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Inc. Gertz v. Robert Welch

Definition Of A Public Figure

In 1974 the U.S. Supreme Court established the definition of a public figure. The case of Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. provided a useful characterization that could be applied by other courts deciding libel cases.

The Court allowed that while a person could become a "public figure" without specific action on his or her own, this happened rarely. Rather, they found it more likely that individuals had " . . . assumed roles of especial prominence in the affairs of society." For example, anyone running for political office becomes more vulnerable to public scrutiny and media attention. Other well known individuals like entertainers, writers, athletes, and other celebrities are considered public figures too.

In some instances, persons become viewed as public figures because of involvement in a controversial public issue. The general recognition accorded them as a result of the controversy may subsequently allow the person to influence the outcome of the issue. This may be referred to as the "public controversy" test.

Finally, the Court asserted that in many cases people are considered public figures because of the enormous power and influence they wield in general.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Inc. Gertz v. Robert Welch - Defamation In Common Law, Precedent, Thegertz Case, A Balance, Gertz Not A Public Figure