Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Defenses Against Defamation

So I've noticed a lot of folks feel that they've been "defamed" so I thought we'd look into the merits of some of these cases. What better way to look at merit than to take the opposite view - how would someone defend against defamation?

Simply put, according to Wikipedia, there are a few standard defenses:
  • Truth is an absolute defense in the United States as well as in the common law jurisdictions of Canada. In some other countries it is also necessary to show a benefit to the public good in having the information brought to light.
  • Statements made in a good faith and reasonable belief that they were true are generally treated the same as true statements; however, the court may inquire into the reasonableness of the belief. The degree of care expected will vary with the nature of the defendant: an ordinary person might safely rely on a single newspaper report, while the newspaper would be expected to carefully check multiple sources.
  • Privilege is a defense when witness testimony, attorneys' arguments, and judges' decisions, rulings, and statements made in court, or statements by legislators on the floor of the legislature, or statements made by a person to their spouse, are the cause for the claim. These statements are said to be privileged and cannot be cause for a defamation claim.
  • Opinion is a defense recognized in nearly every jurisdiction. If the allegedly defamatory assertion is an expression of opinion rather than a statement of fact, defamation claims usually cannot be brought because opinions are inherently not falsifiable. However, some jurisdictions decline to recognize any legal distinction between fact and opinion. The United States Supreme Court, in particular, has ruled that the First Amendment does not require recognition of an opinion privilege.
  • Fair comment on a matter of public interest, statements made with an honest belief in their truth on a matter of public interest (official acts) are defenses to a defamation claim, even if such arguments are logically unsound; if a reasonable person could honestly entertain such an opinion, the statement is protected.
  • Consent is an uncommon defense and makes the claim that the claimant consented to the dissemination of the statement.
  • Innocent dissemination is a defense available when a defendant had no actual knowledge of the defamatory statement or no reason to believe the statement was defamatory. The defense can be defeated if the lack of knowledge was due to negligence. Thus, a delivery service cannot be held liable for delivering a sealed defamatory letter.
  • Claimant is incapable of further defamation–e.g., the claimant's position in the community is so poor that defamation could not do further damage to the plaintiff. Such a claimant could be said to be "libel-proof," since in most jurisdictions, actual damage is an essential element for a libel claim.

In addition to the above, the defendant may claim that the allegedly defamatory statement is not actually capable of being defamatory—an insulting statement that does not actually harm someone's reputation is prima facie not libelous.

Special rules apply in the case of statements made in the press concerning public figures. A series of court rulings led by New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) established that for a public official (or other legitimate public figure) to win a libel case, the statement must have been published knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard to its truth, (also known as actual malice).

Under United States law, libel generally requires five key elements. The plaintiff must prove that the information was published, the defendant was directly or indirectly identified, the remarks were defamatory towards the plaintiff's reputation, the published information is false, and that the defendant is at fault.

The Associated Press estimates that 95% of libel cases involving news stories do not arise from high-profile news stories, but "run of the mill" local stories like news coverage of local criminal investigations or trials, or business profiles. Media liability insurance is available to newspapers to cover potential damage awards from libel lawsuits.

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1 comment:

gurvinder said...

The information carries GOOD KNOWLEDGE Thanks--- its worthiness in INDIAN JURISDICTION WOULD HAVE BEEN AN ADDED ADVANTAGE