Legal action for defamation
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Important factors to consider before taking legal action for defamation on the internet
With legal action we can make web pages completely disappear. But internet law, perhaps more than any other area of law, requires you to take into consideration many different matters before you decide to proceed with legal action.
For defamation, particularly online defamation, you need to consider not only the short-term benefits of having defamatory comments removed from the internet, but also the long-term reputational consequences of having to take the case to court. Naturally, if you are being defamed online, the impact on your reputation could be tremendously hurtful. There is a 12 month limitation period to bring legal action for defamation, which often means that you need to make a decision fairly quickly whether you are prepared to live with the defamatory publications or whether you intend to challenge them. Keeping defamatory publications on the internet without having them challenged, could come back to bite you later on in your life. At some point, the defamatory comments might resurface and be used by adversaries to try and hurt you.
Defamatory comments on the internet are like a time bomb which might or might not explode at one point in the future. The short time limit that you have to bring legal action for defamation makes it even harder to come to an informed decision because you might notn anticipate or know what the impact of the defamation is for a very long time. Whilst the defamatory statements are published online, people might be asking themselves why you have not taken legal action to have them removed. The decision to take legal action for defamation is of course a complex decision.
Defamation cases sometimes are complicated and costly. Nevertheless, most people don’t think about these factors and the only question on their mind, when they see a defamatory statement about you online, is why did he not take legal action if the statements are false. Most people would conclude that either you do not care about your reputation or that the statements are true. Because most people do care about their own reputation, they are left with the assumption that the statements are true.
Important factors to take into consideration in deciding whether to take legal action for defamation
Defamation on the internet might appear harmless, particularly in the early days of the publication. This is often only due to the limited nature of the publication where only a small number of people had been exposed it. At the same time, if you take legal action for defamation, you will be risking the matter becoming much more publicized, at least until you have secured vindication. This dilemma is often difficult to resolve. Is it better to keep things as they are and hope that the defamatory statements will never receive wider publication than now, or is it wiser to take legal action for defamation, possibly expose your legal case of defamation to a wider audience, but eventually win vindication.
The answer will often depend on how serious the defamatory statements are and what reputational and financial impact the defamatory statements have now or might have on your life in the future. A defamatory statement alleging dishonesty or lack of integrity, might have serious impact on your ability to take out loans or even open bank accounts. A defamatory statement about alleged bad service received by a customer might be something that you could possible live with, as long it the statement does not question your integrity.
Another factor, that might help you come to the right decision, is how easy or difficult it is for the person defaming you, to prove that the statement that was published is true. In some cases, it would be impossible for them to do so. If you take legal action for defamation and the defendant does not file a defence, or their proposed defence has a poor likelihood of success, you will be likely to earn vindication often by sending them a letter before legal action or by commencing legal proceedings, to which they will be unable to properly respond. If the defendant is unable to file a suitable defence for the claim, you will be able to apply for default judgement and win your vindication fairly quickly.
Many of the clients who seek advice from us are eager to take legal action for defamation. They are hurt and their sense of justice tells them that it cannot be right for someone to go and defame them online. This is true, whoever has a good sense of justice would agree that online defamation could be extremely unfair and particularly hurting for people who have devoted their lives to help other people or to create and develop a successful business.
In some cases, however, it might not be worth it to take legal action for defamation. The financial damages that you might receive if you were to be successful with your defamation claim could come at high costs to you, to your family and to your business.
If there are other way, by which you can attain your desirable outcome, it is certainly worth considering these and in more detail than you might initially want to. It is our job, as your lawyers, to give you enough information and support to help you make the right decision. This is, the right decision for you in the long term.
Sometimes, in the internet age, taking legal action for defamation is not the most sustainable way to protect your personal or your organisation's reputation. You might win your legal action in court, but lose your reputation in the public domain before your case has come to a conclusion. At the same time, there are long term consideration that need to take into account, when there defamatory statements, false accusations and disturbing of unfair attributions of facts to your character.
It is important to remember that with internet law, strategic thinking and planning is often more important than anything else. Prior to making a decision on how to handle defamatory statements about you online and before making a final decision whether to take legal action for defamation, consider consulting with lawyers who are experienced in handling cases similar to yours and who will help you come to the best decision which is right for you in the short and in the long term.