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Avoiding Libel

Write To Done has a good guest post called Are you using protection? Free speech, libel, and covering your ass. The definition of libel I like best is:

defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or inany form other than by
spoken words or gestures

This comes from Dictionary.com. Of course you’ve got to look up defamation to get the real sense of what’s prohibited. The same source defines it this way:

the act of defaming; false or unjustified injury of the goodreputation of another,
as by slander or libel; calumny:  She suedthe magazine for defamation of character.

Keep in mind, this is in the United States. As Alison Kerr points out in her article, there are different, often stricter rules elsewhere in the world. She rightly cautions against stupidity. I’d add not writing in anger, or at least not publishing it.

Although this can sound scary for writers, we’re not alone. Here are some other blogs that you may find helpful on the subject of libel or defamation:

  • The Electronic Freedom Foundation offers Online Defamation Law in their Bloggers Legal Guide. As you’ll see, simply calling what you say opinion may not be enough.
  • California’s Defamation Law Blog offers You’ve Been Sued . . . Now What? which is just what it says. You’ll also get a popup ad for a free “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Defamation Law” that you may find helpful. Yes, they are lawyers, but their advice seems solid.
  • The Throughly Good Blog from Ireland offers: WordCamp Ireland 2010: Avoiding libel when blogging offers an overview from that country, which gives us yanks a taste of the rest of the world.
  • Media Bistro points to an article called the Santa Barbara Smackdown published in the American Journalism Review which might be considered a cautionary tale.

But no matter what you read you won’t find a definitive answer about how to avoid libel. It’s a slippery subject and finally does boil down to Kerr’s don’t be stupid admonition.
{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Thanks for sharing this. It is especially scary/tricky when the defaming information is the truth (enter whistle-blowers, investigative reporting, etc.)
    For example, I was recently ripped off on a vacation: I want to post about it, to help other travelers from being victimized, but afraid of the consequences that it might bring.

    • Suzanne, I have a suggestion, if that’s okay. Could you write a more general post about it, something along the lines of “How to avoid travel ripoffs,” and add some more information about other things that could happen? You could include that scenario without naming any names. They couldn’t prove it was them without admitting they ripped you off. 🙂

      I know you might want to warn people away from the specific thing/person/company who targeted you. This way, you can make people alert to what could happen, and then they might see it coming when they’re dealing with that same problem.
      Elizabeth West recently posted..Should fan fiction be legalMy Profile

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