Why Defamation Cover Should be Considered by All
In May, a UK publishing-tech start-up business set up a crowdfunding website, to try to finance expansion into the USA, having already created 100-page biographies for 475 everyday individuals since its foundation in June 2015.
You no longer need to be a celebrity to have a biography that records the memorable moments of your life. Individuals can have their voices heard more than ever before, thanks to social media and storytelling is now very much in vogue.
Storytelling and ‘true-life stories’, however, could encounter some potholes, with a very large one being named ‘defamation’. This may have, at one time, revolved around High Court cases involving footballers but, nowadays, it can be fans that are in the dock, as has been the case with Blackpool FC fans, who were too loose with their words and opinions about the club’s owners.
Businesses can be just as easily exposed, as we saw recently when Thameslink posted a tweet comparing its poor service to the quality of Poundland’s chocolate. That resulted in Poundland’s retail director, Austin Cooke, telling Thameslink: “If you don’t want to hear from our extremely twitchy legal team, we suggest you remove your tweet.”
Slander and libel are sub-sections of defamation and cases involving defamation can be brought whenever statements or printed opinions cause significant harm by damaging the reputation of others.
Whilst the Defamation Act of January 2014, states that a company has to demonstrate “serious financial loss” to successfully lodge a defamation case, this is a very grey area and any business could be sued, if it makes unfounded allegations against a third party. These could be verbal (slander), through social media comments (also treated as ‘speech’ and therefore slander) or through comments that appear in print (libel).
Even retweeting a defamatory comment about a company or person could land a business in hot water, should the comment be defamatory – and it only needs to have been sent to one other person to fit this definition.
Being careful about what you say - and to who – is imperative, as views and opinions can spread like wildfire in the digital world. Warning potential customers about working with another company could also be defamatory, so criticising another person’s work or approach, or suggesting that another business will soon fold, are all things to avoid doing. Openly communicating an opinion about the competence of another business to handle a contract could also be extremely costly, if serious financial loss can be proved by the wounded parties.
It is absolutely essential to have the right insurance protection in place. Sometimes, professional indemnity cover will pick up the costs associated with defamation cases, but not always and publishing is an area that may need bespoke cover, to indemnify you for legal fees incurred and compensation awards.
Remember that the risk to your business could come not just from you, but also from comment-happy employees, so review your insurance options swiftly and get in touch if you realise that keeping thoughts to yourself, or a very short rant on social media, could be your undoing.