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The Depp-Heard Lawsuit is Over: What are Defamation, Slander, and Libel?

By John DiGiacomo

As widely reported, Johnny Depp has won his defamation US lawsuit against Amber Heard, his former wife. The defamation case was held before a Virginia jury and they found that Heard defamed Depp in a media article where she claimed that he had abused her over the course of their relationship and marriage. See NBC media report here. Heard’s media article was published in 2018 in The Washington Post. Depp had sought $50 million in damages for Heard’s defamation, but the jury awarded him only $14 million.

What are Defamation, Slander and Libel?

Defamation is the overarching term that means a false statement has been published against a person or business that has caused injury. Slander and libel fall under the category of defamation and involve two types of publication:

  • Libel — written publication
  • Slander — verbal publication

So, in the Depp-Heard case, to be precise, Heard was accused and found to have committed libel. In the age of the internet, defamation is a bit murky. Internet defamation often involves the written word, so it is libel. But, internet defamation is often done via videos like Youtube and Tik-Tok. So, in those cases, the internet defamation may be slander (oral or verbal publication). But, then again, given the ease and commonness of video translations, such might also be libel. If you think you have suffered any sort of defamation, be it libel or slander, you will need to retain experienced internet defamation attorneys like the ones at Revision Legal.

How Do You Prove Defamation, Slander, and Libel?

This Fox News media report about the Depp-Heard trial provides some easy to understand answers. It should be noted that defamation law is slightly different from state to state in the United States. Thus, if you have a defamation case or are defending a case, you will need to hire local attorneys knowledgeable in your state’s defamation laws. That being said, there are some general legal requirements. As reported in the Fox News article, what must be proven is the following:

  • A false statement presented as fact — not a statement of opinion or something that would be deemed ridiculous
  • Publication or communication — a false statement is only actionable in a lawsuit if the false statement was made to someone or otherwise published either in writing (libel) or verbally (slander)
  • Knowledge — the person saying untrue things must know — or reasonably should know — that they are making untrue statements
  • Damages or harm — the false statement must also do some harm to the victim; loss of earnings or reputational damages can be sufficient for filing a lawsuit; note that some false statements are deemed, automatically, to result in damages or harm; these are considered per se defamatory statements; an example would be a false statement that someone committed a crime
  • Actual malice — this legal element only applies to “famous” persons (such as Depp); here, it must be proven that the person making the false statement had knowledge that the statement was absolutely false and he or she published the statement with a ‚Äúreckless disregard for the truth”
  • Identification — the person or business being defamed must be identifiable to those hearing or reading the false statement; interestingly enough, Heard’s 2018 Washington Post article did not mention Depp by name; but, by its verdict, the jury believed that only Depp could be the person mentioned in the article

Depp won his case because he was able to prove all of these legal elements to the jury.

Contact Revision Legal

If you need an experienced team of internet defamation attorneys, call Revision Legal at 231-714-0100. We are internet and social media influence attorneys with proven experience with IP protection, contract law and complex litigation. We are lawyers specializing in internet law.

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