Defamation, ibel and Slander Laws

What is defamation 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.


Defamation - Know Your Rights!

  • A Guide to Defamation, Libel and Slander Laws

    Defamation is a false statement that is presented as fact and causes harm to the character of a person. Slander and libel are both common forms of defamation. Slander is an untrue, harmful statement that is spoken out loud. Libel is an untrue, harmful statement which is made in writing. Defamation law protects reputations of individuals and businesses. In order to prove a defamation case, you must be able to prove that the statement was untrue and was made with the knowledge that the statement was untrue.

  • 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.

  • Is It Legal For Someone to Share Your Revealing Photos or Videos for Revenge on the Internet

    Unfortunately, in most states, the answer is "no, it is not illegal to share those photos." Indeed, posting explicit photos of someone is legal in every state but California and New Jersey.

Defamation Law Articles

  • Important Online Harassment Laws in Massachusetts to Know
    If you live in Massachusetts and are the target of online attacks, it may be overwhelming and confusing to know where to turn and what your legal options are to put an end to the abuse. Victims of online harassment in Massachusetts may have one or more of several legal claims depending on the type of online abuse and the nature of the conduct by the perpetrator. These are:
  • What to Do If Someone Is Blackmailing You on Google Chat
    Dealing with Google Chat blackmail can be deeply distressing and unsettling. If someone is threatening to publish your intimate content or personal information, it is important to know how to respond appropriately and avoid drawing further unwanted attention to the matter.
  • What to Do If You Are the Target of Twitter Impersonation
    As the world becomes increasingly digital, the risk of Twitter impersonation has surged for both individuals and businesses. Unfortunately, being impersonated on Twitter poses a myriad of legal, reputational, and personal challenges.
  • What to Do If You Are Posted to an "Are We Dating the Same Guy?" Group
    “Are We Dating the Same Guy” groups are becoming increasingly popular on Facebook. They can be a way for women to support and protect each other—but they can also lead to online harassment, defamation, and doxxing. Being unfairly targeted and shamed in one of these groups can put your personal and professional life at risk.
  • What to Do If You Are the Target of a Tutor Extortion Scam
    In today’s college and university landscape, where most learning now occurs online, an unsettling new scam has emerged: the online tutor extortion scam. These scams involve “tutors” who help students with their school work, sometimes completing all their work for them, only to later threaten to reveal the student as a cheater unless they are paid a significant amount of money.
  • Strengthening Your Dental Practice: Guide to Dental Reputation Management
    As digital platforms become the primary avenue for patients to choose their dentists, an effective online marketing strategy should highlight a commitment to excellence, patient comfort, and cutting-edge dental care. Managing how people see your practice online, known as dental reputation management, can lead to a flourishing practice full of satisfied patients.
  • How to File a John Doe Lawsuit Over an Anonymous Review
    Fake consumer reviews published on the Internet can cause significant damage to your business. But given the anonymity online platforms typically allow, it can be difficult to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable. In these situations, filing a John Doe lawsuit may be necessary.
  • How to Remove Your Photos From Google Search Results
    It can be extremely distressing to come across photos of yourself online that were published without your knowledge. Perhaps an ex-partner published intimate images of you without your consent, or maybe someone stole your photos and is selling them online.
  • How to Get Your Personal Information Off the Internet
    There are many ways your personal information can end up on the internet. Perhaps you input that information when making a purchase or tagging yourself on social media—or maybe your credit card company was the target of a data breach. Regardless of the cause, the more information available on the internet about you, the greater risk to your privacy and well-being.
  • What to Do If You Have Been Doxxed
    Doxxing, the act of sharing someone’s personal information without their consent, has become a widespread and dangerous problem, especially with the prevalence of social media and easy access to information. As a result, it is important to know what to do if you have been doxxed.
  • Defamation, Libel and Slander Law Articles

    Legal articles about Defamation, Libel and Slander published by law firms to help you understand your rights.

Find a Lawyer