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What Is Civil Defamation?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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Civil defamation is a a type of crime in which the accuser claims that their image has been unfairly and maliciously damaged by the words of the defendant. Generally, though not always, a statement must be untrue to qualify for defamation protection. In order for the case to be civil rather than criminal, the crime must be harmful to the accuser rather than to the state.

Human civilization has battled the arena of defamation for almost the whole of its existence; in Ancient Rome, convicted defendants of defamation were subject to civil penalties, such as paying damages. This frequently remains the case in modern law, though most regions have varying limits and forms of penalties. Generally, civil defamation suits aim for a monetary settlement and the justice of being cleared in court rather than for jail time or other penalties.

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Truth is an interesting concept in civil defamation law. In many regions, if a defendant can prove that the statement in question is true, it is a sufficient defense for acquittal. Some countries, however, make exceptions to truth as a defense. In the Republic of Korea, for instance, a statement needs to be shown only to be malicious and damaging to be considered defamation, whether or not it is true. In the Philippines, intentions rather that truth are in question; if a person can show he or she made a true but defamatory statement in pursuit of a just or moral goal, the case may be acquitted. Some regions also prohibit defamation of the dead, even if the statements are true, as the defamed person is incapable of making a defense.

Two main terms used frequently when discussing civil defamation are libel and slander. These are methods of making a defamatory statement, and both are usually open to prosecution. Libel is the use of published or verbal material, such as newspapers, blogs, or correspondence, to make a defamatory statement. Slander is the oral method for defamation; a statement need only to be made to a third party to be considered defamatory under some laws.

News media personnel have to walk a thin line between defamation and speculation; many defamation cases involve members of the press. In some regions, a statement can only be considered civil defamation if it was made under the guise of truth or fact; because of the assumed credibility of the news media, most statements made by press members such as journalists or reporters can be seen as open to civil defamation suits if a complaint is made.

In most regions, the defendant and the accuser do not need to be individual people. Corporations and companies generally have the right to sue or be sued for civil defamation. Cases where large businesses are involved generally deal with high damage amounts; if a defamatory statement can be shown to have significantly affected sales or product image, the damages claimed may run into enormous sums.

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anon160043
Post 1

Background: I was married for 13 years and I went through a real nasty divorce in the last six months, wife had affairs with five different men and a lesbian encounter. She abandoned me and our two children for weeks and months at a time on three different occasions. Anyway, I got custody of the children. Here is my query. I am a salesman, and I sold a piece of equipment to a customer a couple weeks ago. I have been getting this item ready for delivery. I received a letter of cancellation today because the purchasing agent has a relationship with my ex wife. The purchasing agent told the owner something (I don't know what) and now I am out on a $14,000 sale. Any advice on if or what I can do?

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