Chapter 3 in Public Relations Writing And Media Techniques, 6th ed. by Dennis L. Wilcox is titled, “Avoiding Legal Hassles.”

The AP Stylebook defines libel as an injury to reputation. Words, pictures or cartoons that expose a person to public hatred, shame, disgrace or ridicule, or induce an ill opinion of a person are libelous.  Slander is similar to libel but involves an oral communication, such as a speech or a broadcast mention. Today, the courts use the term defamation collectively.

Juries award defamation damages if the following can be proves by the injured party:

  1. the statement was published to others by print or broadcast
  2. the plaintiff was identified or is identifiable
  3. there was actual injury in the form of monetary losses, impairment of reputation, humiliation, or mental anguish and suffering
  4. the publisher of the statement was malicious or negligent

Corporations are considered “public figures” by the courts for several reasons:

  1. they engage in advertising and promotions, voluntarily offering products to the public for purchase and even criticism
  2. they are often involved in matters of public controversy and public policy
  3. they have the resources for regular access to the media that enables them to respond and rebut criticism
  • A main key point to remember to avoid defamation suits is to “watch you language.”‘

This chapter also discusses copyright laws. Copyright means protection of a creative work from unauthorized use.  A work can by copyrighted if it’s a:

  • literary works
  • musical works
  • dramatic works
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works
  • motion pictures
  • sound recordings

A trademark is a word, symbol, or slogan, used singly or in combination, that identifies a product’s origin. The three basic guidelines for using trademarks are as follows:

  • Trademarks are proper adjectives and should be capitalized and followed by a generic noun or phrase
  • Trademarks should not be pluralized or used in a possessive form
  • Trademarks are never verbs
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