A federal judge sided with Lance Armstrong on Tuesday, ruling that the accounts in his books, even though some of their elements were later revealed as untrue, were protected as free speech and did not amount to false advertising or fraud.
Some readers of the books It’s Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts had filed a suit in Sacramento federal court asking for more than $5 million, claiming they were fooled by the books, presented as inspirational, true accounts. The books, they said, should have been labeled as fictitious accounts.
Chief Judge Morrison England, Jr. begged to differ, ruling that the books were protected speech.
“Thus, ‘the gentle tug of the First Amendment and the values embodied therein, remind us of the social cost’ were the Court to create such a duty for publishers, and allow publishers to be held liable for allegedly false statements contained within a book. To this end, although Plaintiffs assert that the public interest in this case weighs in favor of protecting consumers from books that contain false statements, the case law makes clear that the public interest swings in the opposite direction, towards closely guarding the right to free speech and the free flow of ideas that the First Amendment seeks to protect,” England wrote. “As such, Plaintiffs cannot show that they have a probability of success on their claim for negligent misrepresentation against the Publisher Defendants.”
In total, five people who read Armstrong’s books filed the suit, after the former world champion admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in January 2013, therefore rendering parts of his books false. The plaintiffs filed the suit against publishers Random House and Penguin Group, and Armstrong associates Bill Stapleton and Thomas Weisel, in addition to Armstrong himself.
Armstrong did not comment on the ruling when contacted Tuesday night.
The five readers have 21 days from Sept. 9 to file an amended complaint before the suit is completely dismissed.