Nothing is more valuable to a business than its reputation. The same is true, of course, for people as well. The success and well-being of individuals, especially those engaged in a profession or in public office, or who are in the public eye, can be significantly harmed by unjust and unfounded attacks on someone's reputation. While the First Amendment protects speech and vigorous debate on issues of public concern, including critical opinion, that protection is not unlimited. The First Amendment does not protect false and defamatory speech causing harm to reputation, a business, well-being, or other interests.
We represent the victims of defamatory speech in seeking redress for the harm to their reputation by false and defamatory statements online, in print, or spoken, including increasingly common cases of anonymous speech on message boards, review sites, comment pages, and in other forums.
We also advise and defend writers, journalists, broadcasters, speakers, website operators, and other content creators in minimizing the risk that their speech could cross the line and/or come under legal attack. We also defend legal challenges to speech in litigation and elsewhere.
DAVID WACHEN ON REPUTATION
Sued major online publication on behalf of public relations professional for defamation and copyright infringement in high-profile case relating to repeated false and defamatory articles about her (Gordon v. Mediabistro.com Inc., D.C. Superior Ct.)
Reputation LAW BASICS
While the First Amendment guarantees free expression in our society, that guarantee is not unlimited, particularly when the speech at issue causes harm to another's reputation, privacy, or other interests. Each state provides a legal remedy for individuals and entities that have been harmed by defamatory speech under certain circumstances. In general, “defamatory” speech causes others to think less of the person, business, or entity. It causes injury to someone’s reputation--that is, what others think of you. Thus, to qualify as defamation, the speech has to have been communicated to at least one other person, not just the subject of the defamation.
"Defamation" an umbrella term that includes libel (i.e., written defamation) and slander (i.e., spoken defamation)
Defamation law contains many complexities, intricacies, and nuances; it is quite different than other areas of tort law, where the focus is primarily on whether the defendant acted negligently. With defamation, that is only one of several important elements. As a result, it is best to work with an attorney with particular experience in and knowledge of defamation law.
In a nutshell, to succeed on a claim of defamation, the victim of the defamatory speech must
prove that the defamer made provably false and defamatory statements about the victim to one or more third parties, and that the speech caused injury to the victim's reputation or other interests. The defamatory speech has to have been made with a certain degree of fault. In the case of a victim who is a private person, the defamatory speech has to have been made negligently or carelessly. An example would be that the defamer did not do his/her “homework” or make a reasonable effort to check the facts before making the false statement to others.
In the case of a public figure, celebrity, or official who has been defamed, the victim would need to prove that the defamer made the false and defamatory statements knowing that what he/she was saying was false, or with reckless disregard of the truth. The claim must be brought in court within the applicable statute of limitations period, which varies by state from one to three years from when the statement was first made and disseminated.
If successful in court, the victim can recover both compensatory damages for the harm caused to reputation, business interests, and personal well-being, such as emotional distress, as well as punitive damages in some circumstances of particularly egregious, malicious, or harmful conduct.
ELEMENTS OF DEFAMATION
Provably false statement
Makes people think less of you
Communicated to others
Made with fault
Injures reputation/other interests