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How Can I Tell A True Life Story?

QUESTION: So other people have rights that have to protect, but people do tell these stories all the time. Sometimes the stories say Person X killed Person Y, or Person A had an affair with Person B that destroyed a family. How Can I Tell A True Life Story? How do these people get away with doing these really non-complimentary stories? (Matters of public record, purchasing life rights, etc.)

Matters of Public Record

There is no invasion of the plaintiff’s right of privacy if the disclosure concerns matters about him or her that are of public record and open to public inspection. There is no liability when the defendant merely gives further publicity to information about the plaintiff which is already public or when the further publicity relates to matters which the plaintiff leaves open to the public eye.

The Absolute Defense of Truth

Truth is an absolute defense to an allegation of defamation. Even if the statement was publish with the intention of bad faith, malice, or ill will. Truth is an absolute privilege. If the statement is true, it does not qualify as defamation. However, in some circumstances, the burden to prove truth rests with the person publishing the allegedly defamatory statement.

First Amendment Free Speech Fair Comment

The right to comment and criticize is considered Free Speech. However, the privilege to comment upon another is not absolute. The statement must be about a newsworthy person or event and cannot be made with bad faith or abuse. Public figures, celebrities, and public officials have a higher burden in order to prevail in a defamation action in that they must prove not only is the statement false but that the statement was also made with “actual malice.” Actual malice means that the person publishing the statement intentionally defamed another or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. Negligence on the part of the person making the statement is not enough to create liability when the subject is a public figure.

Purchasing Life Rights

When purchasing the rights to make a story about another’s life, it is actually a waiver from the party who may assert claims against you. For instance, you will want to be protect against lawsuits for potential defamation, invasion of privacy, and violation of the individual’s right of publicity. In the life story rights agreement, you may also negotiate the ability to consult with the individual’s family members or heirs and have access to information in their possession.

However, if the subject of a life story is dead, the need for a waiver of claims is less significant since the causes of action for defamation and invasion of privacy do not survive the death of the individual. However, the right of publicity may or may not descend to individual’s heirs, depending on the particular state law that will have jurisdiction over the matter.

In addition, public figures must meet the higher burden of proof to establish defamation or invasion of privacy. They must prove that the person making the statement acted with actual malice – that is, intent and knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of the truth.

Having Issues With The Rights Of A True Life Story?

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Justin Sterling, Esq. is a leading civil litigator and business lawyer.  Mr. Sterling is the founder of The Sterling Firm, a top-rated law firm with its original headquarters in Los Angeles, California. The Sterling Firm has a client base that stretches not only across the nation but also around the globe. We offer experienced and driven legal counsel for your matter.  The Sterling Firm handles business law, both transactional and litigation

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