When someone tells you off privately with unfounded criticism, you can respond in kind or just walk away. But when it's made public, your reputation can be damaged. You can file a lawsuit for libel or slander, or you can seek a restraining order from the court. But the cheapest step is to first send a cease and desist letter that tells the party to stop or face the consequences.
Slander, Libel and Other Defamation
If someone says that your cute little dog is ugly as sin, it may hurt your feelings, but it isn't likely to hurt your reputation. But if they spread a false story about other aspects of your life, your personal or professional reputation might be at stake. For example, if you are a professional and an acquaintance tells neighbors that you are a liar and a thief, this may negatively impact both your personal interactions with your neighbor and your professional reputation. That person may have committed slander or libel and is answerable to you in court.
Slander means defamatory comments someone says to another person or persons that are harmful to your reputation. The type of defamation is termed libel if it is published. To establish these causes of action, you have to show that the communication was untrue and harmful to your reputation.
Stopping Slander and Libel
If someone has defamed you or you know that they are about to do so, you need to take action to protect your interests. You have basically three legal choices: file a lawsuit, seek a protective order or write a cease and desist order.
Since someone doesn't commit libel or slander until the damage is done, the idea of a defamation lawsuit is to get reimbursement for the damage the lies have already done to your reputation. Damage to personal reputation isn't easy to establish and even damage to your business can be hard to link to the lies. That's why you'll do best to hire an attorney if you go this route.
A protective order or restraining order is also a court order. But instead of awarding you money damages, it tells the person spreading the lies to stop. If they do not do so, they are in violation of a court order and may face contempt of court proceedings. Although you won't always need an attorney to apply for a protective order, you do have to fill out court forms and attend a court hearing.
The third option, a cease and desist letter, is something you can write yourself using an online template. It is cheap and relatively easy, but it isn't always effective.
Cease and Desist Letters
A cease and desist letter is just what it sounds like – a letter. You write and send this letter to the person spreading lies about you or threatening to do so. It is essentially a written demand that the person or company stop defaming you or else face serious consequences. This is essentially an attempt to stop libel and slander without going to court.
You can write the letter yourself if you want to or you can pay an attorney to do it. It is necessary to outline the false misinformation, establish that it is untrue, document how you know it has been spread, and outline the damages you expect to suffer if the defamation continues. You should set a period of time in which the offender must respond.
If you opt to write the cease and desist letter yourself, check online for a template at legaltemplates.net. But keep this in mind: The "gun" behind the letter is almost always a threat to file a lawsuit against the party if they don't cease (meaning stop) and desist (meaning refrain from) repeating the lies about you or your business in the future. Having an attorney write the letter might reinforce the notion that you are ready to proceed to court.
Read More: The Proper Way to Serve a Cease & Desist Letter
If someone is damaging your reputation, or threatens to do so, by spreading untrue stories about you or your business, you can write a letter telling them that the information is untrue and that they should stop spreading the lies.
- If you are losing business or your job because of the lies, securing a lawyer may be the best alternative. If the false statements are not causing harm yet, you may want to prepare this letter yourself. If you choose to contact a lawyer, choose one with experience in defamation cases. Use your state or county's bar associations to find local attorneys. Make sure to have all your factual details written since an attorney will need them to prepare the cease and desist letter. You may also use this lawyer in a lawsuit if the person doesn't cease and desist as ordered.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.