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Defamation and public figures

| Jun 28, 2021 | Defamation, Entertainment And Media Law, Privacy & Publicity

Defamation is a claim brought forth by a plaintiff stating that the respondent party has injured their reputation in some way by making derogatory comments about them. This typically happens following public comments even though the precedent holds for a private individual in Texas that damage only requires communicating the statement to one other person. For public figures the standard is different, as the respondent must have acted with “actual malice” when making the comment. This applies in both spoken and written statements, as spoken defamation is slander and written defamation is libel.

What is actual malice?

Actual malice could be described as acting in reckless disregard for the plaintiff’s reputation, but cases usually stem from an intentionally false statement made by the respondent intending damage. Defamation law standards require that publication of some type must have occurred, including social media comments. Actual malice also requires the respondent to know that statement is false when being issued, or that they have failed to research the issue before speaking.

Who is a public figure?

The defamation law definition of who is a “public figure” is not quite as definitive as a private person. People can be a private individual only to make themselves a public figure if they speak publicly regarding any specific issue. They then become a public figure associated with the issue per any statement. Public officials are always determined as public personalities, but they also have a private life as well. Anyone who takes specific action to make themselves known to the public is also considered a public figure, such as an entertainer.

It is important for all public figure plaintiffs in Texas to understand that true statements are not defamatory even if they cause damage to the reputation of the target. Truth is an absolute defense to any defamation claim, whether written or spoken, and the court may require the plaintiff to prove the published statement was indeed false.

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