Libel

libel

A word about my understanding of libel laws.

I’ve been concerned about this since I started writing personal essays and memoir. The stance I take is to be very careful about the information I share about living people. If I know them quite well, I try hard to work with them to see what they are comfortable with me sharing. If I don’t know them as well, I will either still inform them I am writing or I will hide their identities as well as I can. I try also to never write something that isn’t true, and I consider very carefully whether my words can hurt someone’s reputation.

Melania Trump has filed a libel suit against a blogger in Maryland. The Trump lawyers seem, from what I am seeing, to roll deep. They are reaching farther than we thought. And Trump himself has said many times that he would rewrite libel laws if given a chance, which would drastically restrict freedom of speech. So please know what your rights currently are.

I am not a lawyer, and so this is absoutley NOT legal counsel, but I am concerned about my writer friends.

In order for what you write to be considered libel, you have to write something that sullied someone’s reputation. I.E. you have written something that is counter to the other person’s perceived reputation, that is both false AND believable enough that the piece of writing can hurt that person’s ability to function in society. Trump has said so many things on the record himself that simply repeating what he has said is not (in my understanding) considered libel. Nor is telling the truth. And obviously what has been said has not damaged the Trumps’ ability to prosper, so there is that, too.

Also of note, satire is usually well-protected. For instance, if someone calls Trump an Oompa-Loompa, no one of sound mind believes that Trump is actually a fictional character invented by Roald Dahl for the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you are a satirist, you should be safe.

Know your rights.

Please be careful right now.

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