Just recently, Britney Spears published a tell-all memoir of what she’s been through as a worldwide celebrity. Her memoir is so juicy that some are wondering if there’s any liability when it comes to celebrity memoirs. Do celebrities need to worry about defamation suits when they write their memoirs? Or, does fame afford them special privileges? If the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard lawsuit has taught us anything, it’s that the legal process is a whole lot more complicated than anyone is ever anticipating.
What Is Defamation?
Defamation occurs when a person (or entity) publicly makes statements that are untrue, or with reckless disregard to the truth of the statements that they’ve made, and those statements cause the defamed to sustain damages. For example, Alex Jones, a man with a considerable audience, found himself in legal trouble when he publicly claimed, on his platform, that the Sandy Hook Shooting was a hoax. Families of the victims were harassed by Jones’s followers, and some of them faced economic damages due to the actions of his followers. Another famous—and widely publicized example—included Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The court eventually found that Amber Heard’s statements about experiencing domestic violence cost Johnny Depp to sustain financial losses, and Johnny Depp was awarded millions in compensation.
Who Could Be Liable?
Of course Britney Spears herself could be liable if anything in her memoir is found to be false and causes others to sustain damages. Those involved with the publication, namely the publishers, may also be liable for defamation, especially if they did not thoroughly investigate Britney’s claims. Many celebrities have special insurance that protects them from being financially responsible for lawsuits that are filed against them personally. However, an insurance company may be able to deny a claim due to the fact that defamation could be considered to be intentional conduct. An insurance company may also deny coverage if the person seeking the insurance policy has a history of making outrageous statements publicly. In some cases, publishers may decide that they’re going to go ahead and publish something because the sale of the book is going to surpass the cost of any lawsuit that could arise.
When It’s Celebrities
It’s worth noting that when celebrities are suing for defamation, there are additional hoops that they need to jump through. In many states, celebrities and public figures claiming defamation need to show that there was a malicious intent when the people allegedly defaming them made the claims that they made. Furthermore, the source also matters: gossip tabloids are held to a lower standard when it comes to the veracity of the statements they make. This is because they’re considered to be for entertainment purposes only. Someone like Alex Jones, who has a reputation of making outrageous claims, has less credibility and his statements are less likely to be taken as fact. In fact, in a defamation lawsuit, a judge actually accepted the argument that Tucker Carlson should not be sued for defamation because no reasonable person would take him seriously.
Where’s the Line?
Most of the time, you can’t sue someone for voicing an opinion i.e. the Google review that boldly states that the food at this restaurant is awful. And, in some cases, you can’t sue someone for stating something that is obviously untrue: “Chuck Norris is an extraterrestrial.” However, you can sue someone if they’ve made statements with reckless disregard to the truth and you can prove that the statement caused actual harm. Alex Jones very well may have believed that the Sandy Hook Shooting didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the shooting did happen, and families sustained damages due to Jones’s claims. The point is that the lines between what can be said without fear of a defamation suit and what would be found to be defamation aren’t always straight forward. And this is especially true when the defamation involves public figures recounting intimate details of their personal experiences.
How Do We Know What to Believe?
With almost everything, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Public figures or not, they’re people too and they have drama just like the rest of us. The only difference is that their lives are highly publicized and any secrets or information is actually worth money. Because of this, it’s unsurprising that the intimate details of celebrities lives are often tightly guarded. While there may be many opinions going around about what’s true and what isn’t true, there isn’t a way to know for certain if you weren’t there.