Dealing With Defamation And The Free Speech Defense

Posted on: 4 May 2015

Everybody knows they have a constitutionally protected freedom of speech under the First Amendment. However, most people don't know what that really means in practice. If someone makes a damaging statement regarding you, it's possible they will try to hide behind their free speech rights. But defamation is a civil crime, and you have the right to seek damages from the person or entity that defamed you.

Defining Defamation

Defamation is any statement, either written or spoken, that can damage the reputation of a person, business, or other third party. In almost all cases, these represent outright false or partially false statement against you. Defamation falls under two subcategories.

Libel – When the statement is a written one

Slander – When the statement is a spoken one

The one absolute for all defamation cases is that if the statement is true, there is no case.

Someone can print something about you or your business in the local paper. The statements made can cause real damage to your reputation. You only have a case if you can prove the statements are false. If the reporter or newspaper entity can prove that the printed material is not libelous, then they're in the clear.

The Role of Free Speech in Defamation

Freedom of speech is something of a wildcard when it comes to defamation. In the United States, freedom of speech is a cornerstone and almost always the first thing someone will use when a case of defamation comes up.

But what if the newspaper says the piece is satire? What if it's actually located in a section of the paper that traditionally prints satirical op-eds? Satire is protected by the First Amendment.

What if the writer claims it was just an opinion piece? The concept of protected opinion exists, but whether it works in the writer's favor or not will depend on the location. Defamation laws vary a great deal between states, which also brings up the question, "where do you sue for defamation if the defamer is in one state and you're in another?" The answer depends on your situation, so you're best off asking a lawyer, such as Marie A. Mattox, P.A.

Defamation cases are unique from person to person. That's why if you feel someone has defamed you, or alternatively, if someone is accusing you of defamation, you need to contact a lawyer. A civil rights lawyer can help you navigate through the thick body of law that govern acts of defamation and free speech rights. If your reputation or your character is on the line, then you definitely should fight to clear your name.