The New Yorker Cleared on Art Analyst Article

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A Canadian art authenticator cannot pursue claims that he was defamed by a 2010 article in The New Yorker that implicated him in fraud, a federal judge ruled.
     Peter Paul Biro sued journalist David Grann and The New Yorker in June 2011 over an article titled “The Mark of a Masterpiece: The man who keeps finding famous fingerprints on uncelebrated works of art.”
     The article discusses Biro’s use of forensics and fingerprints to authenticate works of art in a connoisseur’s world, how Biro was gaining respect in the art community, his legal history, and how one quoted source “began to wonder if he was seeing something virtually unheard of: forged fingerprints.”
     Biro sought $2 million in damages from Grann and The New Yorker’s publisher, Conde Nast, a division of Advance Magazine Publishers. He called the article a “false and defamatory screed … written and published with malice and an indifference to the standards of responsible journalism.”
     In a 2011 amended complaint, Biro added claims against outlets that reported on The New Yorker’s piece: Gawker, Business Insider, Louise Blouin Media, International Council of Museums, Georgia Museum of Art, Paddy Johnson of the blog and Theresa Franks of Global Fine Art Registry.
     Biro filed a third amended complaint in October 2012 after U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken found that Grann’s journalistic work “falls short of the ‘hatchet job’ that Biro’s counsel described at oral argument.”
     Judge Oetken ruled against Biro again Thursday, finding that he is a limited purpose public figure who, as such, must prove actual malice to succeed with his case.
     The court granted The New Yorker and its publisher judgment on the pleadings, and it dismissed the claims against Yale University Press, Paddy Johnson, Gawker Media, and Business Insider.
     Biro had argued that he is not a limited purpose public figure because he made no effort to influence others, but merely described his work.
     Oetken disagreed, writing that, by Biro’s “own admission, he is a ‘leading authority in [the] emerging field [of art authentication].”
     In addition to performing several authentication studies for collections and private clients, Biro has lectured at several universities, has been published in several scientific journals and was the subject of several documentaries.
     “The very purpose of writing in scientific journals, lecturing at universities and opining in news shows and documentaries is to influence public discourse,” Oetken wrote. “Indeed, Biro’s articles themselves bespeak an unequivocal desire to alter the public discourse about art authentication.”
     Oetken also found that the article lays out evidence that may raise questions but ultimately allows the reader to make up his own mind.
     “Such a style of reporting is far from what might be expected of an author acting with actual malice,” Oetken wrote. “In short, missing from the complaint are any factual allegations suggesting that Biro could plausibly demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the New Yorker … published the four allegedly defamatory statements with actual malice.”
     Oeken said Biro failed to show that Grann had a motive to sabotage him, fabricated quotes, or that Grann relied on “wholly unverified or patently unreliable sources.”
     The New Yorker issued a statement saying it is “delighted that the judge dismissed this meritless lawsuit against David Grann and Conde Nast.”
     “We have always maintained complete confidence in David’s meticulous reporting for his July 2010 piece, ‘The Mark of a Masterpiece,'” according to the statement. “It is a brilliant piece of journalism and, as the judge noted in his opinion, the article ‘appears to be the product of an enormous amount of careful and diligent research.'”

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