“Jamie told Jesse that Frank heard from Sam…”
Statements and writings that are labeled “gossip” by both media tabloids and middle school students alike fall under a different category in the legal realm: defamation. As defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, defamation is “The act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person.”
Defamation law is quickly becoming one of the most highly publicized topics in all of entertainment law. Public figures ranging from comedians to future presidents have shined a spotlight on some of the murkier areas of so-called “gossip law.”
But just like those middle school secrets whispered at recess, the subtleties of defamation law can get complicated pretty quickly. When determining whether or not a statement is defamatory, we must begin by asking some questions: Was the statement true? Who heard the statement? Who was the speaker’s source? Was the statement actually harmful? Was it even believable?
In the coming posts, I will break defamation law down to the basics and shed light on exactly what qualifies as a defamatory statement. Stay tuned because things are going to get interesting.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.