Defamation (Libel & Slander)


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Defamation (Libel & Slander)

  1. 1. Libel and Slander
  2. 2. Libel Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation. California Civil Code § 45
  3. 3. obloquy OB-luh-kwee, noun: <ul><li>1. Strongly condemnatory or abusive language or utterance. </li></ul><ul><li>2. The condition of disgrace suffered as a result of public blame, abuse, or condemnation; ill repute. </li></ul><ul><li>There he remained, weeping indignantly at her stream of obloquy, bitterly ashamed of his tears, until it was time for supper. </li></ul><ul><li>--Jonathan Keates, Stendhal </li></ul><ul><li> Word of the Day, March 4, 2002 </li></ul>
  4. 4. Slander Slander is a false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communications by radio or any mechanical or other means which: 1. Charges any person with crime, or with having been indicted, convicted, or punished for crime; 2. Imputes in him the present existence of an infectious, contagious, or loathsome disease;
  5. 5. 3. Tends directly to injure him in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural tendency to lessen its profits; 4. Imputes to him impotence or a want of chastity; or 5. Which, by natural consequence, causes actual damage. California Civil Code § 46
  6. 6. Elements of Libel/Slander <ul><li>defamatory </li></ul><ul><li>false </li></ul><ul><li>publication </li></ul><ul><li>identification </li></ul><ul><li>fault </li></ul><ul><li>harm (damages) </li></ul>
  7. 7. DEFAMATORY <ul><li>statement must harm your reputation </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Libel per se (direct) </li></ul><ul><li>Libel per quod (indirect) </li></ul>
  9. 9. Libel per se <ul><li>Donaldson v. Washington Post Co. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>falsely reported that Michael Donaldson pleaded guilty to a murder charge </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Laskey v. ABC </li></ul><ul><ul><li>reported that Luella Mundel, a West Virginia college professor, was a “Communist” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>certain words can get you in trouble </li></ul><ul><ul><li>take care with “alleged” </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>courts have made exception for words spoken in the heat of an argument </li></ul>
  11. 11. Libel per quod <ul><li>Implied, not evident from words themselves </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>What about hyperbole? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>usually understood to be an exaggerated statements </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What about parody? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not reasonable to think making a factual assertion </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>What about opinion? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>opinion usually exempt . . . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>but opinion may not include any statement of facts that could be proven true or false </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Take care with . . . <ul><li>headlines </li></ul><ul><li>promos </li></ul><ul><li>bumpers </li></ul><ul><li>teases </li></ul><ul><li>B-roll </li></ul><ul><li>generic shots </li></ul>
  15. 15. FALSITY <ul><li>Statement must be false </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(truth is a defense to defamation) </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Publication <ul><li>some form of publication </li></ul><ul><ul><li>even a memo to a secretary </li></ul></ul><ul><li>publication must be intended </li></ul><ul><li>single publication rule </li></ul><ul><li>whose responsible? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>complicity rule -- everyone </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>free-lance photography, excepted </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Stories Told <ul><li>camera delivery (very slow and then overnight) </li></ul><ul><li>Mother intercepting “obscene” material and reporting it to postmaster </li></ul><ul><li>Swingers mailing </li></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>all stories have an “instructional” purpose </li></ul><ul><li>or </li></ul><ul><li>are “mildly amusing” </li></ul>
  19. 19. Identification <ul><li>need not refer to “victim” by name </li></ul><ul><li>Defaming Groups: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nieman Marcus models </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hell’s Angels </li></ul></ul><ul><li>need to sue before die </li></ul>
  20. 20. FAULT <ul><li>Private citizen plaintiffs </li></ul><ul><li>Public figure plaintiffs </li></ul><ul><li>private plaintiffs need only prove negligence </li></ul><ul><li>Public figure plaintiffs must prove malice </li></ul>
  21. 21. Who is a public figure? <ul><li>New York Times v. Sullivan </li></ul><ul><li>public officials </li></ul><ul><li>celebrities </li></ul><ul><li>others? </li></ul><ul><li>Gertz case </li></ul><ul><li>individuals who willingly take part in public affairs </li></ul>
  22. 22. Malice <ul><li>false statement made with knowledge that it was false </li></ul><ul><li>false statement made with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not </li></ul><ul><li>extreme departure from standards of journalism </li></ul>
  23. 23. Negligence <ul><li>Standard of care a reasonably careful person would exercise under similar circumstances </li></ul><ul><li>Departure from accepted journalistic procedures </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>burden of proof -- plaintiff must establish falsity of statement </li></ul><ul><li>(before defendant had to establish truth) </li></ul><ul><li>(applies to all public figure plaintiffs and private plaintiffs v. media) </li></ul>
  25. 25. Harm (damages) <ul><li>Injury to reputation </li></ul><ul><li>compensatory damages </li></ul><ul><ul><li>presumed damages </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>actual damages </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>special damages </li></ul></ul><ul><li>punitive damages </li></ul>
  26. 26. DEFENSES <ul><li>truth </li></ul><ul><li>privilege </li></ul><ul><li>fair comment (opinion) </li></ul><ul><li>neutral reportage (not in California) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>making accurate report of defamatory statements or charges against a public figure </li></ul></ul><ul><li>consent (minor defense) </li></ul>
  27. 27. <ul><li>privilege -- absolute and qualified </li></ul><ul><li>fair comment must be opinion not published with actual malice </li></ul>
  28. 28. <ul><li>retraction statutes </li></ul><ul><li>statutes of limitation </li></ul><ul><li>libel insurance </li></ul><ul><li>SLAPP / anti-SLAPP </li></ul>
  29. 29. Criminal Libel <ul><li>rare in u.s. </li></ul><ul><li>concern in many developing countries </li></ul>
  30. 30. Libel in Cyberspace
  31. 31. Traditional Model <ul><li>Publishers </li></ul><ul><li>Distributors </li></ul><ul><li>Common Carriers and Conduits </li></ul><ul><li>ISP’s </li></ul>
  32. 32. In Britain <ul><li>Easy to prove </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Defendant must prove truth of statement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Publisher’s honest belief in truth of a statement doesn’t matter </li></ul></ul>
  33. 33. In France <ul><li>Six main elements: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allegations or imputations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Falsifying specific and precise facts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Attacks to honor or reputation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identification of particular individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Publication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad faith </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. In Germany <ul><li>Media enjoys constitutional freedom of expression </li></ul><ul><li>Criminal defamation: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Insult </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Slander </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Malicious defamation </li></ul></ul>
  35. 35. Insult <ul><li>An attack on the plaintiff’s honor which tends to lower the victim’s reputation to society at large </li></ul>
  36. 36. Slander <ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Slanderous statements must have been communicated to a third party and must lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of the community. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  37. 37. Malicious Defamation <ul><li>The deliberate and intentional dissemination of false factual statements that are either defamatory or cause harm to the person. </li></ul>
  38. 38. Resources <ul><li>Libel Law in Other Countries </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul>