16 Comm. Law. 1 (1998-1999)

handle is hein.journals/comlaw16 and id is 1 raw text is: (0
Communicafions
cc                    Publication of the Forum
on Communications Law
American Bar Association
Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1998     W    W    W

Corporate Plaintiffs: Public or Private Figures?
LYNN B. OBERLANDER

Should corporations be treated differently from individuals
when they seek redress for an allegedly defamatory publica-
tion? After all, a corporation is not a natural person, it is a cre-
ation of the state. The corporation, depending on its type of
business, may be regulated, and may hold itself out to the
general public, whom it seeks as customers. There are sub-
stantial reasons to provide corporations with less protection
from defamation actions than individuals. But the courts,
when faced with corporate libel plaintiffs, have increasingly
used the Supreme Court's test for determining whether indi-
viduals are general or limited purpose public figures and
therefore are required to prove that defendants acted with
actual malice in publishing the allegedly defamatory material.
It is, of course, the twenty-four-year-old case of Gertz v.
Robert Welch, Inc. 1 that establishes the parameters for deter-
mining whether a plaintiff is a general purpose public figure,

Chair's Colum n  .................................... 2
Business Liabilities on the Internet  .................. 3
Report from  Scottsdale  ........................... 11

a limited purpose public figure, or a private figure. The
classification often determines liability, as general and limit-
ed purpose public figures must prove that a defendant acted
with actual malice, i.e., that they either knew that the
allegedly defamatory statement was false or acted with reck-
less disregard as to the truth or falsity of the statement.
The Gertz Court provided two policy justifications for
treating public and private figures differently. First, public
figures enjoy significantly greater access to the channels of
effective communication and hence have a more realistic
opportunity to counteract false statements than private indi-
viduals normally enjoy.2 Second, public figures invite
attention and comment as a result of having voluntarily
injected themselves into the debate.3 However, the Court dis-
tinguished between general public figures, those individuals
Continued on page 24

Book Review: Access to the Law of Access .......... 19
C ourtside  ..................................... 20
Current Bibliography  ............................ 22

IN THIS ISSUE           I

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