We Asked a Lawyer: Is Taylor's “Character Assassination” Claim Legit?

This morning, we woke up to #KimExposedTaylorParty. But did Kim Kardashian actually commit character assassination? A defamation lawyer gives us the lowdown


By now, the universe well-versed in the major T. Swift shade thrown down by Kim Kardashian West Sunday night on Snapchat—a  move that, as described by gossip genius Elaine Lui, allowed Kim to “snatch the Gossip Valedictorian crown.

Coles Notes catchup: in the lyrics to his song, “Famous,” Kanye included this now infamous lyric:

I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous

From the onset, Kanye maintained that Taylor was cool with the lyric; Taylor released a statement saying she was not. Fast-forward to GQ’s recent cover story on Kim K. in which she asserted that Taylor was lying about not being OK with “Famous,” and that the Kardashian-West camp had a video of the phone conversation between Taylor and Kanye to prove it.

This brings us to Sunday night, when Kim dropped clips from the recording on Snapchat. Cue another statement from Taylor, in which she said that “being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination.” This is, as the New York Times points out, pretty rich coming from someone who wrote “one of the most effective and ruthless eviscerations of a fellow celebrity in pop history” (“Dear John”) and most likely did not run the lyrics by her very obvious subject (John Mayer) first.

And so we wondered: what *exactly* qualifies as character assassination?

“Character assassination is not a legal term, but defamation is defined as any words that lower a person’s reputation among their peers,” explains Richard Dearden, an Ottawa-based lawyer at Gowling WLG who specializes in media and defamation law (and who was gracious enough to talk to me about this very pressing matter). “For this reason, defamation cases are commonly tried in front of a jury.” He notes that Canada and the U.S. handle defamation cases quite differently, and that in the U.S., defamatory statements made about public figures require the public figure in question to prove the statements ‎were made maliciously.

“In the U.S., the laws of defamation heavily favour free speech and that is why it is difficult for public figures to succeed in defamation actions,” Dearden continues. In other words, good news for Taylor Swift v. John Mayer, bad news for Taylor Swift v. Kim Kardashian. Instead of a lawsuit, may we suggest—in the spirit of another legendary celebrity feud, Meek Mill v. Drake, that she take action through song? We would LOVE to hear her “Back to Back” equivalent.

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