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Sometimes a slippery slope: public-figure defamation

We noted in a blog post from this past summer the instant identification of Los Angeles with high-profile entertainment figures. We stated in our July 6 entry that "artists of every genre seek fame and fortune in Los Angeles, under the city's storied lights."

And, as we further pointed out in that post, those who find success quickly learn that their recognition across California and the country -- and often the world -- makes them targets for comments and stories that might not be altogether true or that are even flatly false and harmful.

In fact, defamation of public figures is a commonplace in the high-profile entertainment community of Los Angeles, with untrue statements involving artists, business magnates and other well-known individuals often reaching a wide audience through their appearance on television and in newspapers and magazines. Defamatory material is also increasingly being disseminated on Internet social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

The question confronting any public figure who is on the receiving end of false and wrongful comments is this: What, if anything, should be done about it?

It is important for well-known artists and other high-profile figures to know that a comparatively high standard of proof attaches to a legal claim alleging defamation (online or otherwise). Unlike a case involving a person not deemed to be a so-called "all-purpose" or "limited-purpose" figure, a prominently recognized individual must actually prove that an untrue comment causing damage was made with actual malice.

Obviously, that can be difficult to do. Additionally, a public figure might reasonably want to have a candid and encompassing discussion with a proven entertainment and business lawyer regarding the proper approach to take concerning defamatory material. Bringing a case can be expensive. Moreover, it is not an insubstantial point to note that a defamation case will itself keep a plaintiff in the public eye, in a manner that will ensure continued negative attention.

Of course, responding promptly and resolutely to derogatory and false information can clearly be a preferred -- indeed, an imperative -- response.

As we noted in our above-cited post from earlier this year, "Everyone's reputation has value."

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