Defamation is the act of making untrue statements about another that damages his or her reputation
There are two types of defamation
- Libel: Defamatory statements printed or broadcast over media
- Slander: The same as libel, only spoken
In either case, the plaintiff must prove that the defamation was malicious and unfair. A malicious act of libel or slander can only be considered malicious if it is untrue or if it was put forward without a reasonable attempt to discover that it was true or not.
As you will read more about later, opinions are protected under the First Amendment from being called defamation.
There is another category of defamation that needs to be addressed: defamation per se. This type of case often leads to monetary rewards and punitive damages being recovered by injured parties. The types of slander or libel include allegations or imputations that injure someone’s trade, business, or profession and are of “loathsome disease” such as leprosy, STDs, mental illness, unchastity, or criminal activity.
A brief history of defamation
Before the 1500s, there were various legal proceedings that looked much like defamation but weren’t held in the same regard by the courts of England. In 1358, a judge collected a large sum of money for being called a traitor in the court of the king, and around the same time, there was a precedent for handling cases that looked like defamation.
It wasn’t until after 1507 that defamation became commonly handled by courts of law, where before that time, courts mainly took an interest in crimes of a physical nature. Offenses like theft and murder were considered truly offensive, but words and slander were handled outside of the court systems.
In America, the development of defamation began before the founding of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. A case held in American courts in 1735 was possibly the most famous, where a journalist was acquitted for attacking the governor of a colony.
In 1996, the court ruled that if public officials and public figures could demonstrate actual malice, that is, the knowledge that the information put forth was false, they could win a defamation case. This status also regards opinions, as they are separate from facts so one cannot be sued for defamation because of an opinion. Thank you, First Amendment.
Although defamation of character is still a widely popular action that public figures take, there has been recent action taken to mitigate some of the willy nilly with which suits are filed.
The Defamation Act of 2013, passed in the U.K. in April 2013, aims to make claims harder to prove by detailing the requirements to prove what serious harm means for the plaintiff’s reputation. If the offensive statement can be proven to be a lie, it must have also been harmful to hold water in the court.
The harm must have actually happened, as well, not just estimated to happen based on the libel or slander. This is generally the hardest part to prove, as it must be definitive that the harm was caused specifically by the defendant's acts.
If you want to find out how you can protect your reputation online, we're experts on the subject. If you want to pursue a defamation case, you'll need to speak with an attorney (we aren't lawyers, but we work with them regularly).
What is defamation?
Defamation is the act of making untrue statements about another that damages his or her reputation. There are two types of defamation. Libel is when defamatory statements are printed or broadcast over media, and slander is when defamatory statements are spoken.
How can I sue someone for defamation of character?
To pursue legal action, the plaintiff must prove that the defamation was malicious and unfair. A malicious act of libel or slander can only be considered malicious if it is untrue or if it was put forward without a reasonable attempt to discover that it was true or not.
How does character affect reputation?
While it is possible to build a good reputation on top of bad character, there is much that can go wrong in this situation. Even if you depict yourself as a stand-up citizen, your true character, or that of your business, will likely surface sooner or later. And when it does, you might be in an even worse position.
Set up a free consultation with Reputation X today.
About the author
Kent Campbell is the chief strategist for Reputation X, an award-winning reputation management agency based in California. Kent has over 15 years of experience with SEO reputation management, Wikipedia editing, review management, and strategy. Kent has helped celebrities, leaders, executives, and marketing professionals improve the way they are seen online. Kent writes about reputation, SEO, Wikipedia, and PR-related topics and is an expert witness for reputation-related legal matters. You can find Kent's biography here.