In A Look at Art Experts’ Liabilities John Dratz Jr. discusses the appraisal and valuation expert witness’s role in authenticating and appraising works of art. This excerpt discusses defamation cases.
Defamation actions protect the aggrieved party’s name as opposed to his or her purely economic interests. As with disparagement, the statement must be false and published to a person other than the plaintiff. The defamatory statement must also be of a purported fact that can be objectively verified. Thus, a television news report implying that an art dealer knowingly sold stolen candelabra to the de Young Museum is a defamatory statement capable of being objectively determined to be true or false. (Weller v. American Broadcasting Cos., 232 Cal. App. 3d 991 (1991).)
As in other actions based on defamation, the public or private nature of the matter affects the burden of proof. Artists as a rule assume the status of public figures by placing their art in the public eye, and to prevail a plaintiff would be required to prove that the defendant’s statement regarding the artist was “substantially false.” (Weller, 232 Cal. App. 3d at 1010.) However , if the allegedly defamatory statement centered on a private matter – such as a purely contractual relationshiop between artists or between artists and dealers – then the defendant would have the burden of proving its truth. (See Polygram Records, Inc. v. Superior Court, 170 Cal.App. 3d 543 (1985).)
Excerpted from California Lawyer, November 2007