Depp v Heard Trial: What is Defamation?

Civil Litigation - May 5, 2022
A judge's gavel in court

Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial, explained

It seems like all of America is tuning in to watch Johnny Depp and Amber Heard battle it out in a defamation trial to uncover the truth of abuse in their year-long marriage.

While a lot has happened since the beginning of this trial, it began when Depp sued Heard for defamation. When Heard published an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2018 about sexual violence, she implied she was abused during their year-long marriage, which ended in 2017. While the op-ed didn’t explicitly mention his name, Depp argues that the abuse statements were undoubtedly about him.

Depp then sued Heard, denying that he was ever violent. Heard followed with a countersuit, saying Depp was abusive, and the only time she was violent was when she acted in self-defense.
The trial is ongoing, and it’s currently murky what the outcome will be and what the truth is. There is compelling evidence that both parties had been violent during the marriage, but it’s unclear who the primary aggressor was.

What is defamation?

Although now the trial seems like a complicated web of “he-said, she-said,” this is rooted in defamation. What does that mean exactly?

Defamation refers to any public statement that hurt’s someone’s reputation, also called defamation of character. If a person believes their character has been hurt in a false statement someone made, they can sue the person who made the remarks under defamation law.

When it comes to defamation, there’s a delicate line between protecting freedom of speech while also protecting one’s reputation. While an individual should have the right to speak up about the truth of their experiences (key word “truth”) without the fear of a lawsuit, they also don’t have the right to make false statements about someone that could damage their reputation. Depp had the right to sue Heard in the first place because he claimed the comments she made were false.

Components of a defamation case

In order to win a defamation lawsuit, you must have proof of all the following elements:

  1. Someone made a statement
  2. This statement was published
  3. The statement damaged your reputation
  4. The statement was not true
  5. The statement was unprivileged (the person who made the statement did not have the lawful privilege, or right, to make the statement to a third party)

How social media has impacted defamation

Defamation cases have become more common because of how easy it is to make public statements via social media. It’s important to remember that when you click the “publish” button on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, you are responsible for everything you say. Take caution on social media platforms and don’t overshare to avoid potential legal issues. Online defamation is treated the same way as traditional forms of media.

Libel and slander

Both libel and slander are forms of defamation. Libel refers to defamatory statements made in writing or published. Slander refers to a statement that was spoken.
An example of libel could be if someone published a hurtful, false statement about someone else in a blog or news article. An example of slander could be someone making a defamatory remark about someone else in a televised interview.

Consult a lawyer about your questions on defamation

Defamation is complicated, and laws can vary by state. Get your questions on defamation answered by a seasoned, dedicated lawyer who is familiar with your area’s laws.


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