6 August 2018Copyright

Florida pastor ordered to pay damages over mental anguish

A pastor in Florida has been ordered to pay $12,500 for causing “emotional harm” by accusing an individual of copyright infringement.

District Judge Roy Dalton delivered his judgment at the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division on Tuesday, July 31.

The case centres on Paula White, an author, TV personality, and preacher. She is a senior pastor at New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida, and hosts TV shows and other events under her own brand, Paula White Ministries.

In 2014, White filed a copyright infringement complaint against an individual called Shirley Johnson, who reportedly operates a website which seeks to expose White as a false prophet. Johnson said White used her sermons to purposefully twist scriptures, prompting Johnson to speak out against White.

Johnson posted YouTube videos which featured clips and images from Paula White Ministries and New Destiny, and she used the video content to criticise the institutions.

In 2012, White sent YouTube a copyright take-down notification, which was accepted. The video platform reinstated Johnson’s content shortly after, following a counter-notification.

However, after White’s court complaint was filed in 2014, YouTube again removed the content.

YouTube restored Johnson’s videos once the claim was later concluded.

According to Lexis Legal News, White’s complaint was dismissed with prejudice and Johnson was advised by the court that she could seek relief for malicious prosecution in a separate suit.

Johnson filed a complaint for “mental pain” and emotional injuries sustained during the copyright suit, which she said had been filed with “malice and evil motive”. She claimed that White had since used her sermons to personally attack her, though Johnson was never referred to by name.

Judge Dalton noted that Johnson’s injuries are of the “garden variety” and that no medical attention was necessary.

Despite saying that Johnson’s testimony about mental anguish and emotional harm was “credible”, particularly as she was someone “unfamiliar with the legal process faced with a daunting situation”, the judge rejected her claim that her reputation and character were damaged because of White’s copyright suit.

Dalton said the parties had agreed that White will pay Johnson $1,207.93 to cover her costs resulting from the copyright action.

In addition, Dalton awarded $12,500 for the mental anguish. He said the “minimal award” is appropriate, as Johnson did not seek medical treatment and her symptoms have eased.

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