Public Figure (Well-known celebrities have pervasive power and influence in society and are therefore public figures for purposes of defamation law.)

 

Bill Gates

Public Figure (As the head of a major corporation and one of the richest men in the world, Bill Gates is a public figure for purposes of defamation law.)

 

Roger Clemens

Public Figure or Limited-Purpose Public Figure (Roger Clemens is a well-known athlete and likely to be considered a public figure; at a minimum, he would be a limited-purpose public figure as to issues involving sports.)

 

Local expert on teen suicide

Limited-Purpose Public Figure (The expert would be a limited-purpose public figure because she has distinguished herself in this particular field.)

 

Church pastor who decries abortion

Limited-Purpose Public Figure (The pastor would be a limited-purpose public figure because he thrust himself to the forefront of a particular controversy in order to influence the resolution of the issue.)

 

Local grocery store manager

Private Figure (Individuals who do not qualify as public officials/figures or limited-purpose public figures are private figures.)

 

Your shy neighbor

Private figure (Individuals who do not qualify as public officials/figures or limited-purpose public figures are private figures.)
Defamation Privileges and Defenses

As a general rule, if you follow good journalistic practices and standards -- being thorough, fair, and accurate in what you publish, carefully attributing your sources and quotes, and not phrasing statements in such a way as to create implications that you do not intend or do not have the evidence to support -- this will minimize the likelihood that you will be successfully sued for defamation (honing these good habits has other benefits as well, as they will make your work more accurate and credible).

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