On June 27, 2018, an Australian court ordered Pitch Perfect actress Rebel Wilson to repay the majority of her record $3.5 million defamation payout from a magazine publisher Bauer Media that had been previously awarded to her. In June 2017, the comedy queen sued the media company over articles that she alleged portrayed her as a serial liar and hurt her career in Hollywood and appeared to have won–but things turned around for the actress on appeals.
After a three-week trial, an Australian jury unanimously sided with the star and awarded her $3.5 million in damages and interest on June 15, 2017. The payout was Australia’s largest for a defamation case. In its original finding, the Supreme Court of Victoria awarded her $460,000 in general damages and $3.1 million for film roles she had lost out on. She was later paid $145,000 in interest. The Bridesmaids actress vowed to give all of her compensation to charity.
In the trial, Wilson claimed that Bauer magazine published eight articles in 2015 in which she was portrayed her as a serial liar, and that this resulted in her being fired from two feature films.
During the closing arguments, Wilson’s lawyer, Dr Matthew Collins, QC, asked why the media company, who had called her a liar, was unable to identify “a single person” to whom the actress had supposedly told a lie. “The reason why they came up with nothing, of course, is obvious. Rebel Wilson has not lied,” he said. “Her claim is not about money, it is about restoring her reputation.”
A six-woman jury rejected Bauer Media’s arguments that the articles were substantially true, trivial and had no effect on Wilson’s acting career. In Australia’s Victoria, a 12-person jury is not required for civil cases.
During the three-week trial, Wilson sat in court for every day and spent six days in the witness box.
After the 2017 win, Wilson said outside the courthouse, “I had to stand up to a bully, a huge media organisation, Bauer Media, who maliciously took me down in 2015 with a series of grubby and completely false articles.”
However in June 2018, the Victorian Court of Appeal greatly reduced the size of the payout to $425,000.
The appeals court ruled that Wilson’s legal team had failed to prove that Bauer Media was responsible for her missing out on acting roles from mid-2015 to the end of 2016. The judgement read, “The court has rejected the finding that Rebel Wilson lost the opportunity to earn $12 million by being cast in lead or co-lead roles in Hollywood films from mid-2015 to the end of 2016.”
On June 27, 2018, Wilson was ordered to pay back $2.9 million and $43,000 in interest to Bauer. She will also have to cover 80% of what Bauer spent on its appeal.
The size of Bauer’s original payout caused discussion in Australia over whether it the potential of stifling future journalism in the public interest.