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.


Know Your Rights!

Articles About Defamation Law

  • Do I Have the Right to Sue a Doctor Who Wrongfully Accused Me of Child Abuse?
    Being accused of child abuse can be distressing for a parent, especially when it could not be further from the truth. Even if a criminal investigation clears the parent from any suspicion, the damage to the parent’s reputation may continue to linger. However, in the majority of cases, the wrongfully accused parent does not have the right to sue or receive financial recovery from a doctor who makes a report of child abuse that later turns out to be false.
  • Do I Have Any Legal Rights Against a Nonfiction Author?
    When people right their autobiographies or memoirs, they may recount stories that others do not wish to share. While the first amendment provides for the freedom of speech, this right is not absolute. Simply because a person deems something to be “nonfiction” does not make it true. Individuals who do not like the way that they are being portrayed may have legal claims against the author.
  • Can I Have Google Content Removed?
    As many people know, once information is on the Internet, it can stay there forever. However, some individuals have a legitimate interest in having certain information removed from the Internet, so they may pursue doing this through Google, the largest search engine at the time of publication. There is a certain process that individuals must usually follow in order to effectuate this, and Google does not guarantee that all unfavorable information will be removed.
  • Can You Be Sued for Something You Post on Facebook?
    Since Facebook’s launch, millions of users have been drawn to the site to give friends updates, share pictures and reconnect. As such, it has provided people with a platform to communicate information in a way that they may otherwise never have considered. While posting information on Facebook may give people a sense of anonymity especially if their profile does not reflect their true identity, posting certain information on Facebook may provide the basis for a lawsuit.
  • Lawsuits Over Cyberbullying
    For generations, bullying has been a problem on the playground and in the classroom. However, with more children having access to electronic devices, a new form of bullying has formed: cyberbullying. This form of bullying can sometimes rise to the level of a criminal offense or a tort in which the parents of a bullied child may be able to recover on a monetary level for the suffering their child has endured.
  • A Website Published Embarrassing Content About Me, What Can I Do?
    The Internet has brought many benefits to modern civilization. Unfortunately, just as with any technology, it also has a dark side. So, when a website publishes embarrassing content about you, what can you do?
  • Understanding Defamation ... Slander ... Libel
    Everyone has heard of the terms: defamation, slander and libel. But not all understand the meanings of the words or the elements necessary to bring a successful lawsuit involving those legal concepts.
  • I'm Being Harassed on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter; What Are My Legal Options?
    Cyber-bullying has become a very big problem in America, and it is not just limited to children. Every day, thousands of people have to contend with negative, abusive, insulting, and threatening comments posted on, or linked to, their social media accounts. This has left many to wonder if there is anything they can do – from a legal standpoint – to protect themselves.
  • You Can’t Just Sue Anybody Who Is Rude to You
    In order for a plaintiff to prevail with a lawsuit, there must be an existing framework for recovery. Simply put, individuals generally do not have a cognizable cause of action based on someone simply being rude to them. However, state statutes and case law determine whether there is a recognized cause of action. The following causes of action may be available to a person who has been slighted, depending on the state law that has jurisdiction over the case.
  • Freedom of Speech – Why Satire is Protected
    The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants individuals the freedoms of speech, the free exercise of religion, the press and the right to peacefully assemble. While many individuals may construe their freedom of speech rights broadly, not all forms of speech are protected. Satire is generally a protected form of speech, but there are certain exceptions.
  • All Personal Injury Law Articles

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.

Contact a Lawyer

Find a Local Lawyer