Defamation of character is written or spoken injury to a person or organization's reputation. Libel is the written act of defamation, vs. slander, the oral act of defamation.
You often hear "Truth is the perfect defense against libel." A curious notion, not entirely supported by what goes on in the courts. Truth is a very good defense. It may prove an unshakable defense if you have $50,000 for lawyers to defend against a defamation lawsuit. If you don't feel like being on the frontier of legal theory, you should build a somewhat better defense. Add on these concepts:
Avoid the impression of malice. "Malice" means different things. When applied to mainstream media, the legal meaning is closer to "reckless disregard of the facts" so lawyers for daily newspapers and radio/TV usually refer to "fault" rather than malice. For an individual, "malice" pretty much means the dictionary definition: intent to do harm.
State the facts, and then state your opinion separately. This is a legal defense and also keeps things clear in your mind.
All wrong: "My neighbor John Smith is a stinking lush." This is wildly defamatory: an unproven, judgmental ("stinking" and "lush" instead of "alcoholic") statement about a private individual.
Getting better: "Governor Smith consumed 14 glasses of whiskey last night at The Watering Hole Bar. In my opinion he's an alcoholic." The proof is a bit hazy getting drunk once does not prove alcoholism but a governor is a public figure with less protection than John Smith, you have clearly separated fact from opinion, and there is no particular evidence of malice.
Pretty safe: "Governor Smith consumed 14 glasses of whiskey last night at The Watering Hole Bar. I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's an alcoholic." This is entirely fact, with no clear evidence of malice, about a public figure.
What defamation is not.
Generally, a statement made about an undefinable group of people or organizations cannot be defamation. Take, "Real estate agents are crooks." It's defamatory enough, but there is no identifiable victim.
"Most of the agents at Smith Real Estate Company are crooks" is getting dicier, but it is still hard to define the victim.
"Smith Real Estate Company is a crooked company." Wham! You have a victim: Smith Real Estate Company.
This page was written to help people avoid slandering others. As we soon learned from reader emails, that isn't the problem at all. The people doing the slandering don't give a hoot about the law. It's the people getting slandered who have the problem a much bigger problem than a couple of pages on the Net can handle. So thanks to reader feedback we asked the author of Dancing With Lawyers to write up a plain-English guide called Fighting Slander. Unlike the expensive lawyers' manuals that are about rich publishers' worries, this guide deals with the defamation ordinary people and businesses face: slander in the workplace, from former bosses, ex-spouses, competitors, and other situations found in daily life including Internet libel. We are now offering it here as a downloadable guide.
The guide is applicable in all 50 states. Because most slander and libel law is a result of Federal appeals court decisions, or the U.S. Supreme Court, it applies across the country.
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Fighting Slander - Personal Edition
a 70 page guide in PDF format. $19.95.
(A lot of research has gone into this guide. It would cost you several thousand dollars to reproduce it
or get it from an expensive libel lawyer.
Table of contents below.)
Fighting Slander - Business Edition
a 78 page guide in PDF format. $24.95.
This contains all the material in the personal edition, plus additional material
not listed in the table of contents below about the particular problems businesses and organizations face with media exposure, competitors' slander, and whispering campaigns. It may also be useful for public figures,
or those in the news a lot.
The guide is fully printable and also readable on any personal computer, tablet computer, superphone, or recent Kindle or Nook. The download link will be emailed to you within minutes.
The charge will be billed through our parent company as "Hastings Research". Please note that the download link will arrive in an email from "Hastings Research" not DancingwithLawyers.com (in case you have spam filters set up).
Fighting Slander Table of Contents
Fourth Edition, updated and expanded 2012.
- How To Use This Guide
- The Law In Brief
- Definitions of Defamation of Character, Slander, and Libel
- Defamation By the Press, and Defamation By Individuals
- Elements of Defamation of Character, Slander and Libel
- Identifiable Victim
- Emotional Distress
- Good Defenses
- Public Figure
- The Comments Were Invited by the Plaintiff
- He's Dead!
- Words Spoken In the Heat of Anger
- Worthless Defenses
- "I only told one person!"
- "I was just repeating it."
- "I didn't give his/her name."
- "It was just a practical joke."
- The Right to Privacy
- What Is a Public Figure, Anyway?
- Statutes of Limitations usually 1-2 years; act promptly!
- Sizing Up Your Legal Situation
- People Who Just Don’t Get It
- The Middle Ground
- Major-League Kooks
- Special Situations
- Workplace Defamation
- Lawsuits and Criminal Charges
- Internet Libel covers email, IM, forums, social media, and web sites
- Libel By the Mainstream Press
- Small Town Slander
- Privilege ("absolute" or "qualified")
- Courtroom Slander by Witnesses
- Taking the Right Attitude
- Before You Call a Lawyer
- Getting the Facts
- Private Investigators
- Doing It Yourself
- Keeping A Log
- Nailing Down Your Legal Situation
- Learning Your State’s Laws
- Researching Defamation Laws Yourself
- A Warning About Precedents
- How To Research Jury Verdicts Without Spending a Fortune
- Do It Yourself In a Legal Library
- Telephone Lawyers
- Jury Verdict Research
- Actually Hiring a Lawyer
- Finding a Slander Lawyer
- Start With the Cheapest Solutions
- Cease and Desist letters example, plus how to write and send them
- Things You Should NOT Do
- Backlash and Common Sense
- Last Resorts
- Jury Verdict Research Using The Internet
- Jury Verdict Companies
- Other Information About Research Jury Verdicts on the Internet
- Using Search Engines to Find Jury Verdicts
- Jury Verdict Data from St. Louis, Missouri, and surrounding counties
- Analysis of Jury Verdicts - Which Cases Win Damages, and Which Don't
- Previous Employer Research Companies
- Hot Button Words ("innocent" words that courts have found to be defamatory)
Up to Ordering Information
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