Definition - What does Defamation mean?

Defamation is a catch-all term that is used to describe any statement that damages a person’s reputation. Defamation through written word is called libel. Defamation through spoken word is called slander. In most instances, defamation is not a crime. Rather, defamation is typically a tort. Those harmed by defamation typically seek recourse in civil court rather than criminal court.

Defamation is also known as calumny, vilification, and traducement.

Certain elements must be met in order to bring a suit alleging defamation. It is also important to note that the elements for libel and slander are the same. However, there are important differences depending upon the identity of the parties involved and the type of allegation.

  • A defamatory statement made by the defendant;
  • Must be about and concerning the plaintiff;
  • It must meet the standards of publication;
  • The defamation must have caused damage to the plaintiff;
  • It must meet the but-for test: but for the defendant's statement, the plaintiff would not have suffered harm to their reputation.

Justipedia explains Defamation

More broadly, defamation claims can be brought by businesses, individuals, groups, governments, religions, and even by entire nations. Under the common law, to prevail on a defamation claim, the defamation statement must generally be false and must have been made to someone other than the person defamed.

Defamation law tries to balance competing interests. On one hand, people can ruin reputations by telling lies. In the U.S., this must be balanced with citizens' constitutional right to free speech. Defamation cases can be very difficult to win.

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