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Defamation can take the form of libel or slander. Slanderous statements are verbal, while libelous comments are written. Unlike slander, libel can be spread through any medium (blog comment, speech, or television broadcast).

Are you familiar with the term seditious libel? In 1798, the Sedition Act made printing lies about the government, the president, or Congress illegal. In a later decision, the Supreme Court modified this rule to hold that a statement against a public figure is only libelous if it is deliberately false or made with a reckless disregard for the truth.

The term defamation refers to the dissemination of false statements as facts that cause damage to individuals and businesses. It is possible to sue for defamation if the act damages someone's reputation or economic opportunities.

Examples of Libel

Social media has multiplied the chances of libel. But in the United States, the media is one of the most significant sources of libel. You'll find many libel claims filed against professional publications if you Google active libel cases.

Libel cases must contain both false and untrue information for them to succeed. Libel cases can be per se or per quod. Libel, per se, refers to content that defames someone's character outright.

Per quod means "undercover" in Latin, and libel per quod refers to situations in which the contents are unclear but serve to defame an individual. It is much easier to prove and prosecute libel per se cases.

Public figures and celebrities are often targets of libel. They are less likely to win libel suits than ordinary people because the courts find public figures less deserving of reputation protection.

The rationale is that public figures seek public attention and accept a measure of risk for negative attention. Public figures can refute libelous claims, unlike the public.

Here are a few famous libel cases:

J.K. Rowling vs. The Daily Mail: According to the bestselling author, the Daily Mail falsely accused her of lying in a charity article she wrote.

Russell Brand vs. The Sun: An article in the publication stated that the actor had cheated on his then-girlfriend, Jemima Khan, in November 2013.

Kate Winslet vs. The Daily Mail: The Daily Mail falsely claimed that Winslet lied about her workout routine, which she accused them of falsifying. According to reports, £25,000 was paid out.

Rebel Wilson vs. Bauer Media: As a result of her lawsuit against Bauer Media, Rebel Wilson was awarded an amount of AUD 4.7 million in September 2017.

Examples of Slander

The act of oral defamation involves making untrue statements about another person that causes quantifiable damage. Slander is most common at work because false statements can hurt someone's career. Examples include:

  • Business owners could be defamed if they did not participate in unethical and illegal activities
  • Accusing a colleague of tax defaults
  • Accusing someone of incompetence could cost them their job or lead to ridicule or contempt
  • Falsely accuse a coworker of sexual harassment

Defense for Defamation

Some victims may send a cease-and-desist letter as a scare tactic. But if you sue for defamation, you need to prove four elements. Each of the four elements must be challenged to establish a defamation defense:

  • The statement was true: Truth is the best defense for defamation lawsuits. In an absolute defense, the court will rule in favor of the defendant if the statement is true.
  • The statement was an opinion: It will not be considered defamatory if it is shown as an opinion piece (e.g., humor, parody, cartoon, caricature).
  • The statement did no harm: The statements may have been malicious and false, but if no one believed them, there was no harm to you.
  • The statement was agreed to by the plaintiff: It would also be a defense if the plaintiff agreed at some point with the statement. An interview or perhaps a written piece could be used for this.

four elements of defamation

Get a Cease and Desist Letter Here

Criminal Defamation Laws by states

Some states have different rules regarding how they treat defamation, make sure you check your state’s laws in the table below.

State Defamation Law
Alabama Ala. Code § 13a-11-160, 163
Arkansas § 16-63-207 - Libel and Slander
Arizona 23-1325 Defamation; Damages
Arkansas § 16-63-207 - Libel and Slander
California CACI No. 1704. Defamation Per Se
Colorado 13-25-125.5. Libel and Slander
Connecticut Sec. 52-237. Damages in Actions for Libel
Delaware 2014 Delaware Code Title 10
Florida Fl St § 836.01-.06, 836.09-.12
Georgia Georgia Code § 51-5-1 (2021)
Hawaii Hawaii Revised Statutes § 657-4 (2021)
Idaho Id St §18-4802, 4809
Illinois Il St Ch 720 § 300/1
Indiana 2021 Indiana Code Title 34
Iowa Chapter 659 Libel and Slander
Kansas Kan. Stat. § 21-6103
Kentucky Ky St § 432.280
Louisiana La R.S. 14:47
Maine Title 24-A, §2157: Defamation
Maryland Subtitle 5 - Defamation
Massachusetts MGL C.218, § 21, MGL C.231, §§ 91-94 , MGL C.258, § 10(C), MGL C.260, § 4
Michigan Mi St 750.370, 371
Minnesota 609.765 Criminal Defamation
Mississippi 97-3-55 - Libel; Penalty: 2013 Mississippi Code
Missouri RSMO Section 516.140
Montana Part 8. Libel and Slander
Nebraska 2021 20-209 - Libel, Slander, Or Invasion of Privacy; One Cause of Action
Nevada NRS 200.510 Definition; Penalties; Truth
New Hampshire 2017 New Hampshire Revised Statutes Section 644:11 - Criminal Defamation
New Jersey 2013 New Jersey Revised Statutes Section 2a:14-3 - 1 Year; Libel or Slander
New Mexico 2021 New Mexico Statutes Article 7 - Libel and Slander
New York Article 7 Miscellaneous Rights and Immunities Civil Rights (CVR) Chapter 6
North Carolina Chapter 99 - Libel and Slander
North Dakota N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02-03
Ohio Section 2739.01 - Ohio Revised Code
Oklahoma §21-781. False Rumors - Slander - Penalty
Oregon Oregon Revised Statutes § 135.733 (2021) - Defamation
Pennsylvania Defamation - Title 42 - Pa General Assembly
Rhode Island Chapter 9-6-9 - Truth as Defense to Libel Or Slander
South Carolina 2012 South Carolina Code of Laws Section 16-7-150 - Slander and Libel.
South Dakota 2013 South Dakota Codified Laws Chapter § 20-11-3 libel Defined. § 20-11-4 slander Defined.
Tennessee 2014 Tennessee Code Chapter 24 - Libel and Slander
Texas Title 4. Liability In Tort Chapter 73. Libel
Utah 2021 Utah Code Section 2 - Libel and Slander Defined.
Vermont Title 12: Court Procedure Chapter 199: Defamation
Virginia Code Of Virginia Code - Article 4. Defamation
Washington Dc § 31–2231.05. Defamation
Washington State 2005 Revised Code of Washington - Chapter 9.58 RCW: Libel and Slander
Wisconsin 939.22. 942.01 Defamation
Wyoming Chapter 29 - Libel and Slander

Sources:

The Sedition Act of 1798 | US House of Representatives

JK Rowling sues Daily Mail for libel over 'single mother' article | The Guardian

Russell Brand wins libel damages from 'Sun' newspaper | EW

Defamation can take the form of libel or slander. Slanderous statements are verbal, while libelous comments are written. Unlike slander, libel can be spread through any medium (blog comment, speech, or television broadcast).

Are you familiar with the term seditious libel? In 1798, the Sedition Act made printing lies about the government, the president, or Congress illegal. In a later decision, the Supreme Court modified this rule to hold that a statement against a public figure is only libelous if it is deliberately false or made with a reckless disregard for the truth.

The term defamation refers to the dissemination of false statements as facts that cause damage to individuals and businesses. It is possible to sue for defamation if the act damages someone's reputation or economic opportunities.

Examples of Libel

Social media has multiplied the chances of libel. But in the United States, the media is one of the most significant sources of libel. You'll find many libel claims filed against professional publications if you Google active libel cases.

Libel cases must contain both false and untrue information for them to succeed. Libel cases can be per se or per quod. Libel, per se, refers to content that defames someone's character outright.

Per quod means "undercover" in Latin, and libel per quod refers to situations in which the contents are unclear but serve to defame an individual. It is much easier to prove and prosecute libel per se cases.

Public figures and celebrities are often targets of libel. They are less likely to win libel suits than ordinary people because the courts find public figures less deserving of reputation protection.

The rationale is that public figures seek public attention and accept a measure of risk for negative attention. Public figures can refute libelous claims, unlike the public.

Here are a few famous libel cases:

J.K. Rowling vs. The Daily Mail: According to the bestselling author, the Daily Mail falsely accused her of lying in a charity article she wrote.

Russell Brand vs. The Sun: An article in the publication stated that the actor had cheated on his then-girlfriend, Jemima Khan, in November 2013.

Kate Winslet vs. The Daily Mail: The Daily Mail falsely claimed that Winslet lied about her workout routine, which she accused them of falsifying. According to reports, £25,000 was paid out.

Rebel Wilson vs. Bauer Media: As a result of her lawsuit against Bauer Media, Rebel Wilson was awarded an amount of AUD 4.7 million in September 2017.

Examples of Slander

The act of oral defamation involves making untrue statements about another person that causes quantifiable damage. Slander is most common at work because false statements can hurt someone's career. Examples include:

  • Business owners could be defamed if they did not participate in unethical and illegal activities
  • Accusing a colleague of tax defaults
  • Accusing someone of incompetence could cost them their job or lead to ridicule or contempt
  • Falsely accuse a coworker of sexual harassment

Defense for Defamation

Some victims may send a cease-and-desist letter as a scare tactic. But if you sue for defamation, you need to prove four elements. Each of the four elements must be challenged to establish a defamation defense:

  • The statement was true: Truth is the best defense for defamation lawsuits. In an absolute defense, the court will rule in favor of the defendant if the statement is true.
  • The statement was an opinion: It will not be considered defamatory if it is shown as an opinion piece (e.g., humor, parody, cartoon, caricature).
  • The statement did no harm: The statements may have been malicious and false, but if no one believed them, there was no harm to you.
  • The statement was agreed to by the plaintiff: It would also be a defense if the plaintiff agreed at some point with the statement. An interview or perhaps a written piece could be used for this.

four elements of defamation

Get a Cease and Desist Letter Here

Criminal Defamation Laws by states

Some states have different rules regarding how they treat defamation, make sure you check your state’s laws in the table below.

State Defamation Law
Alabama Ala. Code § 13a-11-160, 163
Arkansas § 16-63-207 - Libel and Slander
Arizona 23-1325 Defamation; Damages
Arkansas § 16-63-207 - Libel and Slander
California CACI No. 1704. Defamation Per Se
Colorado 13-25-125.5. Libel and Slander
Connecticut Sec. 52-237. Damages in Actions for Libel
Delaware 2014 Delaware Code Title 10
Florida Fl St § 836.01-.06, 836.09-.12
Georgia Georgia Code § 51-5-1 (2021)
Hawaii Hawaii Revised Statutes § 657-4 (2021)
Idaho Id St §18-4802, 4809
Illinois Il St Ch 720 § 300/1
Indiana 2021 Indiana Code Title 34
Iowa Chapter 659 Libel and Slander
Kansas Kan. Stat. § 21-6103
Kentucky Ky St § 432.280
Louisiana La R.S. 14:47
Maine Title 24-A, §2157: Defamation
Maryland Subtitle 5 - Defamation
Massachusetts MGL C.218, § 21, MGL C.231, §§ 91-94 , MGL C.258, § 10(C), MGL C.260, § 4
Michigan Mi St 750.370, 371
Minnesota 609.765 Criminal Defamation
Mississippi 97-3-55 - Libel; Penalty: 2013 Mississippi Code
Missouri RSMO Section 516.140
Montana Part 8. Libel and Slander
Nebraska 2021 20-209 - Libel, Slander, Or Invasion of Privacy; One Cause of Action
Nevada NRS 200.510 Definition; Penalties; Truth
New Hampshire 2017 New Hampshire Revised Statutes Section 644:11 - Criminal Defamation
New Jersey 2013 New Jersey Revised Statutes Section 2a:14-3 - 1 Year; Libel or Slander
New Mexico 2021 New Mexico Statutes Article 7 - Libel and Slander
New York Article 7 Miscellaneous Rights and Immunities Civil Rights (CVR) Chapter 6
North Carolina Chapter 99 - Libel and Slander
North Dakota N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02-03
Ohio Section 2739.01 - Ohio Revised Code
Oklahoma §21-781. False Rumors - Slander - Penalty
Oregon Oregon Revised Statutes § 135.733 (2021) - Defamation
Pennsylvania Defamation - Title 42 - Pa General Assembly
Rhode Island Chapter 9-6-9 - Truth as Defense to Libel Or Slander
South Carolina 2012 South Carolina Code of Laws Section 16-7-150 - Slander and Libel.
South Dakota 2013 South Dakota Codified Laws Chapter § 20-11-3 libel Defined. § 20-11-4 slander Defined.
Tennessee 2014 Tennessee Code Chapter 24 - Libel and Slander
Texas Title 4. Liability In Tort Chapter 73. Libel
Utah 2021 Utah Code Section 2 - Libel and Slander Defined.
Vermont Title 12: Court Procedure Chapter 199: Defamation
Virginia Code Of Virginia Code - Article 4. Defamation
Washington Dc § 31–2231.05. Defamation
Washington State 2005 Revised Code of Washington - Chapter 9.58 RCW: Libel and Slander
Wisconsin 939.22. 942.01 Defamation
Wyoming Chapter 29 - Libel and Slander

Sources:

The Sedition Act of 1798 | US House of Representatives

JK Rowling sues Daily Mail for libel over 'single mother' article | The Guardian

Russell Brand wins libel damages from 'Sun' newspaper | EW