Defamation Law - Guide to Libel and Slander Law




Defamation Law falls under Tort Law. It refers to false statements about a person, communicated as fact to one or more other persons by an individual or entity (such as a person, newspaper, magazine, or political organization), which causes damage and does harm to the target’s reputation and/or standing in the community. Defamation is addressed primarily by state legislation. However, Constitutional Law may also apply, as the right of freedom of speech also extends to certain defamation claims. Defamation is categorized as either Slander or Libel.

The general harm caused by defamation is identified as being ridiculed, shamed, hated, scorned, belittled or held in contempt by others, and lowers him/her in esteem of a reasonably prudent person, due to the communication of the false statement. This tort can result in a lawsuit for damages. Many states have statutes requiring that the allegedly damaged party must first demand a printed retraction of the defamatory statement, before they may proceed to court. If the plaintiff proceeds with a lawsuit without first seeking the retraction or if he/she receives a retraction but proceeds anyway, most states will limit the damages they may pursue to the actual or special damages they experienced, such as loss of employment or wages.

Malice – if intentional malice can be shown/proven, than the act usually qualifies as defamation for damage to one’s reputation. However, even without this, if it is obvious that the statement would do harm and that it is untrue, one can still pursue this tort if he/she can demonstrate actual/tangible harm, such as loss of business (called special damages).

Libel is defamatory statements and/or pictures published in print or writing; or broadcast in the media, such as over the radio, on TV or in film. The publication does not need to be made to more than one person to qualify as libel. However, it must be represented as a fact, not an opinion. If one libels the reputation of a deceased person, the target’s heirs may be able to bring an action for damages.

Oral defamatory statements are categorized as slander. Damages for slander are generally more difficult to identify and prove; although when malice is involved, it can be easier to accomplish. These statements must also be represented as fact, rather than just an opinion, to be considered slanderous. Slander of title refers to a remark regarding property ownership which maligns the owner and his/her ability to transfer the property, and results in a monetary loss.

Defamation Per Se refers to defamatory statements that are so vicious and the harm is so obvious, that malice is assumed, and proof of intent is not required for general damages (i.e. falsely accusing someone of committing a crime involving immorality; claiming someone has a repugnant, contagious disease; or statements claiming that the individual is unfit or unable to perform his employment duties.) Most states specifically recognize these categories of false statements as defamatory per se. Libel per se is also referred to as libel on its face, meaning it meets all the required elements without further proof. Defamation Per Quod is the opposite of per se, in that it is not obvious and extrinsic proof is required to demonstrate that the communication was damaging.

Exclusions/Exceptions/Defenses to defamation:

• “fair comment” - a statement of opinion which was arrived at based on accurate facts, which do not allege dishonorable motives by the person about whom the statements were made.

• Statements made about a public person (political candidates, governmental officeholder, movie star, author, celebrity, sports hero, etc.) are usually exempt, even if they are untrue and harmful. However, if they were made with malice – with hate, dislike, intent and/or desire to harm and with reckless disregard for the truth – the public person may have a cause of action. This was determined by the U.S. Supreme Court and has been re-interpreted various times.

• Minor errors in reporting, such as publishing a person’s age or title inaccurately or providing the wrong address.

• Governmental bodies due to the premise that a non-personal entity cannot have intent.

• Public records are exempt from claims of libel.

• Truth – the communication was true.

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Articles About Defamation Law

  • What is a Defamation of Character?
    While the First Amendment provides for the freedom of speech, this amendment does not protect all forms of speech. For example, it does not give a person the right to injure the reputation of another, or defame, that person. In order for a person to prevail in a defamation of character lawsuit, there are several elements that he or she must be able to prove.
  • What Can You Do if Someone Falsely Accuses You of Rape?
    It is an ugly reality, but it is known to happen: petty people misusing the very serious charge of rape as a way to gain an upper hand, get revenge, or otherwise harm another person. The results of such a false accusation can be devastating, even if the person wrongfully accused is ultimately acquitted. So, what can the innocent person do in such a case? What are the consequences to the false accuser?
  • Is There a Law Against Cyberstalking or Cyberharassment?
    With the rise of social networking, many have lost some of their concerns about personal privacy. Indeed, millions of Americans share the intimate details of their lives with an audience of dozens to thousands to sometimes even millions of people everyday, and think nothing of it. But what happens when someone begins to use this information against you? Are they violating any laws by following you online or bothering you on the Internet?
  • Is It Legal For Someone to Share Your Revealing Photos or Videos for Revenge on the Internet
    In this modern digital age, it is often common for romantic partners, particularly those in long distance relationships, to exchange revealing photos of one another. These photos are often intended for the eyes of the receiver only. But, how can you be sure? What happens if you break up or the other person turns out to be less discrete than you had hoped? Is it illegal for someone to share those photos with others?
  • Are Sexual Harassment Investigations Confidential?
    An all too common occurrence in the modern workplace is the sexual harassment. This can take many forms, like unwelcome sexual or romantic advances, sexual blackmail, offensive touching, discussions of intimate activities that make others uncomfortable, etc. While there are a number of laws to protect those who complain of such activities, what of those who are accused, particularly if the sexual harassment claim is determined to be unfounded or used as a means of embarrassment or retaliation?
  • What are the Laws Regarding Paparazzi
    Many will long remember the death of Princess Diana in 1997. She passed away as a result of a fatal car crash during a high-speed paparazzi chase. This led to a number of laws in both England and America relating to the paparazzi.
  • When Can You Sue for Defamation?
    When we think of personal injury lawsuits we think of vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, or dog bites, but some kinds of personal injury do not necessitate that the victim is actually physically injured in order to recover compensation.
  • Defamation: What it is and How to Deal with It
    Defamation is when someone tells one or more persons an untruth about you, and that untruth harms your reputation. Defamation is the general term, while slander and libel refer to particular types of defamation. Libel is a written defamation, and slander is verbal. There are three key factors to consider when deciding whether a defamatory statement should be taken to court.
  • As Social Media Increases in Popularly, Defamation Rises - Why You May Need a Lawyer
    The popularity of social media steadily increases, and the number of users continues to skyrocket. Defamation is a problem that is growing, especially for those in business. People can be vicious, making claims or saying things that are malicious and untrue. Is your reputation or business at risk? You may need a social media defamation attorney to represent you.
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Defamation Law - US

  • ABA - Media, Privacy, and Defamation Law Committee

    The Media, Privacy, and Defamation Law Committee concentrates on the law of and insurance coverage for media law issues, privacy law developments, and defamation law concerns. Our topics are wide-ranging within these spheres, including insurance coverage for controversial news reporting, invasion of publicity rights, unbiased press coverage, reducing liability exposure, freedom-of-information litigation, identity theft, maintaining a positive relationship with an insurance carrier, public access to court hearings, and a plethora of other subjects.

  • Citizen Media Law Project - Substantial Truth

    "Truth" is an absolute defense against defamation. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and Time Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 411 (1967). Consequently, a plaintiff has to provide convincing evidence of a defamatory statement's falsity in order to prove defamation.

  • Defamation Law - Positive Jurisprudence

    Over the past fifteen years, national and international courts have developed a body of case law that seeks to reduce defamation’s infringement on freedom of expression, a right guaranteed in treaties and constitutions around the world. Courts in democratic countries have played an especially significant role in reform because free speech is vital to their political system. The decisions exhibit noteworthy trends in legal change and frequently refer to each other as persuasive precedent. This Article presents an overview of such positive jurisprudence and focuses on decisions from international, Commonwealth, and United States courts.

  • First Amendment Center

    The First Amendment was written because at America's inception, citizens demanded a guarantee of their basic freedoms. Our blueprint for personal freedom and the hallmark of an open society, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. Without the First Amendment, religious minorities could be persecuted, the government might well establish a national religion, protesters could be silenced, the press could not criticize government, and citizens could not mobilize for social change.

  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

    This page provides an overview of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("Section 230"), an important federal law that provides legal protections to operators of websites and other types of interactive computer services. This page also collects information involving Section 230 from across the Citizen Media Law Project website. You will find background information on Section 230 as well as listings of recent blog posts, lawsuits, and news.

  • Telecommunications Act of 1996

    The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. The goal of this new law is to let anyone enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has the potential to change the way we work, live and learn. It will affect telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools.

Organizations Related to Defamation Law

  • Anti-Defamation League

    The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an international Jewish non-governmental organization based in the United States. Describing itself as "the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency", the ADL states that it "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all" while it "[advocates] for Israel [...] with policymakers, the media and the public" and "defends the security of Israel and Jews worldwide

  • Inter American Press Association

    The Inter American Press Association (English acronym for Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, Inc.,) is a nonprofit organization devoted to defending freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the Americas.

  • Student Press Law Center - Libel and Privacy Invasion

    Student journalists can get in trouble when they carelessly collect and/or publish extremely private details or false information about an individual or entity that seriously harms their reputation. Knowing the basics of defamation law, which includes both libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation), and invasion of privacy law can help you avoid such trouble.

Publications Related to Defamation Law

  • First Amendment Library

    In addition to Supreme Court opinions, the library also contains transcripts of select Supreme Court oral arguments and even audio files of some of those arguments. Major historical materials related to the First Amendment are likewise available, as are all of the state constitutional guarantees related to freedom of expression and religion.

  • Media Law Resource Center - Libel and Slander

    Libel and slander are legal claims for false statements of fact about a person that are printed, broadcast, spoken or otherwise communicated to others. Libel generally refers to statements or visual depictions in written or other permanent form, while slander refers to verbal statements and gestures. The term defamation is often used to encompass both libel and slander.


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