The Right to Reputation in Pennsylvania

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In the Pennsylvania Constitution, the right to reputation is listed among other rights like life, liberty, possession of property, and the pursuit of happiness. While the exact reason for including this right is unknown, it is clear that the writers of Pennsylvania’s Constitution intended for it to carry similar weight as the more familiar rights originally listed in the Declaration of Independence. Under state law, the right to reputation can extend to both individuals and businesses.

Protections for Individuals

As an individual in Pennsylvania, you have the right to protect your reputation. This can apply to defamation cases and in cases where your reputation may be put in jeopardy by a state-sanctioned report. It also means you have the right to protect whether or not your name and likeness are used for commercial purposes.

Protections Against Defamation, Libel, and Slander

Defamation cases are cases in which false statements have been made about you and those statements have caused damage to your reputation. This can include libel (false statements made in writing) or slander (false statements that are spoken). Because you have the right to protect your reputation, you can bring a civil action against an individual who has defamed your character. You may be entitled to receive compensation for any damages, and, depending on the circumstances, you may be able to demand a retraction as well.

Right to Due Process in Responding to State-Sanctioned Reports

Although the right to reputation has been part of Pennsylvania’s Constitution since 1790, it was rarely cited for court decisions until Simon v. Commonwealth in the mid 1990s. In Simon v. Commonwealth, George M. Simon and Eugene P. Weisman filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. The Commission was investigating organized crime within the bingo industry and published a state-sanctioned report on their findings. Neither Simon nor Weisman were privy to this report, and they did not have a chance to defend their reputation before it was published.

Since this case, Pennsylvania courts have required that organizations who are publishing state-sanctioned reports must give notice to individuals whose reputations may be harmed by the report. This notice should provide individuals with due process. In most cases, this includes publishing a written statement from the individual along with the report.

Protections Against Unauthorized Use of Name and Likeness for Commercial Purposes

If someone uses your name or likeness (or your minor child’s name or likeness) for commercial purposes without first obtaining your consent, you can file suit against them. In most cases, the lawsuit will bar the individual or business from further using of your name or likeness. If harm has come to your reputation because of this commercial use, you may be able to collect compensation. Commercial use, in this case, refers to promoting a business, service, good, or merchandise, selling a product, or fundraising. Most Plaintiffs who file suits of this kind already have some level of notoriety, but that is not a requirement.

If your name and likeness have been used without your consent, or if other harm has been done to your reputation, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm. We will work to defend your rights and seek just compensation for any damages you’ve incurred.

Protections for Businesses

Like individuals, businesses also have a right to reputation. If your business’s reputation has been damaged by someone’s false statements, you can pursue legal action against them. The broad term for a business tort of this kind is “commercial disparagement.” This covers a range of reputational harm, including:

  • Trade Slander—Trade slander, or slander of goods, refers to spoken statements about a business or its products/goods that harms the reputation of the products or business.
  • Trade Libel—Trade libel refers to false statements about a business or its products that are published in writing and harm the business’s reputation.
  • Unfair Competition—Unfair competition refers to unethical or deceptive business practices. This can include false advertising, trademark infringement, and other defamatory actions that can give one business an unfair advantage.
  • Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage—This is also sometimes called “interference with prospective business advantage.” It refers to situations in which a third party intentionally interferes with a business’s relationship with another party.

No matter the type, if your business has been targeted by commercial disparagement, you should speak with an experienced attorney like the ones at Cornerstone Law Firm. We can work with you to defend your business’s reputation and help you get back on your feet after any damages have been suffered. Call us today.