What’s the Deal with Slander?

on October 10, 2011

Welcome to legal musings!  I haven’t written a legal blog in a while and thought maybe I should.  While I’d like to discuss the legislation regarding internet piracy, that bill has been stalled in committee and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Some time ago there was a hubbub on twitter about an agent allegedly threatening a client with a slander case because the client allegedly talked about their current contract on the internet.  Note that I have no idea if this really happened or not.  However, it does bring up a couple of interesting issues regarding slander (spoken) or libel (written).  Basically:


Yeah.  So if you’re saying the truth…you can’t be sued for slander.  Well, now…you can be sued.  I mean, anybody can file a lawsuit.  But you’re going to win for sure because you’re telling the truth.  People don’t tend to realize this.  The truth can be mean and even hurtful…but it isn’t slanderous. 

Also, your opinion is mostly protected.  If you’re just giving your opinion (I think Bob is a total jerk), then you’re probably all right.

So what if we’re not telling the truth?  Something to think about is that unlike most areas of the law, slander/libel law treats different victims differently.  How odd is that?  Public figures (actors, famous writers, politicians) are treated differently.  You can say meaner things about a famous person than you can your next door neighbor. 

In other words, if you’re a famous author and someone slanders you…you have to prove they did it maliciously.  Your Aunt Betty doesn’t.  Why is this?  According to the United States Supreme Court, public officials and celebrities, the Court has said, have chosen to step into the limelight and subject themselves to public scrutiny. They need less protection because they have more opportunities to counter false information published about them.  See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, (1964), and Hatfield vs. New York Times, 532 F.3d 312 (C.A.4 Va. 2008.)

So there’s a brief overview of slander and libel law.  Though we all should just go back to what we learned in Kindergarden…if you can’t say anything nice…

CYA Disclaimer:  This is not legal advice.  If you need legal advice, hire a lawyer.  If you’re planning on slandering someone…stop it.  Karma doesn’t follow the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Karma will nail your butt.  If you’re being slandered, tell all the writers on your yahoo loop–we often work with karma to find justice.  Again…this is not legal advice.  Just sayin.

What is Cyber Stalking???

on May 12, 2011

Welcome to Legal Musings where I talk about the law and…stuff.  Often copyright or writing issues…sometimes not. 

Well…first of all, there isn’t one set definition to cyberstalking.  As close as we get is “the use of technology to stalk victims—shares some characteristics with real-life stalking. It involves the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail.”   National Institution of Justice.

When I thought about doing a post about cyber talking, I assumed that there would be a strong federal law dealing with it.  NOT.  Now, for those of you who haven’t taken a government class in a while…keep in mind that the states have their own laws.  So New York may have a tough cyber stalking law while Oregon may not.  Or visa versa.  I don’t know because I haven’t looked yet.  I’m more interested in federal law right now.

But…I truly thought there would be a strong federal law.  The main federal cyber-stalking law we have is incorporated in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005, where Congress extended the Federal interstate stalking statute to include cyberstalking (18 U.S.C. §2261 A).  But, this overall Act mainly deals with domestic violence situations…and many cyber stalkers are strangers.

If there is an actual threat made by a cyber stalker, 18 U.S.C. §875(c),makes it a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  But there has to be a THREAT made.  The law hasn’t really been challenged, so it’s unclear whether or not it applies when a stalker harasses someone using a chat room or bulletin board. 

Another federal statute, 47 U.S.C. §223, makes it a federal crime to harass someone over the telephone.  But, violating this section results only in a misdemeanor, punishable by not more than two years in prison.

If you are being harassed or stalked via the internet…you should go to your local police.  Find out if your state has decent stalking laws—some do.  Then move on to the federal authorities.  But so far, the strongest laws are in the states, and not federally.

DISCLAIMER:  This is not intended to be legal advice…and the mermaid is not naked.  Really.  She’s dressed.  This is a great place for you to start your research…not to rely on for legal advice.  I’m an awesome lawyer.  But I’m not your lawyer.  Frankly, I’d rather write about vampires in my jammies than dress up and go fight with some windbag in court.  So again…not legal advice.