Modified screen capture above from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attourney – Dual Destinies.
If you’ve been around the interwebs the week, and you follow cosplay news at all, you might have heard accusations flying around about a certain brand of fabrics causing dangerous allergic reactions.
I’m not going to deal with digging into what actually happened, but rather look into the consequences of repeating what has been alleged without a second thought. We don’t know the full story yet, and for the purposes of today’s article it doesn’t matter whether or not the fabric caused a medical reaction or not. (I mean it matters to the individual involved and medical reactions are bad, but in the context of legal defamation, not so much.)
What we’ll be looking at is the misinformation which has been spread about fabric manufacturers being ‘Specifically directed’ to use high amounts of dangerous chemicals by the brand owner, Yaya Han… which is not true.
The defamatory allegations:
Underlined for exact passages.
To anyone who looks into the situation beyond a cursory glance, it’s obvious that the claim Han instructs the makers to dip it in chemicals and the implication that this is the reason for a medical emergency is false. Reason one is because the Brand owner (Yaya Han) is NOT part of Cosplay Fabrics which is the company who actually produces and markets the fabric. Number two is that the individual who suffered the medical emergency has himself clarified that the chemical is one used to treat mold.
To ignore the fact Han isn’t the producer of the produce in question and to imply the chemical involved is for a cosmetic purpose (implying it’s a superfluous reason) rather than a functional one but share the information as truth is defamation: specifically libel.
So what is ‘Libel’ anyways?
Defamation laws vary from country to country, as this is primarily a North American issue, I’ll focus on the U.S. and Canadian torts. (No, not the food. Its a law-word for… law. English is weird.)
Basically slander is a verbal or spoken instance of defamation while libel is an instance that has been recorded: either in print, radio or video.
Libel is a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.
-Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute
Libel is the type of defamation with a permanent record, like a newspaper, a letter, a website posting, an email, a picture, or a radio or TV broadcast. If you can prove that someone libeled you, and that person does not have a good defence (see the section on defences below), then a court will presume that you suffered damages and award you money to pay for your damaged reputation. But going to Supreme Court is expensive and even if you win, you may not get as much as it costs you to sue.
Basically, by saying that the Han SPECIFICALLY requested the chemical to be used on the fabric (none of which is or can be proven true) you’re damaging her reputation, her business, and puts her at risk for lost revenue. Keep in mind, the post in question going around doesn’t just implicate the Han, but also Cosplay Fabrics and JoAnn’s which is a national chain. All three businesses could face significant financial loss over this.
Since these businesses rely on income to pay their employees, chances are, they’ll want to mitigate the loss. This might be through requesting a public apology and retraction of the incorrect information or through a lawsuit to replenish the funds lost.
But before we get to that, let’s look at some of the differences in Defamation law between the two countries.
America: Burden of Proof
public figures (people who are famous) must show that statements were made with actual malice to recover in an action for defamation. Actual malice means that a statement was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether or not it was false. In addition, a plaintiff must show actual malice by “clear and convincing” evidence rather than the usual burden of proof in a civil case, preponderance of the evidence.
-Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute
This means that in the states, you need to prove that the person who is spreading libellous information either KNOWS it’s false, or could determine if it was false with a minimum of effort.
In this case: looking at Han and the Cosplay Fabrics and realising they’re completely separate businesses, one of which is offering a ‘designer line’ of fabrics inspired and designed by the other.
Also, the whole “specifically Directed” bit is enough to make a reasonable argument for Malice. How this individual could possibly know what directives the manufacturer was given without speaking to the Brand Owner or the manufacturer themselves is… impossible, really. So either they’re psychic, were leaked information that doesn’t exist, or they made it up. Thus: Malice.
Canadian: Good Defences
I’ve added brief explanations in italics below
- Truth – known in law as “justification”
- Absolute privilege – Statements made either in court or in Parliamentary debate
- Qualified privilege – similar to Parent telling child privately they don’t like a friend of theirs
- Fair comment – Stating an opinion, NOT a fact. ex: “I don’t like the colours”
- Responsible communication on matters of public interest – JOURNALIST reporting on an item in the interest of public safety. A demonstrable effort MUST be made to determine both the truth and the other side of the story
Canadian Defamation law is much more strict. Unless the person who has made the libellous claims has one of the defences above, they’re at fault. It doesn’t matter if they believed what they said was true at the time.
If it’s false, it’s false and that means you’re on the hook for defamation. Tough cookies folks.
How can I avoid accidentally Defaming someone?
This is pretty easy in the states. And only moderately less easy in Canada, so I’ve prepared a checklist to look at before sharing that hot bit of drama you just read.
- Does this change my opinion of a business or individual?
- Is there a lack of tangible evidence provided to support the story?
- Is the tone of the information sensational and meant to stir action against a business or person?
- With a quick search regarding the situation, did I find any objective information that disagrees with what I read?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above then consider what you’re sharing. Though it might not be defamation in the American Legal definition, it might be within the Canadian one.
And that, dear readers, is how you get sued. Don’t get sued, that means you have less money for cons.