Give the Dead Their Due:

Jonathan Turley argues the deceased should have gerater protection from defamation.

publishers are protected by the longstanding rule that you cannot defame the dead (which, in practical terms, means you can). Once Elvis has left the living, you can say anything you want about him. No matter how malicious, untrue or vile.

Indeed, while most people are raised not to speak ill of the dead, the law fully supports those who do. Under the common-law rules governing defamation, a reputation is as perishable as the person who earned it.

Turley believes this traditional rule should be jettisoned in favor of one that allows for legal action against those who defame the dead. Such a rule would discorage authors, filmakers, and others from making unfounded and outlandish charges against the deceased. For those who fear an onslaught of litigation against publishers and producers, Turley offers this response:

It would be relatively simple to draft a law to add protections for writers and publishers. States could extend the high standard for defamation of public figures to any deceased person -- limiting actions to the most egregious violations in which the writer knowingly engaged in a falsehood or showed reckless disregard for the truth. The law could also limit any recovery to a declaratory judgment that corrects the public record and injunctive relief with no monetary damages.

I am not quite convinced defamation law needs this change, but Turley makes an interesting case.