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If I am writing and know that somebody kind of famous did something illegal and horrible (it's a well known fact with this individual, but they were never charged), can it be put in writing or does that qualify as defamation of their name or character, which could lead to potential trouble?

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Defamation laws vary by country. Be sure to check your local laws to know what the standard of proof is. You're only defaming someone's character if your statements are both malicious and untrue. If you can prove (in the legal sense) that the statements are true, then the law is on your side. That said, a lot of things that are "common knowledge", especially about celebrities, can't be put into print until after their passing for this exact reason. You may only be able to write that Mr. X was accused of doing something horrible and illegal. Frustrating, but true. –  lea Jul 21 at 5:16
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Additionally, you can cite sources. "X said that, ...", "A video of Person doing... appeared..." etc. Also note: that doesn't protect you from a defamation lawsuit, only from losing the defamation lawsuit. –  SF. Jul 21 at 10:07

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Be very careful. Just because 'everyone knows' something doesn't mean that it's actually true, or that there's enough evidence for you to convince a judge that it's true when you get sued for libel.

If you're going to write something that could be seen as an attack against someone, make sure you have all your evidence to hand before you do so, and make sure that it's beyond question. Get yourself some legal advice, too, of course.

Now, even if you do have all your ducks in a row, there's nothing stopping someone from suing anyway, and the lawyer's fees alone can be crippling. If they're a little bit savvy, and you've published what you've written online (or otherwise internationally), they might even engage in a bit of libel tourism. Again: be careful, get advice from a lawyer.

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