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While you may enjoy the liberties you have in the United States under the first amendment, there is a fine line between free speech and defamation. If you find yourself on either end of a defamation lawsuit, you may feel confused about the boundaries between the two. 

We understand how defamation laws work and have helped many of our clients with their cases. 

What is defamation? 

Defamation occurs when you make a statement about someone that tarnishes their reputation. For example, if you release an untrue statement to the press about someone and their business suffers as a result, that is an example of defamation. Technically, there are two types of defamation. If the press prints your statement, for example, it is libel. If you speak your statement and spreads around from person to person, that is slander. 

The line between free speech and defamation is largely determined by the truth of the matter. If a court proves that your statement was a lie instead of based on truth, you could be liable for resulting damages. 

What must a defamation case have? 

The following elements are present in a defamation case. If one or more elements are missing, a judge may dismiss the complaint. 

  • You commented about someone 
  • Someone publishes your comment 
  • The comment you made hurt another person’s reputation 
  • The comment you made was not factual 
  • The comment you made was not privileged 

Privileged circumstances negate a defamation claim. For example, if you lie about someone while you are testifying at their trial, they cannot sue you for defamation because the act of testifying is immune, or privileged. However, you may see perjury charges instead. More information about this topic is available on our webpage.