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What to do if published material has damaged your reputation

Information that is published that unfairly damages your reputation is a form of defamation known as libel. The effect on an individual or businesss reputation can be far-reaching as a result of this and there are various options that can be considering if facing this issue.

What is a defamatory statement?

A defamatory statement is one that would either damage, or could damage, the reputation of the affected claimant. The statement needs to affect the opinions of normal members of the public in relation to the claimant. It also needs to identify or refer to the claimant and be published to a third party.

The defamatory statement has to cause (or be likely to cause) serious harm to the claimants reputation. A business needs to show that the statement has caused, or is likely to cause, serious financial loss.

Libel is the publication of a statement in a permanent and lasting form, such as:

  • In writing
  • Broadcasts
  • Stage productions

Remedies

There is a range of possible remedies in situations where published material has damaged your reputation.

Damages

The defendant can be ordered to pay damages to the claimant that can be compensatory or exemplary. The court will consider the:

  • Level of injury caused.
  • Seriousness of the defamation.
  • Extent and nature of the publication.
  • Any mitigating factors.

Injunctions

An injunction may be granted to prevent the any further publications of the same or similar defamatory statements. Interim injunctions to prevent further statements while the case is ongoing are very rare since they are seen to interfere with freedom of speech before any wrongdoing has been proved.

Publication of a judgement summary

The defendant can be made to publish a summary of the judgement as a way of remedying the harm caused.

Order to remove the defamatory statement

The defendant can also be ordered to remove the defamatory statement to prevent any further harm.

Reputational effect caused by published material

Defamatory statements, malicious reviews and unfounded rumours can all cause damage to a reputation that can also cause financial issues. Customer and client loyalty can be badly affected that in turn impacts the businesss revenue and profits. Connections and relationships with other businesses can be damaged. Employees can become concerned and this can affect staff turnover, which can further portray an issue within the organisation even if one does not actually exist.

In relation to an individual, various other factors can be affected by damage to their reputation. Relationships, both professional and personal, can be questioned and become strained. Employment prospects can also be impacted, such as issues relating to bonuses, promotion or even future employment offers.

Issues with physical copies

One of the main issues of material being physically published is that it is generally impossible to remove these statements permanently, even if they have been shown to be defamatory or untrue. Once somebody has a physically copy of the item that includes the statement, it is unlikely that these will always be retrievable. Even if the defendant is ordered to apologise or retract the statement, it does not necessarily mean that those that saw the original statement will see this.

Issues with online statements

Statements made online can theoretically be removed since they are not a physical item. However, the issue here is how quickly information can be shared around the world with multiple people. So ensuring the statement has been removed forever from all places is basically impossible. The explosion of social media has made everyone a publisher and means that the risk of having your reputation damaged is unfortunately greatly increased.

Organisations that publish physical newspapers and magazines are subject to various additional checks and regulatory controls. However, the internet allows anybody to make statements to a very wide, often international, audience and this is far harder to control. It is also impossible to monitor every possible website where statements could be made.

What is the process to resolve such a claim?

A claim for libel requires the claimant to follow the Pre-Action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims. The claimant issues a letter of claim that the defendant has to respond to. The parties are then encouraged to attempt to resolve the issues via alternative dispute resolution as opposed to going through the courts, which is usually quicker and cheaper. If the matters cannot be resolved in this way, the matter will then need to be dealt with by the courts.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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