate $100 million budget for the Martin Scorsese-directed Wolf. After winning the Lead Actor in a Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, Leonardo DiCaprio singled out producers Aziz and McFarland with thanks “for not only being collaborators but for taking a risk on this movie.”
Like the previous letter sent January 2, Friday’s Loeb & Loeb letter details a litany of allegations against the the Sarawak Report posts slamming Red Granite, which includes that Aziz finances movies partially through “illicit funds emanating from the Malaysian government” where his stepdad is PM and that McFarland was a party planner for Paris Hilton and others on the celebrity circuit. Needless to say, lawyers for Red Granite deny all the “untruths,” as the January 24 letter calls them. Both letters demand that Brown retract “all of the false and misleading statements concerning our clients that Sarawak Report has published” and post corrections, pay legal fees, stop trying to get on the company’s property and take down any pics from Wolf or screen shots. It also incorrectly cites a Deadline article by my colleague Pete Hammond as being by Brown. The January 22 Sarawak Report post was called “Dumped From The Oscars” and refers to our piece on the Academy finalizing the producer credits on Wolf from the day before.
With all that, where would Red Granite actually go after Brown if it were to sue? The most likely jurisdiction is the UK, where libel laws are considerably more favorable to the allegedly defamed than in the U.S. However, changes that took effect on January 1 tightened up British law to reduce what was seen as a rising tide of libel chill. A new “serious harm threshold” requires claimants to determine whether they have actually suffered defamation and not just been lipped off. Additionally — and which could be significant for a UK website writing on Malaysian matters concerning an American company — so-called libel tourism measures now require a strong British connection before bringing a matter to the courts. Lastly, the Defamation Act of 2013 has a specific mechanism outside the courts for handling cases where someone believes they have been attacked online. The process funnels would-be victims to try to settle the matter with the individual(s) who posted the material in question. All of which is to say it might be a while before Red Granite is hauling Brown and Sarawak into court here or over there.
Deadline's Dominic Patten - tip him here.