Legal Translation for Cases
Dealing with Defamation
in a Foreign Language

Legal Translation Services for Libel and Slander Cases

We’ve blogged about trusted legal translation services in the context of international reputation protection.  If you’re thinking about a defamation lawsuit, you need to consider the meaning of words. Defamation is a case where somebody spoke – slander – or wrote – libel – words that were intended to harm but not considered true. A libel can occur in a newspaper article, in a blog post or on social media. Slander can occur in person-to-person communications or over the phone.

When speaking the statement, the person who hears or reads the statement must understand the meaning of the statement, and the statement must be false. This is especially complicated when a foreign language is spoken. US courts have decided that the English equivalent of a word must be submitted as evidence in court.

In a classic case, Romano v. De Vito, a defendant allegedly called the plaintiff a “buttana,” a Sicilian word that has been interpreted in English to mean “whore.” The defendant said she used the word “baniana,” which is Sicilian and was translated to mean the town crier. The judge had to decide the English language equivalent of the word that was used to defame the plaintiff. The judge ultimately decided that the defendant defamed the plaintiff. To win the case, the plaintiff’s lawyer had to rely on a legal foreign language translation to make the judge aware of the exact English word that the defendant used in the case.

Proving defamation in this age of LOL and OMG can also be a challenge. The person who believes they have been defamed must understand the meaning of the slang or jargon at the time of the defamation. The plaintiff cannot research the definition after the words were spoken to determine if they were slanderous. However, if somebody witnessed the slander at the time it took place and knew the meaning, this is enough to bring an action.

The term “troll” comes to mind. Troll is often used on the Internet to describe somebody who makes false statements to sow discord among online users. Being called a “troll” could, perhaps, be damaging to one’s character, but the exact definition of a troll is not defined. So, proving that being called a “troll” is grounds for a lawsuit is questionable because the statement must be a fact and not an opinion. There must be a solid legal basis for believing the statement was defamatory.

The use of foreign language and Internet language can be especially vexing for employers. An employer could be liable if an employ defames a customer or client, even if defamation is spoken in a language that is not understood by the employer. That is why a professional translator is required. The employer needs to know the English equivalent of the word.

But much of this can happen after employees leave a company. They can spread defaming statements on the Internet. These can be done in blog posts or on social media. That is why it is always good to monitor Internet discussion. A company can set up Google alerts that inform it when the company’s name is mentioned.

Employers have to be careful, however, when establishing guidelines for employees when mentioning the company online. The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled against Costco over its employee handbook. The handbook stated employees could not post material on the Internet that “defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation, or violate the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement …” The company had to remove that statement from the handbook.

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