Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Update: The results of this trial saw most of the benefit going to Johnny Depp. The jury found that although Ms. Heard didn't name Mr. Depp in her OpEd article there was still enough evidence to suggest she had malice toward Mr. Depp in her intent that potentially caused him to lose millions.
Those feeling they have been wronged or feel they are due damages because of books, articles or chapters in multi-authored books could use this case to support lawsuits around defamation. Continue reading below to find out how you may avoid defamation challenges in your writing. This is not an exhaustive layout of what you should do for your writing and I highly recommend you speak to a lawyer before publishing your manuscript.
So, long story short. Amber Heard and Johnny Depp were married. During their marriage, Ms. Heard accused Mr. Depp of physical violence. Mr. Depp denies it. Mr. Depp accused Ms. Heard of physical and emotional violence towards him. She has admitted to some parts of that. Neither has proved it in court, and no criminal charges were brought against either party. But in the public court of opinion, we have made up our minds, resulting in steering movie roles away from both these actors. Whether any of it is true or not. Mr. Depp is now suing Ms. Heard for 50 million dollars in a televised defamation lawsuit, and I am here for it.
My beliefs aside, I am watching closely for how it will play out. Potentially, it all boils down to this. Did Amber Heard's OpEd piece that "she wrote" cause Johnny Depp's career and reputation to be damaged? There is a 2-year gap between their divorce and the OpEd piece that Ms. Heard's lawyers want to dismiss completely, which is when the real damage was done, in my opinion. But The OpEd piece was the most solid piece of evidence Mr. Depp's team could hold her accountable for.
How it will work in Ms. Heard's favor.
She never mentioned Mr. Depp in her piece. She mentioned she became the face of domestic violence two years before the OpEd. But because of the timing of the piece, it was a little after her divorce was finalized with Depp. If the jury believes that she wasn't talking about Depp in that piece, she will be able to win the lawsuit. If that is the only piece of evidence that shows she was intent on harming Depp's reputation or, as a result of that piece, his reputation was harmed, and it's thrown out, she will win. Her team wants to throw out anything that happened in that 2-year gap before the OpEd piece and the OpEd.
How it will work in Mr. Depp's favor.
If he can prove that he was the object of the article she wrote and as a result, caused him to lose roles such as Pirates of the Caribbean 6 or his replacement in other movie roles, as well as harm to his family and more. She didn't use his name, but because of how high profile this case is, it would be hard not to logically connect her being the unproved "face of domestic violence" with the relationship she had with Depp.
What does this mean to you as a writer?
If Depp is successful, things could get even tighter for writers in general when expressing personal experiences without fear of retaliation. If he is unsuccessful, I think this is still a good classroom for keeping names and identifying characteristics out of your manuscripts.
Let's look at only the OpEd piece and what is best for you to do when writing your memoirs.
Leaving his name out was a good step. Most celebrities have ghostwriters who are very careful about slander, liable, defamation etc. Ms. Heard, at minimum, had a copyeditor review her work, or someone wrote the piece for her. Therefore, this adherence to keeping names out of the article was automatic. In Ms. Heard's case, she made a huge mistake by putting a timeframe on her alleged domestic abuse claims. A reader can put two and two together because of how well known he is and how well known this particular event was. In short, please change the names, gain written permission, or leave them out of your writing completely.
Putting two and two together.
If your reader can figure out who you are talking about, that can be considered defamation. It's why this Depp/Heard trial is happening. If he wasn't as high profile as he is, and if she had not set a timeframe in the OpEd, he may not have had a leg to stand on. But since it's clear to the reader who she means specifically without saying his name, a jury could rule in his favor.
Criminal Cases Won.
If someone assaulted you, abused you, harassed you or other charges you proved the abuse in court, you can write about it. However, I still caution against using names even if you can. My ex physically assaulted me, and criminal charges were brought against him. He lost and was sentenced. This is a fact. It's undeniable. I could use his name, tell you time frames, describe him to you, and give vivid details of each painful moment. He can't accuse me of defamation because it's recorded truth. But what if you don't have that and want to write about your experiences anyway.
If you want to write anyway.
Please have awareness. Get very clear about why you are writing about your experience. Is it for healing yourself, healing for others, to punish or blame, are you still in process and haven't forgiven yourself or others, is it for popularity, or to have public opinion on your side, are you doing it for your families approval/disapproval, to be seen, and or to be loved? Get very clear on your why. Your why will color the entire content of your manuscript. My recommendation would be to heal yourself and seek help, journal privately and do what you can to get clear before writing something for the public. This healing process may take a long time. Sometimes people wait until after the accused is dead before writing. The writer must be careful as the family can charge the writer with defamation depending on the situation.
At first, get it out, get out all the pain of all the stuff you experienced, use their name, hang it up on a wall and throw knives at it, do whatever you want when writing and burn that shit. Destroy it. That first draft is not for the public. It's for you. So have fun decimating their character, feeling your feelings, and letting loose your rage. It's okay, you have my permission. When it's time to put something together for the world at large, know where you are with things. Know your motives and change those names!
Change names to protect the guilty and yourself.
What to do when something horrific happens to us, and it's not proven in court, the person is still alive, and you feel you must tell the story. If you have done all the healing necessary, you are at a good place emotionally, you have zero revenge in your heart, and the intention behind your expression is good; change your name or their name and eliminate all identifying qualities about your abuser/attacker. Take out timeframes and even supporting characters that could corroborate the story you are sharing.
Your story will come from a healed place; this offers more hope to your readers. They will see that you came through something hard, and in the writing of it, you are also offering them an opportunity to come through their painful experiences.
I look forward to the outcome of this trial. It may help us clarify our messages even better. :)