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Public figures and defamation: a whole new ballgame

Filing a claim for defamation (a charge that another person has unjustly injured one's reputation) can be a relatively straightforward matter for most people.

That is, the proof elements are fairly clear. An alleged false statement offered as fact must have been unprivileged and resulted in some personal damage (or at least had a reasonable tendency to bring about that result). Additionally, it must have been spoken (slander) or written (libel) in a manner that was at least negligent.

And, of course, it must not have been true. As we note on a page of our website at the Law Offices of Barry K. Rothman in Los Angeles, "truth is an absolute defense to defamation."

Things are less straightforward for a so-called "public figure" alleging defamation, though. To prevail in a claim, such a person -- one might reasonably think of an individual like a nationally known singer, actor, politician or athlete here -- must clear an additional proof hurdle beyond that faced by a non-public figure.

And that is this: That person must prove that claimed defamatory comments were made with "actual malice."

That means intentionally, with a conscious intent to inflict injury.

Defamation litigation is increasingly common these days, and for the obvious reason that numerous and proliferating online social media platforms provide a vast forum to individuals seeking to offer up views on public figures and current events.

Sometimes they cross the line.

We note on our entertainment law website that, when they do, an adversely affected public figure often confronts a double-edged sword. Although filing a legal action might ultimately result in personal vindication, it can at the same time put an even larger spotlight on the negative information that is already in the public domain.

For public figures, deciding whether to pursue a defamation claim can involve considerable reflection regarding the potential consequences.

An attorney well versed in representing entertainment industry clients in diverse matters can help a would-be litigant make a reasoned choice on how to best proceed.

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