You must have heard people being slandered for their character in your surroundings. In some jurisdictions, defamation is treated as a crime. To know more details about defamation of character, read this article.
Ruining someone’s reputation by spreading false news is no less than a crime. Before taking a plunge into the pool of information about defamation of character, know what exactly it is. Basically, defamation of character is an act that occurs when someone’s integrity and reputation are tarnished or damaged because of malicious intent by another party. You may be familiar with the terms libel and slander. If not, know that slander is orally dishonoring someone else while libel is written defamation. Both types of defamation play a crucial role in personal injury lawsuits seeking to recover damages caused by such behavior.
Defamation has been recognized as an actionable wrong in various forms across historical legal systems and in different moral and religious philosophies; defamation law in contemporary legal systems can primarily be traced back to Roman and English law. To know more about the defamation of character, continue reading this article.
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What is defamation of character?
Defamation of character is an act that occurs by spreading false statements someone makes about you, which they publish as a statement of fact to harm your personal or professional reputation. It can also cause you other damages such as financial loss and emotional distress. A statement that is just someone’s opinion is not defamatory unless presented as if it were a fact. If somebody writes, “It seems to me that Bob Barley is a crooked politician,” that most likely is protected opinion. Courts do not hinder public speech, even about controversial subjects, so opinions generally are protected speech. However, if the statement is “Bob is a crooked politician,” and that is not a true statement, it may be defamatory.
Defamation of character is an illegal offense and a false written or spoken statement about a person that harms their reputation that can result in civil or criminal charges. If a business person gives a public interview in which he falsely claims a rival CEO embezzled $40 million, that could have significant ramifications for the latter. The rival might quickly find himself losing clients and business due to the damage to their reputation. In this case, they could sue the businessman for defamation of character. Coverage for these lawsuits may be a part of a personal liability insurance policy covering losses from such situations.
Defamation requires that the false statements be communicated without the content of the allegedly defamed person. Words or pictures are analyzed according to common usage and in the context of publication. Injury only to one’s feelings is not defamation; there must be a loss of reputation. The defamed person needs to be named but must be ascertainable. A class of persons is considered defamed only if the statements refer to all associates of the class, specifically if the class is minimal or if particular members are especially imputed.
Types of defamation of character
Defamation is of two main types: libel, written defamation, and slander, oral or verbal defamation. Libel and slander are types of defamation in which an untrue statement is presented as fact and intended to damage a person’s character or reputation. Libel is a defamatory statement created in writing, while slander is a defamatory statement that is spoken.
To be defamatory, a statement spoken or written must be created with the knowledge that it is false or with a reckless disregard for the truth, meaning that the person making the statement did not go far enough in deciding whether it is true. When the statement is made against a private citizen, in contrast to a public figure such as a celebrity or a politician, defamation can also be proven if the person making the statement should have known that it was false or should have checked out its veracity.
The kind of false statements the courts may view as defamatory is broad, including statements that a person committed a serious crime, has a particular illness, or is incompetent in their job. Here are the types of defamation of character defined:
Libel is a type of defamation or communication of false information that destroys the reputation of an individual, business, product, government, group, religion, group, or nation in printed words. The offending material is written or printed with libel, involves pictures, or is in any format other than spoken words. It is always tangible print, writing, or photographs. The burden of proof is on the defendant in English law and the plaintiff in American law.
A defamatory statement published to a third party that the speaker knew or should have known was false; that causes injury to the subject of the communication if the statement in question is true. The punishment of libel is generally civil and monetary. Seditious libel crime to criticize public officials. In libel, there is no need to prove financial damages. The limitation of libel is six years.
Slander is a type of defamation or communication of false information that harms the reputation of an individual, business, or group in spoken words. With slander, the offending material is published in some fleeting form spoken words or sounds, sign language, or motions. The burden of proof is on the defendant in English law; on the plaintiff in American law.
Furthermore, slander is a statement published to a third party; that the speaker knew or should have known was false that causes injury to injury to the subject of the communication. If the statement in question stands out to be the truth, it will be a negation. The punishment for slander is generally civil and monetary. There is no need to prove financial damages and slander legal implications. Moreover, the limitation of slander is two years.
Defamation of character punishment
Every state in the US has civil libel statutes that allow the victims to sue their defamer. Still, a few have criminal libel laws too. Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Michigan, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, Montana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and New Hampshire allow criminal defamation of character punishment. However, since free speech is a fiercely protected right, it’s challenging to prove these cases as it requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Conversely, civil cases have a more subordinate standard of proof. Jail time usually is only imposed in the most heinous types of cases. The exception to this is valid in all states. If you have a restraining order against the defamer or if the defamer is charged with other related crimes, like online harassment, sextortion, or online stalking, the punishment of actual jail time could be more common.
How to prove defamation of character?
In order to prove defamation of character, you have to prove the statement is an intentional misrepresentation or lie. Slander makes things a little tricker. You have to prove a critical portion beyond a reasonable doubt that this person actually said what you claim they said. The trickiest part of libel lies in the second portion proving that the defamatory statement was intended with actual malice. An untrue statement considered defamatory must be said with the intentional misrepresentation of the facts intending to cause you harm. The person must knowingly lie while knowing this lie will cause damage.
Most lawyers say this is the most challenging part of the process. First, understand that there is an evident difference between a statement having the potential to cause you harm and a statement actually causing you damage. It is only assumed defamation of character if the statement has caused you harm already, not if it has the potential to cause you harm. This is a tricky line to walk for the court and frustrating for many people looking to prevent damage.
But the court cannot act on something that might happen unless there is proof that something has already happened. If you have already seen adverse effects, you will likely see more if this goes unchecked. If you have not, there is a possibility you may never see any negatives as a result of the slander or libel. In order to win the claim, you will need to prove that the false statement has ruined your reputation. If you are a business owner, you must prove how the statement has devastatingly impacted your business.
If you are the only one who knows about this lie, it doesn’t count as libel, slander, or defamation since it can’t ruin your reputation unless there is a threat to release this information, which would count as blackmail. The publication is not in the modern context where it has been published. It means that it was done in a way where people heard, saw, read, or otherwise came across this harmful lie about you. It was public in some way where a third party revealed the statement.
This could be untrue and damaging images, emails, articles, or other written communication shared with more people, just yourself. Or it could be a gesture, spoken words, or something else not otherwise in a tangible form that was done in front of me towards other people about you. On top of it, the statement must also be considered “unprivileged.”
Defamation of character act
Defamation is a statement that destroys a third party’s reputation. The tort of defamation includes both libel and slander. State common law and statutory law govern defamation actions, and each state varies in its standards for defamation and potential damages. Defamation is a tricky area of law as the lines between stating an opinion versus a fact can be vogue, and defamation tests the limits of the first amendment freedom of speech and press. In order to prove prima facie defamation, a plaintiff must show four things:
- A false statement purporting to be the truth
- Publication or transmission of that statement to a third person
- Fault amounting to at least negligence
- Damages or some harm caused to the reputation of the person or entity who is subject to the statement
Defamation of character examples
Defamation of character can ensue when a person makes an accusation of impropriety against somebody else. By implying they are a thief, a liar, or simply suggesting they are someone to shun or avoid. Allegations of this type can cause damage to the person’s character. You may have seen celebrities dealing with untrue rumors and news reports that meet the requirements for slander and libel. However, they also have to prove actual malice in order for a court to find in their favor if they decide to move forward with a lawsuit. Some celebrity cases with factual legal findings are shown below:
- David Beckham’s 2011 libel and slander lawsuit against In Touch magazine involved a story that he cheated on his wife with a prostitute. The case was rejected after the publication’s editorial staff argued that the article only included the information they believed to be accurate.
- Actress Cameron Diaz succeeded in a libel lawsuit against The Sun, a UK newspaper that falsely conveyed she was having an affair with a married man. She was awarded injuries for libel in 2005.
- In 2005, Sharon Stone sued her plastic surgeon Renato Calabria for allegations that he conveyed to several magazines that she had a facelift. Stone and the physician reached an unrevealed settlement regarding the case.
- David Schwimmer won a slander lawsuit in 2006 against former Hollywood fund-raiser Aaron Tonken, who falsely said that Schwimmer asked for two Rolex watches in payment for his presence at a charity affair.
- In 2011, Star magazine settled a libel case filed by actress Katie Holmes. The tabloid falsely conveyed that the actress had a drug addiction.
- In 2005, actress Kate Hudson beat a libel case against the British edition of The National Enquirer. The publication falsely published that she had an eating disorder.
- In 2019, Australian actor Geoffrey Rush won a libel case against the Telegraph for publishing lawsuits that he had engaged in sexually improper behavior towards another cast member while filming a movie in 2015.
Is defamation of character a crime?
Defamation is not a crime but a “tort,” a civil wrong rather than a criminal one. A person who has been defamed can sue the person who did the defamation for harm. Section 499 brings under the criminal law the person who published and the person who makes the defamatory imputation. So there can be no offense of defamation unless the defamatory statement was either caused or published by the accused.
Some people think it is illegal to spread harmful lies about another person. Defamation and libel are illegal in the United States and give rise to criminal sanctions. But, they only exist in a handful of states and are infrequently enforced. Although criminal sanctions are limited in defamation cases, defamers can still go to jail in three critical situations:
- When they have violated a restraining order
- When they are kept in contempt of court for violating a court order relating to libelous behavior
- When they are charged with affiliated crimes, such as extortion, harassment, or stalking
How to deal with defamation of character?
In order to sue for defamation, you must make a claim within one year of the statement being disclosed, which simply means you cannot wait terribly long. You will also need to prove the allegation was defamatory. For example, it must diminish your reputation or estimation of the members of society. You need to prove that the defendant really said or printed the false statement; this can be more difficult than you think it is. Regardless, you can collect proof by taking screenshots of any defamation posts on social media, emails, etc.
If the defendant has blocked you on these mediums, you can ask somebody else to screenshot or save a video and send you the file. It can be difficult to prove when the statement was spoken and not recorded. In such a case, you can speak to people who heard what the defendant said. Your solicitor can help you approach these people and discuss whether they are willing to make a statement or appear in the tribunal if needed. All of this pertains to confirming the incident occurred. If you can’t prove anything said, it will be challenging to go before a judge.
The second part of the problem is the burden of proof. Once it has been established that the defendant made the statement, it must be proved to be true if the defendant doesn’t want to be charged with defamation of character. Of course, in cases where they have lied, there is no proof, which will immediately ruin their chances of winning the case. As the plaintiff who has dealt with the consequences of the defamation, you do not have to prove that the statement was false. However, you should deliver as much proof as possible.
If it impacts your career or business, you can provide statements demonstrating the loss of income due to the statement. This will promote your case extensively and makes it more difficult for the opposing side to deny the defamation claim. In any case, where neither side has appropriate evidence, the side with the burden of proof will lose.
How to protect yourself from defamation of character?
In this era, social media seems like a lawless environment where cruel comments, reckless libel, and slander are the order of the day. In the US, the legal threshold is much higher. If you want to protect yourself from defamation of character, the best choice sometimes is to do nothing. First, consider the actual damage the statement will likely cause. Make sure it is worth a legal matter’s cost and frustration. If you intend to take action, you should still resist the urge to jump in and leave your angry online defense immediately.
Getting embroiled in a Twitter flame war is almost always counterproductive, which is a far better strategy to capture the post or comment in question before the author deletes it. Keep in mind that there is always a risk that a defaming statement will be edited or deleted, so it’s essential to act quickly. You can capture and preserve the article, comment, or post with a forensic preservation tool to create an authenticated and defensible copy that can stand up in court.
You should consult with a lawyer to help you understand if you are dealing with a genuine case of defamation and explain your best opinions in addressing the issue. A layer will be able to provide expert advice and guide you in the right direction. So, before making any rash decision or taking any step yourself, it’s a great idea to consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can provide you with a cease, and a desist letter is simply a document sent to a company or individual to demand the cessation of some activity.
Creating your statement to refute a claim can be a smart move. Importantly, it should be a claim and measured response delivered through an appropriate channel. While never to be undertaken lightly, suing is sometimes the only way to deal with defamation, especially if a cease and desist letter is ignored. The success of a defamation suit can depend significantly on the particular jurisdiction, but courts across the globe have thankfully shown a willingness to keep social media trolls accountable.
When rivals are jealous of your fame, they start spreading false statements about you to bring you down and ruin your career. Defamation of character is an illegal offense and a false written or spoken statement about a person that harms their reputation that can result in civil or criminal charges. Whenever something happens that hurts your reputation, take strict action against it. Never set defamers free. Go to the court with all the evidence and punish them for attempting to defamation your character.