Here’s a true statement: harsh criticisms of a product or service can have a strong – and negative -- impact on a company. And here’s the follow-up question: what are your options if a disparaging comment about your business lands on the doorstep?
One option is filing a trade libel or business defamation lawsuit against your adversary.
A Quick Defamation DefinitionDefamation is the communication of a false statement of fact, which harms the reputation of a corporation, organization, individual, product, group, government or country. All jurisdictions within the United States allow for legal action against individuals or other entities to protect against baseless, disparaging statements.
Who can Commit Defamation?Anyone who knowingly or negligently lies about another individual, business or organization can be charged with defamation.
There is a fine legal line, however, between false and statements and misleading statements. In some jurisdictions, false statements are addressed via defamation laws, but misleading statements are litigated using “false light” torts.
Two Types of DefamationThere are two top-level categories of defamation: slander and libel.
Slander is spoken defamation. For example, if someone publicly makes a false statement over the radio or on television, and that statement causes harm for an individual or company, the person who uttered the comment can be sued for slander.
Libel is the "image or printed" form of defamation. For example, if someone publishes a false statement of fact in a newspaper, blog or social media, the person who posted or authored the statement can be sued for libel.
Fact, Opinion and DefamationThe difference between fact and opinion is very important when discussing defamation law.
In general, public, reputation-ruining statements about a person or business, which are put forward as facts, must be proven false to be defamatory. In many cases, the plaintiff must first show that the statements in question were factual or a mix of facts and opinions, and then must prove that these statements were false.
International Defamation LawsDefamation laws vary from country to country. In some nations, defamation can be brought against an individual or organization as a criminal charge. Oftentimes, US-based slander and libel plaintiffs maneuver to have their cases heard in foreign courts -- especially in Commonwealth courts -- to take advantage of the claimant-friendly defamation laws overseas and borders.
The three most important things to remember about defamation law in the United States:
- In order to win a case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a purposeful or negligent false statement of fact;
- Harm is an essential component of slander and libel law. If you can't prove that the statements under review caused material harm, it is very difficult to win a defamation claim.
- The statute of limitations for defamation is short. As such, don't wait to take action -- you may just miss your window.
Aaron Kelly is a top-rated defamation and online business law attorney, Aaron is an advocate and strong supporter of cutting-edge, innovative ideas that embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.