Legalese


Let’s get a few things straight here, shall we?

I’m so weary of the word “bullying” being so easily and liberally thrown around.  It seems to be the go-to accusation to make anytime someone gets their feelings hurt (or imagines that someone they revere has gotten their feelings hurt).  Bullying is a serious accusation to level at someone, and actual bullying should be taken very seriously.  Unfortunately, throwing it around willy-nilly only dilutes it and makes it mean far less than what it should mean.

According to USLegal.com,

Bullying is generally defined as an intentional act that causes harm to others, and may involve verbal harassment, verbal or non-verbal threats, physical assault, stalking, or other methods of coercion such as manipulation, blackmail, or extortion. It is aggressive behavior that intends to hurt, threaten or frighten another person. An imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim is often involved. Bullying occurs in a variety of contexts, such as schools, workplaces, political or military settings, and others.

Furthermore,

Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in ‘defamatory language’. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.

***

The law of defamation protects a person’s reputation and good name against communications that are false and derogatory. Defamation consists of two torts: libel and slander. Libel consists of any defamation that can be seen, most typically in writing. Slander consists of an oral defamatory communications. The elements of libel and slander are nearly identical to one another.

Historically, the law governing slander focused on oral statements that were demeaning to others. By the 1500s, English courts treated slander actions as those for damages. Libel developed differently, however. English printers were required to be licensed by and give a bond to the government because the printed word was believed to be a threat to political stability. Libel included any criticism of the English government, and a person who committed libel committed a crime. This history carried over in part to the United States, where Congress under the presidency of John Adams passed the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government. Congress and the courts eventually abandoned this approach to libel, and the law of libel is now focuses on recovery of damages in civil cases.

Beginning with the landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the law of defamation has a constitutional dimension. Under this case and subsequent cases, the Court has balanced individual interests in reputation with the interests of free speech among society. This approach has altered the rules governing libel and slander, especially where a communication is about a public official or figure, or where the communication is about a matter of public concern.

***

Slander is the oral communication of false statements that are harmful to a person’s reputation. If the statements are proven to be true, it is a complete defense to a charge of slander. Oral opinions that don’t contain statements of fact don’t constitute slander. Slander is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Slander is a subcategory of defamation.

The basic elements of a claim of slander include;

  1. .                a defamatory statement;
  2. .                published to third parties; and
  3. .                which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false.

Slander is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion. If the slander unjustly accused you of a crime or reflected on your profession, the court or jury can assess the damages. For other types of slander you generally must prove some actual damage to be able to recover.

You can read more about New York Times v. Sullivan here, if you’re so inclined.

Bottom line: publishing a blog post that states opinion about a public figure or their stupid book is NOT bullying, defamation, slander or libel (as any attorney – or even paralegal – worth their salt would know).  Bullying consists of aggressive behavior and an imbalance in power; defamation, slander and libel all consist of FALSE statements that the statement maker knows to be false and makes anyway with the intent to harm someone’s reputation and/or business opportunities.

If you put yourself in the public eye, if you write a fucking book, you better be prepared for not only praise and accolades, but criticism as well.

Got it?

Good.

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5 Comments on “Legalese”

  1. Heidi Kestrel
    May 4, 2012 at 4:44 am #

    Amen! You musta pushed a nice big shiny button. Push it again! You ROCK!

  2. Chandos CJ Vander Wielen
    May 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Some people. Seriously.

  3. Di
    May 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Stop harassing the pregnant lady for simply having an opinion…sheesh!

  4. Sue
    May 4, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    To all the Hampton minions—Get a life you fucking idiots.

    Sorry, they are just SUCH a pathetic bunch it had to be said!

  5. Janet
    May 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm #

    Cannot stand ‘celebrities’ in whatever form they come, complaining when they get attention, albeit negative attention is still attention! You put yourself out there you have to take the good with the bad and you have a nice fat bank balance to comfort you!

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