Articles Posted in Defamation, Libel and Slander

In today’s digital era, online reviews wield substantial influence, helping consumers make informed decisions about products, services, and businesses. However, the power of user-generated reviews can sometimes lead to contentious situations, particularly when individuals or entities face accusations of internet libel due to their posted reviews. Understanding the defense mechanisms available to individuals posting online reviews is essential in safeguarding their rights while responsibly exercising their freedom of expression.

The Impact of Online Reviews:

Online reviews play a pivotal role in consumer decision-making. They offer insights, opinions, and firsthand experiences that influence potential customers’ perceptions. However, negative reviews can occasionally lead to accusations of libel if they’re perceived as defamatory or damaging to a business or individual. Continue reading ›

The First Amendment right to freedom of the press is fundamental to a democratic society, but it’s not absolute. Journalists and media organizations must strike a balance between reporting the news accurately and protecting individuals’ reputations. In Illinois, the fair reporting privilege defense serves as a crucial legal safeguard against libel claims when reporting on matters of public interest. In this blog post, we’ll explore the fair reporting privilege in Illinois, its significance, and how it applies to libel cases.

Understanding the Fair Reporting Privilege

The fair reporting privilege is a legal doctrine that protects journalists and media outlets from defamation claims when reporting on matters of public interest. It recognizes the importance of a free press in informing the public and encourages open and honest reporting. The privilege allows reporters to cover governmental proceedings, official statements, and public documents without fear of defamation liability, even if the information later proves to be incorrect.

Key Elements of the Fair Reporting Privilege in Illinois

To successfully assert the fair reporting privilege defense in Illinois, several key elements must be met:

  1. Public Interest: The report must involve a matter of public interest. This typically includes governmental actions, public meetings, official statements, and other topics that are of concern to the public.
  2. Accuracy: While the privilege protects reports that are substantially accurate, it does not cover intentionally false statements or reckless reporting. Journalists must still exercise reasonable care in verifying the information they report.
  3. Fair and Neutral Reporting: The report should be fair and neutral, presenting the facts without undue bias or distortion. Deliberate attempts to harm someone’s reputation with willful false statements will not be protected.

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Efforts by an alleged perpetrator and his legal team to unmask a Jane Doe plaintiff (by revealing her name) were held dead on arrival by the Illinois Appellate Court today. Our firm assisted lead counsel Tamara Holder with the appellate briefs. In these types of matters, our firm concentrates on defending alleged sexual assault victims who are allegedly revictimized by being subject to what we advocate, on our client’s behalf, in court papers, are strike suits for defamation or libel. This practice of suing the alleged victim for libel or defamation is, unfortunately, becoming an all too common tactic to, we contend, try to bully them into silence or to retract their claims.

The forceful and well-reasoned concurring opinion by Justice Hyman explains why efforts to expose the names of alleged victims of sexual misconduct or assault is a pernicious practice. The opinion provides guide posts for courts in Illinois and across the country to encourage alleged sexual misconduct or assault victims to seek justice, without having to suffer more trauma due to their names being spread all over the internet. It also notes that the alleged perpetrator should have similar privacy rights prior to a judgment on guilt or innocence.

The concurring opinion states:

In a world where the Internet already has created privacy, confidentiality, and security issues, we now enter the age of artificial intelligence, exacerbating these issues and making secrecy vital. No longer, in famous observation of Justice Brandeis almost 100 years ago, is “right to be let alone” enough. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). In the 21st century, the right to be left unknown will join the right to be let alone as a vexing subject of intense legal debate. Indeed, the question of anonymity has taken on increased significance as court records have become readily available to the general public through even casual Internet searches. As the appellant notes in his brief, a Google search of a litigant’s name can produce an untold number of articles describing the lawsuit. Those articles may be available online for a lifetime, unless kept confidential. Although Illinois case law offers slight guidance on petitions to proceed anonymously, an alleged victim deserves anonymity whether or not their identity has been divulged elsewhere, including in a case not brought by them. …

Although no reported Illinois cases address whether a claim of sexual violence constitutes an “exceptional” situation warranting the use of a pseudonym, federal courts in Illinois have recognized that allegations of sexual assault are “highly sensitive, personal matters that involve the disclosure of information of the utmost intimacy.” Doe v. Cook County, Illinois, 542 F. Supp. 3d 779, 786 (N.D. Ill. 2021); accord Doe No. 2 v. Kolko, 242 F.R.D. 193, 195 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (while the Seventh Circuit disfavors fictitious names, it has “recognized that sexual assault victims are a paradigmatic example of those entitled to a grant of anonymity” (citing Doe, 112 F.3d at 872)). Even so, a sexual violence allegation alone has been considered not dispositive. See Cook County, Illinois, 542 F. Supp. 3d at 786 (“allegation of sexual assault alone does not end the inquiry”); Doe v. Skyline Automobiles, Inc., 375 F. Supp. 3d 401, 405-06 (S.D.N.Y. 2019) (“other factors must be taken into consideration and analyzed in comparison to the public’s interest and the interests of the opposing parties”).

Illinois has taken steps to protect individuals’ private information. Examples include the Personal Information Protection Act (815 ILCS 530/1 et seq. (West 2022)), and the Biometric Information Privacy Act (740 ILCS 14/1 et seq. (West 2022)), and two laws regulating data obtained by artificial intelligence, the Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act (820 ILCS 42/5 (West 2022)) and the Illinois Health Statistics Act (410 ILCS 520/1 et seq. (West 2022)). Nonetheless, the law cannot keep pace with the speed of innovations, compromising privacy. Corinne Moini, Protecting Privacy in the Era of Smart Toys: Does Hello Barbie Have A Duty to Report?, 25 Cath. U.J.L. & Tech. 281, 299 (2017) (asserting that privacy torts do not provide adequate protection for privacy implications of artificial intelligence and data collection). When methods of intruding into private lives and stripping anonymity outpace lawmakers’ ability to address them, courts have a duty under existing rules of procedure to protect sexual assault and abuse victims.

Plaintiff, a minor when the alleged sexual assault occurred, undeniably constitutes an “exceptional” situation. The lawsuit involves matters of a highly personal nature warranting anonymity. Indeed, Illinois Supreme Court rules acknowledge the need for anonymity in cases involving minors. For instance, the Illinois Supreme Court rules provide that minors shall be identified by first name and last initial or by initials in adoption cases (Ill. S. Ct. R. 663 (eff. Oct. 1, 2001) and appeals involving the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (705 ILCS 405/1 et seq. (West 2022)). Ill. S. Ct. R. 660(c) (eff. Oct. 1, 2001). Moreover, the Style Manual for the Supreme and Appellate Courts of Illinois (5th ed. rev. 2017) provides for using the minor’s initials in cases involving the Department of Children and Family Services. These rules reflect the need to protect the identity of a minor in matters of a personal nature that involve potentially stigmatizing issues such as termination of parental rights or juvenile criminal conduct.  An alleged victim of sexual violence has similar reasons for protecting their identity when filing a lawsuit under the Gender Act. The alleged conduct involves highly personal conduct likely to embarrass and stigmatize, regardless of its availability on the Internet. Thus, I would find that an alleged victim has a compelling reason to proceed anonymously when filing a complaint. Similarly, an accused perpetrator should be able to seek anonymity on petition….

The appellant contends that Doe waived her right to proceed anonymously because she filed an affidavit supporting a motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit the appellant filed against his other accusers. (The appellant added Doe as a defendant in the defamation litigation after she filed her complaint.) I must disagree that she waived her right. When Doe filed the affidavit in the defamation case, she had yet to file her complaint against defendant. The decision to help another litigant should not bar an individual from proceeding anonymously in their own lawsuit, regardless of an affidavit in another proceeding. Filing suit creates a different level of exposure than filing an affidavit in support of others.

You can read the entire opinion here. Continue reading ›

The landscape of libel law is constantly evolving, particularly in the context of the digital age where information flows freely and swiftly. In the state of Illinois, recent decisions by the Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Courts have shed new light on libel cases, providing important guidance on defamation claims. In this blog post, we will explore some of the noteworthy decisions that have shaped libel law in Illinois and their implications for both media outlets and individuals.

**1. Daniel v. Helitech Civil Construction: A Clarification of Public Figures

In a significant decision, the Illinois Supreme Court in Daniel v. Helitech Civil Construction clarified the definition of public figures in defamation cases. The court held that individuals must meet a higher threshold to be considered public figures, emphasizing that mere participation in a public controversy or discussion is insufficient. This ruling narrows the scope of who qualifies as a public figure, making it more challenging for plaintiffs to prove defamation against individuals who have not thrust themselves into the public eye.

**2. Amini v. Chicago Tribune Company: Defamation in Online Comments

The case of Amini v. Chicago Tribune Company tackled the issue of defamation in online comments and social media. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled that online platforms, such as newspapers’ comment sections, are not automatically responsible for defamatory statements made by users. Instead, liability depends on whether the platform has “actively participated” in creating or developing the content. This decision highlights the importance of distinguishing between content providers and users on online platforms. Continue reading ›

The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and press, but it’s not an absolute right. In the realm of journalism and public discourse, the threat of libel claims looms large. However, Illinois courts have recognized a robust defense known as the “substantial truth doctrine” that provides a shield against libel claims. In this blog post, we will delve into what the substantial truth doctrine means, how it has been applied in Illinois court decisions, and its significance in upholding free speech while balancing the right to protect one’s reputation.

What is the Substantial Truth Doctrine?

The substantial truth doctrine is a legal defense that recognizes that minor inaccuracies or errors in a statement do not make it defamatory if the “gist” or “sting” of the statement is true. In other words, a statement may be protected if the essential truth or core message it conveys is accurate, even if some details are incorrect.

Illinois Court Decisions and the Substantial Truth Doctrine

Illinois courts have consistently upheld the substantial truth doctrine as an essential defense against libel claims. Several key Illinois court decisions have helped establish and refine this doctrine:

  1. Lawrence v. Fox (1990): In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court emphasized that a statement may be protected if it “accurately conveyed the substance, the gist, the sting, of the defamatory charge.” It highlighted the importance of focusing on the overall impression left by the statement rather than isolated details.
  2. Green v. Rogers (2005): This Illinois appellate court case reaffirmed the substantial truth doctrine by noting that the “gist” or “sting” of the statement must be true to benefit from this defense. Even if specific details were inaccurate, the court ruled in favor of the defendant because the core message was substantially true.
  3. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (1985): Although not a libel case, this U.S. Supreme Court decision emphasized the importance of truth as a defense in defamation matters. It highlighted that the First Amendment values truth over falsehood and that a statement need not be perfectly accurate but must not materially alter the truth.

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In an era marked by rapid technological advancements and the omnipresence of the internet, the boundaries of free speech have become more ambiguous than ever before. In the United States, the First Amendment safeguards the freedom of expression, including the freedom of the press. However, this freedom is not absolute, and there are instances where speech can cross the line into libel, damaging reputations and causing harm. To address this evolving landscape, the United States Supreme Court has issued several groundbreaking opinions on libel in recent years. In this blog post, we will explore some of these significant rulings and their implications for free speech in the digital age.

  1. New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) – Setting the Standard

Before delving into the recent opinions, it’s essential to understand the foundational case of New York Times v. Sullivan. This landmark decision established a higher standard for public figures to prove libel. To succeed in a libel lawsuit, public figures must demonstrate “actual malice,” which means that the defamatory statement was made with reckless disregard for the truth. This precedent has been pivotal in protecting freedom of speech, ensuring that robust public debate can take place without fear of crippling defamation suits.

  1. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. (1990) – Opinions or Factual Statements?

In the case of Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., the Supreme Court grappled with the distinction between opinions and factual statements. The ruling clarified that even statements of opinion can be considered libelous if they imply false facts. This decision underscored the importance of fact-checking and journalistic integrity in the world of media and journalism. Continue reading ›

In the ever-evolving landscape of the entertainment industry, few legal battles have captured as much attention and controversy as the long-standing dispute between pop superstar Kesha and music producer Dr. Luke. For years, this high-profile libel suit cast a shadow over both artists’ careers and ignited passionate discussions about the complexities of the music industry, artistic freedom, and the pursuit of justice. In this blog post, we will explore the settlement of the Kesha and Dr. Luke libel suit and the implications it carries for the entertainment world.


The conflict between Kesha (born Kesha Rose Sebert) and Dr. Luke (real name Lukasz Gottwald) dates back to 2014 when Kesha accused her former producer of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, which Dr. Luke vehemently denied. In response, Dr. Luke filed a defamation lawsuit against Kesha, claiming that her allegations damaged his reputation and career. This legal battle became a focal point of the #MeToo movement, sparking a broader conversation about the treatment of women in the music industry.

The Settlement

After years of legal wrangling, in February 2021, Kesha and Dr. Luke reached a settlement that put an end to their protracted legal dispute. The terms of the settlement were kept confidential, leaving many unanswered questions about what led to this resolution. While the public may never know the details of the agreement, the mere fact that both parties chose to settle speaks volumes about the complexities of their case. Continue reading ›

Bankruptcy allows people and businesses to “discharge” some of their debts. But representatives for the families of the children involved in the Sandy Hook massacre are asking Judge Christopher Lopez to make the settlement money Alex Jones owes them “non-dischargeable.”

The families sued Alex Jones, who repeatedly called the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax on his website and podcast, InfoWars. His rhetoric prompted many of his followers to harass the families and survivors of Sandy Hook, both in person and online. Some families were forced to move to a different neighborhood, and many still do not feel safe as a result of the harassment and death threats to which they have been subject by Jones’s followers.

In the fall of 2022, Jones was ordered to pay close to $1 billion to the families of Sandy Hook for defaming them for years on his website and his podcast. That was after defamation trials in Texas and Connecticut ordered Jones to pay $1.4 billion in damages to the families of 10 victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Continue reading ›

People who already have wealth and power are increasingly using defamation lawsuits as a weapon against their enemies. Even when the lawsuits are found to be baseless, they’re still having the desired effect of silencing the plaintiff’s opponents.

Newspapers have increasingly been targeted by defamation lawsuits. While large, national newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have the resources to fight these lawsuits, small, local newspapers do not.

The Wausau Pilot & Review is a local newspaper reporting on local events in Wausau County, located in north-central Wisconsin. When they got a tip from a reader that someone at the August 12th meeting of the Wausau County board used an anti-gay slur, they acted on the tip and reported on it in their newspaper. Continue reading ›

Destroying someone’s reputation is easier than ever. Rather than spreading rumors amongst their friends one at a time, all you need now is access to the internet and you can spread lies and unflattering photos of them all over the world. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s legal.

One method of online harassment affecting women more than men is former partners posting nude photos and videos of them online when the relationship ends. In one recent case, a woman’s ex-boyfriend created fake email and social media accounts so he could share nude photos and videos of her online.

The woman, who is only listed as D.L. in the lawsuit to protect her privacy, started dating Marques Jamal Jackson in 2016 and was living with him in Chicago in early 2020 when their relationship began to fall apart. According to the lawsuit, the process of ending the relationship was long and drawn out. Continue reading ›

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