Is "canceling" people tortious interference?

As a concrete example, Richard Stallman (RMS) is/was employed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), MIT and other organizations. He voiced opinions that some found disagreeable (For example, he publicly opposed the use of singular "they", and of the term "sexual assault" when applied to underage sex)

Ostensibly for this and possibly other reasons, various individuals and organizations are trying to pressure the FSF and his other employers to fire Stallman. Can this be tortious interference?

From the RMS-open-letter:

There has been enough tolerance of RMS’s repugnant ideas and behavior. We cannot continue to let one person ruin the meaning of our work. Our communities have no space for people like Richard M. Stallman, and we will not continue suffering his behavior, giving him a leadership role, or otherwise holding him and his hurtful and dangerous ideology as acceptable.

We are calling for the removal of the entire Board of the Free Software Foundation. These are people who have enabled and empowered RMS for years. They demonstrate this again by permitting him to rejoin the FSF Board. It is time for RMS to step back from the free software, tech ethics, digital rights, and tech communities, for he cannot provide the leadership we need. We are also calling for Richard M. Stallman to be removed from all leadership positions, including the GNU Project.

We urge those in a position to do so to stop supporting the Free Software Foundation. Refuse to contribute to projects related to the FSF and RMS. Do not speak at or attend FSF events, or events that welcome RMS and his brand of intolerance. We ask for contributors to free software projects to take a stand against bigotry and hate within their projects. While doing these things, tell these communities and the FSF why.

While the anti-RMS sentiment dominated the headlines, it appears to voice a minority opinion, as the pro-RMS letter currently has more signatures.

Nevertheless, some corporate sponsors, such as RedHat/IBM withdrew their support of the FSF.

  • 1
    Pressure how? There's no law that defines cancel culture and that's all you mention. Presumably because this isn't a question, you just want to rant. Apr 1, 2021 at 9:31
  • @Studoku Thanks for your interest in my question, even though you do not appear to be from the US. Pressure how? I added more links and a quote Presumably because this isn't a question It's a question. I'd like to know if "cancelling" people is tortious interference.
    – MWB
    Apr 1, 2021 at 10:02
  • 1
    Calling for RMS to be removed, or asking people to boycott FSF public events, or to not contribute software, is an exercise of free speech. TI requires an interference in business relationships. Apr 1, 2021 at 10:44
  • There are examples of "cancellation" that are presently working through the legal system that could be considered possible tortious interference. This would not be one of them. An example of a TI case is a current suit of people who were banned off of Patreon for their opinions as Patreon's service was facilitating private persons to support a creator's work... by abruptly kicking the creator, the patrons feel as if Patreon did interfere with what is a private contract with the creator.
    – hszmv
    Apr 1, 2021 at 15:32
  • In the particular case of IBM terminating its contract (through its subsidiary), it may depend on whether the contract was breached or simply ended through a mechanism stipulated by one of the contract's clauses. Tortious interference is encouraging someone to breach a contract.
    – grovkin
    Apr 4, 2021 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


"Cancellation" is generally a result of some statement or action a person made becoming public or having been made in public. Tortious interference requires that the defendant's actions are independently wrongful, such as defamation or criminal acts against the plaintiff. Truthful speech and opinions which do not allege facts are protected by the First Amendment (as well as state constitutions) and thus cannot be wrongful conduct. To apply that here, anyone can react to public knowledge about a person and call for that person to be fired, that is protected speech. As far as I know in this particular petition's case, RMS does not dispute that he made the statements they are attributing to him and using as evidence for their call to remove him from the board.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .