Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Rise in Libel

Lawyerly Disclaimer: This post makes an attempt to explain some aspects of civil common law, and may not be entirely correct in its interpretation. Moreover, this post is merely an attempt at being informative, and does not try to counsel in any way.

ArsTechnica is running an interesting story about the increase in defamation suits against bloggers. There are two kinds of defamation: libel, which is defamation in written form; and slander, which is defamatory language that is spoken. Under civil law, defamation is a cause of action for statements in public about someone that damages his or her reputation. A person defames another by purposefully making a statement that is false about that person. The standard by which a defendant acts depends on the "social status" of the plaintiff.

This applies in two ways. The first is against a regular citizen. The second is against a so-called public figure. With regular citizens, a defendant is liable for a false statement made either negligently or recklessly with malice. Malice operates as an intent to harm when the defendant knew or should have known of the falsity of the statement. Alternatively, against a public figure, a defamatory statement must be malicious.

I know what you are thinking, this has to run afoul of the First Amendment. In reality, there are consequences for speaking in a manner that causes harm. However, opinion does not constitute defamation, nor does the truth.

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