Great place, America. It’s the land of the free and home of the brave. We’ve got the right to bear arms, and to say anything we want to.
While we do have a Constitutional right to free speech, others have personal rights too. And it’s not unusual for one person’s free speech rights to run up against another person’s right to protect his reputation. You take your speech too far, and you just might run into the laws of defamation.
Defamation: Libel and Slander.
“Defamation” is the broad term that covers the civil tort of making statements that injure another’s business or personal reputation. Written statements that damage another’s reputation are called “libel.” Spoken statements are called “slander.” A person who has suffered (or thinks he has suffered) a defamatory statement can sue the person who made the statement.
To prove either type of defamation, a plaintiff must prove 4 elements:
- a false statement purporting to be fact
- publication or communication of that statement to a third person
- fault amounting to at least negligence, and
- damages orsome harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.
Libel and Social Media
The prevalence of access to the internet, and social media in particular, has made it easier than ever to make defamatory statements about people or their companies. For example, internet services like Yelp! are specifically designed to allow people to review and comment on other people’s businesses. With social media services (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) you can instantly publish comments and it’s not unusual for people to publish disparaging comments. Yet a false and damaging Yelp! review, tweet, YouTube video, or Facebook update can become a defamatory statement (libel) that is actionable by the person or company you are writing about. And that means that you could very well end up defending yourself in a defamation lawsuit.
Defenses and Privileges.
Not every statement that is injurious to a person’s or company’s reputation is actionable, however. State laws vary, but there are defenses and privileges that prevent a statement from being actionable as libel or slander. For example, “truth” is an absolute defense to all defamation claims. To prove defamation, a plaintiff must prove that the statement was false, and must show that the defendant was at fault. There are also absolute and qualified privileges that serve as defenses against libel or slander claims.
Know Your Rights!
If you are facing a defamation lawsuit or believe you have been defamed, contact us. We have offices in Tigard, Salem, Albany, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Bend, and several other cities in Oregon. We also have offices in Vancouver and Tri-Cities in Washington. You can call us toll free at: 1-800-682.9568.