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Top 5 Legal Issues for Podcasters – Number 3: Defamation

In this five-part series, we examine each of five potential intellectual property pitfalls podcasters can face and the steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of having one of these issues be the centerpiece of a lawsuit with your podcast’s name on it.

3. Defamation

Defamation is one of those few areas of law where someone will spend more money suing you than they know they can reasonably expect to collect. Defamation lawsuits are often more about hurt feelings than collecting money. The last thing you, as a podcaster, want to see on the other side of a lawsuit is a deep pocket with even deeper emotions.

Making things even more difficult when your podcast gets sued for defamation is the fact that defamation is defined differently in different states. Although statements on your podcast may be perfectly fine in one state, they may constitute actionable defamation in another. Generally, defamation involves four things: 1) a statement, either written (libel) or spoken (slander) that is; 2) false; 3) published; and 4) harmful to someone’s reputation.

The best way to reduce the odds of seeing your podcast on the receiving end of a defamation lawsuit is to only put things on your podcast that are true. While the truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation, as you might imagine, proving the truth in court is easier said than done. Even if what you say is true, that is no guarantee that a vindictive, or emotionally fragile, third-party, workign more on emotion than logic, will not sue you anyway, even if their lawyer has advised them against it. And once you are in a defamation lawsuit, it may be very difficult to get out.

As you may have already gathered, defamation lawsuits are more likely than most other types of lawsuits to be driven by angry people with more money than reason. So unless your podcast is generating a large excess cash flow you want to start redirecting to your intellectual property lawyer, it is important that you consider more than simply the truth and legality of what you include in your podcast. From a staying out of court perspective, it is also important that you also constantly consider the likelihood that what you and your guests say on your podcast might make someone so furious that they sue your podcast for defamation, regardless of whether such a lawsuit has merit or not. When you or your podcast editor notice something in one of your shows that might cause an issue, strongly consider snipping out that entire portion of the podcast before posting it for public consumption.

It is also a good business practice to remind your guests of these issues surrounding defamation before they take to your microphone. Remind them that in addition to sticking to the truth, there is no reason to go out of their way to anger anyone. Let them know that if they ever find themselves on the fence as to whether a statement about someone may get them (and your podcast) sued, discretion is the better part of valor, at least until they have enough extra cash laying around to go halvsies on a new vacation home for your intellectual property lawyer.

Be sure to check out the other posts in this Top 5 Legal Issues for Podcasters series:

Number 1: Copyright Infringement
Number 2: Trademark Infringement
Number 4: Rights of Privacy and Publicity
Number 5: Patents

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Posted in Internet Law, Podcasting, social media.