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December 2010

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What is Defamation & Why Didn’t Ashton Kutcher Sue?

Written by , Posted in General

*By Guest Blogger and Lawyer: Rik Sault

At the time Star Magazine published their story about how Ashton Kutcher cheated on Demi Moore, Kutcher tweeted that Star Magazine defamed his character and he threatened to sue. This isn’t the first time celebrities have sued or threatened to sue tabloids for defamation of character. So what is defamation, and why doesn’t every celebrity sue?

The first thing to understand about defamation is that celebrities can’t sue anyone who airs their dirty laundry if it’s true. When celebrities and other public figures sue for defamation, they can only win if they prove that the defamatory statement is false.

Oh what’s that you say? What is a defamatory statement? Great question. It is a statement about the celebrity which hurts his reputation. The statement must also be communicated to a person other than the celebrity himself. (So if Star Magazine called Ashton at his house and accused him of cheating, they’d be in the clear — because no one else heard it).

Given the above explanation, it doesn’t seem like it should be so hard for Ashton to prove his case against Star Magazine, right? They published the story — “Ashton Kutcher Caught Cheating…” — to the world and it makes Ashton sound like an unfaithful jerk. And of course it’s false – that Jamie Madrox look-alike would never cheat on G.I. Jane, right?

But there’s one more catch — as a public figure, Ashton must prove that Star Magazine published the statement with full knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false. Sure, they probably knew they were lying and they probably do it all the time. But how is Ashton going to prove it in court?

It is hard for him to come up with photos of him NOT kissing girls. He would have to get someone from Star to blow up their own journalistic spot and say, “yeah, I knew it wasn’t true and I wrote it anyway.”

If you’ve been following my analysis, you might have come to one of two conclusions to the title of this post. Either the case is just too hard to win, or Ashton really did cheat and can’t sue a tabloid for reporting the truth.  So which one is it?  I have no idea, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions.

In closing, I’d like to proclaim that everything I didn’t already know, I learned from The Dishmaster.