Defamation Basics: PART I

Defamation seems like a simple concept. Someone says or writes something damaging about someone’s else’s reputation, right? Wrong. The legal requirements for defamation are far more stringent than you might expect. I find that most people equate defamation with office gossip. It’s true. (refer to said simple definition above). So lets clear it up. The first thing you need to know is that there are two forms of defamation: slander and libel. Slander is specifically defined in California Civil Code section 45, as “. . . a false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communications by radio or any mechanical or other means which:

1. Charges any person with crime, or with having been indicted, convicted, or punished for crime;

2. Imputes in him the present existence of an infectious, contagious, or loathsome disease;

3. Tends directly to injure him in respect to his office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to
him general disqualification in those respects which the office or other occupation peculiarly requires, or
by imputing something with reference to his office, profession, trade, or business that has a natural
tendency to lessen its profits;

4. Imputes to him impotence or a want of chastity; or

5. Which, by natural consequence, causes actual damage.

So you see, Slander has a very particular meaning under the law, and it’s more than just office gossip. The other kind of defamation is libel, which is defined in California Civil Code section as, “a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.” So there you go. Now you know what the two primary forms of defamation are, and, knowing is half the battle.

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