Internet Defamation in New York- Opinion or Actionable Defamation?

The growing popularity of the Internet as a means of communication has created a new way to spread potentially defamatory statements. Users may be held accountable in court for making defamatory remarks in these informal – but very public – forums, and blog posts. As long as statements are demonstrably false, someone other than the alleged defamer received the defamatory message, and the content was intended to injure or expose the victim to contempt or ridicule, Internet users can be liable for defamation.

So, what is defamatory, I recently saw an interesting article trying to explain when a New York Court might find a statement to be “opinion” (non actionable), as opposed to actionable words for defamation.

Defamation is generally defined as a false statement of fact that is harmful to some one’s reputation. Many people mistakenly believe that only factual utterances are actionable for defamation liability. Opinion, however, is actionable if it can be reasonably understood as declaring or implying actual facts that can be proven true or false. Courts examine the totality of the circumstances to distinguish factual statements from actual expressions of opinion.

In the article, the author reported that constitutionally protected “opinion,” within the context of that case, could be words and phrases as “leech,” “sleazy male worm,” “a showbiz reject,” “parasite,” “a loose cannon,” “pathological,” “lazy” and “unethical and sleazy.”

In finding some of the words actionable, the Court permitted the case to proceed where the blogger “kept [defendant’s] name and likeness on his website during the peak of the Departed and blocked work from [defendant],” that “[plaintiff] lied to many people taking credit when he brought nothing to the table” and “used [defendant’s] name … to lure people to the business” were factual, and thus provided a predicate for plaintiff’s defamation cause of action.

The bottom line– defamation actions require very careful analysis of what statements might be the expression of opinion (jealously protected by our Constitution and case law), as opposed to what might be factually based and maliciously intended statements of fact. Hire a New York Litigation Lawyer who will review the intricacies of such statements.