Legal Ramifications – Defamation Law – Libel and Slander

As social media develops, “mainstreams” and becomes a part of everyday life, one of the consequences is that posted  blog articles will increasingly be subject to the claims of our litigious legal system.  This is certainly true in the United States – but because the Internet has few boundaries, whatever you write can become fodder for claims anywhere in the world. Watch your step

The first worry of all bloggers are claims brought under the umbrella tort (a tort is merely a civil wrong) of defamation. Defamation is the communication of a false statement that makes a claim, expressly or implied to be factual, that may harm an individual, business, product, group, government or nation.  That’s right, you can defame a product!

Notice though that the claim will only occur if what you say is meant to be regarded as a fact and the statement is false.

Opinion is generally not actionable.  Thus, a statement like, “in my opinion, his product is worthless,” would not be defamation because you are couching it as an opinion and the truth or falsity of your opinion cannot be proved one way or another.

On the other hand, if you said, “I saw him take the money out of the company safe,” and, in fact, he did not, you might be subject to a claim of defamation.

There are two forms, or subgroups, of defamation.  Slander is an oral defamation and has to be said to someone other than the subject of the statement. Libel is written defamation and needs to be published so another party other than the subject can read it.

Most of us bloggers will run the risk of a libel claim if we make false statements of fact about someone, particularly if it hurts their business reputation. As mentioned above, there can be wide open jurisdictional claims and some defendants have had cases brought against them in the UK, for example, for things that were posted in the US, but read in the UK.

So, be very, very careful what you write about other people. You are better off giving your opinion than alleging straight facts about someone, unless, of course, when you know, for sure, that the facts are true.

In the next Legal Ramifications, we will take about the basics of intellectual property law, particularly copyrights and trademarks.