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What Is Defamation of Character?

“Defamation of character” is a term that is used when describing accusations that are within the realm of slander, libel or even both. Slander is the use of verbal statements that are identified as derogatory. Libel, on the other hand, involves written derogatory statements. In court, the plaintiff who is trying to pursue a case against an accused will often charge defamation of character as a way of covering any form of false or damaging statements or allegations.

Defamation of character is universally recognized as being very difficult to prove in a court of law. The main problem with regards to proving defamation of character is that it runs counter with the protection of free speech as guaranteed in the First Amendment. The courts will agree that an opinion, even if it is very malicious, is not the same as a stated fact. Thus, if a person states an opinion that he thinks that people shouldn’t eat in a particular restaurant because he thinks the chef spits on food, it will be difficult to prove that what was said is a defamation of character. Contrast this with the same statement, but in which the same person says that people shouldn’t eat in the restaurant because he KNOWS that the chef spits on food, then the statement now involves a specific person as well as an unproven accusation, which is enough for the chef to file a case of defamation of character.

Because defamation of character as a case straddles many gray areas, rarely does a case reach a court trial. Most are settled privately out of court.

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