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What is Defamation of Character? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Defamation of Character
  • 1:03 Types
  • 1:24 Three Areas
  • 2:54 Example
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Todd Clifton

Todd Clifton has a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice, has a M.S. degree in Management & Leadership, has a diploma in private investigation, and has helped former criminals reenter free society.

Defamation of character is an issue of importance in the legal realm. A person's livelihood can be severely hurt when they are defamed. Falsehood and intent to harm are important to consider when determining if defamation of character occurred.

Defamation of Character

Kevin was the principal at the local elementary school. This was a job he had enjoyed doing for years. In fact, it had been 12 years since he has started this highly rewarding endeavor. All this changed in the past year. A parent of one of the third grade students had maliciously told a false story to a newspaper reporter who often visited the school. This resulted in a meeting with the superintendent of schools and an unpaid leave of absence. Try as he might, Kevin could not convince the superintendent that the story was false. It was only after talking to a close friend, who happened to be a lawyer, that Kevin realized he was the victim of defamation of character.

Defamation of character is the communicating of a false message in order to cause severe harm to another person's reputation. In our example, Kevin's reputation was severely harmed. Also, there are two types of defamation of character, and there are three areas that need to be proven in court to win a defamation of character lawsuit.

Types

The two types of defamation of character are libel and slander. Libel is the writing of false accusations against another person with intent to harm. Libel is what the reporter wrote against Kevin, the principal.

Slander is saying false accusations against someone with intent to harm. Slander is what the parent told a reporter in the scenario with the principal.

Three Areas

There are three areas that need to be proven to win a defamation of character lawsuit:

False

First, what was said or written against a person must be proved false. Proving that an accusation is false can be challenging. Kevin the principal was told this by his lawyer friend. However, it can be done. In fact, in Kevin's case it could be done quite easily. As we delve further into Kevin's situation, this will become clear. The accusation must indeed be proven false.

Intending Harm

Second, it must be proven that the one who said or wrote the falsehood intended harm. While proving that an accusation may be false is challenging, proving that the accuser intended harm can be even more challenging. Clear and convincing evidence is needed.

Just casually saying something bad about someone would not be classified as intending harm. However, going to a news reporter and sharing damaging falsehoods about another person, when the person sharing knows the information is false, is clearly intending harm.

Harm That Resulted

Third, it must be proven that harm actually resulted to the victim of defamation of character. Proving that harm resulted is the third important area to understand.

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