Defamation of character is any type of false or damaging statements—made in print or other media, on the Internet, or orally to third parties—concerning another person. The statements must cause harm to the other person to be considered defamation. If you believe someone has damaged your reputation, you may be able to sue for defamation of character.
When defamation of character applies
Many situations could involve defamation of character. Generally, this crime falls into two categories: slander—speech that is untrue and derogatory (negatively affecting someone's reputation)—or libel, which comes from written comments that are untrue and derogatory. The main types of defamation include the following:
- Statements that question your ethics and damage your reputation at school or work, or your ability to find work.
- Claims that you have a criminal history.
- Accusations that you have a disease, such as AIDS.
- Claims that you are sexually immoral—accusing a man of being a child molester, for instance, or calling a woman a whore.
In all cases, the claims must be false for you to have a case for defamation of character. Bringing a truth to light is not defamation. Public figures have a more difficult time making a case for defamation. As people in the public eye, they are legitimate subjects for commentary and satire (making fun of others' mistakes or bad habits).
Suing for defamation of character
To decide if you should sue for defamation of character, consult an attorney to weigh your options. Before suing, if you believe someone is slandering or libeling you, you may choose to have an attorney send them a cease and desist letter. This letter will demand that the people defaming you stop their activities. It also informs them that they may face legal action if they do not stop.
If the defamation continues and you decide to proceed with a lawsuit, you will file a complaint in state civil court.
If you decide to sue for defamation of character, be aware that you may be in for a costly and ultimately fruitless battle. The U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free speech makes it difficult to win defamation suits. Also, most defamation suits are settled out of court to avoid further damage from having the allegations repeated in the media during the trial. Often, the people who bring a defamation case to court merely win a public retraction of the statements.