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Defamation of Character Online

17th December 2010
By Niselow Attorneys in Legal
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The concept of defamation is new and vague. More importantly the effects of defamation are not always fully understood.

Defamation is very plainly defined as: "the intentional and wrongful publication and communication of words or behavior to a third party which has the effect objectively viewed of injuring a person or entity’s reputation".

Every person has the right to a good name and reputation, particularly mindful of the hard work, time and effort put into your reputation, insofar as building a working ethic and persona therefore the loss of such reputation may impact enormously on both individuals and legal entities insofar as their livelihood, goodwill or status in society.

These days it has become rather effortless to defame another person, business or institution due to technological advances aided by the World Wide Web, for example, the use of social networks, blogs and email, etc., making it easier for anyone to publish non-refereed information quickly, at will and to millions of other Web users.

Taking into account the ease with which defamatory postings may take place online is largely disproportionate to the ongoing and extensive damage to such reputation which it causes.

While the use of the Web allows for a paper trail of such publication of such postings, defamatory comments and insults, it makes it easy to prove the manner of defamation, however the onus of proving publication is a difficult concept both to grasp and to prove therein.

It is important to distinguish the elements which make up the offence of defamation, which are intention, wrongfulness and publication. Should a person forward on a defamatory email or posting to others, that person would also be guilty of defamation therein.

In terms of the publication element for articles and postings on the World Wide Web, it is not commonly known that where the web page was viewed is where that publication took place. This is important in proving jurisdiction for claims in court.

If you are a victim of defamation, a claim for damages can be made by furnishing proof. A claim for damages is aimed at providing those disparaged as a result of defamation with some degree of monetary compensation for the damages sustained due to the potentially irreparable harm to their character or should it be a corporate entity, their name and reputation. Damages are awarded in one lump sum, and further, only one award can arise out of a single cause of action.

Due to the complexity and nature of defamation, it is worthwhile mandating an attorney to assist you in assessing your particular situation and advising as to whether or not you have a valid claim for damages which is in fact feasible.

There are however valid defences for instances where a person claim that you have defamed them. Namely, such defences are limited to whether such comment, posting or publication was in the public interest or whether same was truthful. An attorney with experience in the field will in this case be of great assistance in building a defence for you on the basis of mitigating factors as set out above.

The most relevant point to take away from the concept of defamation is whether the comment, posting, or defamation is such that a reasonable person could have considered the same whether by direct meaning or an innuendo as defamatory, and most importantly whether this lowered your status or reputation in the eyes of a reasonable person.

For further defamation matters, please refer to the below link.
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About the Author
SNA’s team of dedicated professionals is directed by Sam Niselow and Wesley Soutter who, pursuant to practising at a leading South African commercial firm, established SNA Attorneys which specialises in the fields of divorce, family, corporate and commercial law.

SNA Attorneys is a Woodmead, Sandton based law firm which specialises in a variety of legal disciplines.

We are committed to making the law more accessible and user-friendly to both individuals and corporate clients.

Thanks to our niche areas of specialization we are able to service clients both large and small within an atmosphere of mutual understanding, professionalism, trust and respect.

Our focus is always on developing a deep understanding of our clients’ needs and on how best to meet those needs in the most cost-effective and expeditious manner.

SNA Attorneys services a large National and International Family Law, Divorce Law, Corporate and Commercial Law client base.

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