Civil Causes of Action - Defamation and Libel Law and Legal Definition

Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in 'defamatory language'. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.

Libel is published material meeting three conditions:

  1. the material is defamatory either on its face or indirectly;
  2. the defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; and,
  3. the material must be distributed to someone other than the offended party; i.e. published, as distinguished from slander.
  4. Publication may consist of a writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which is communicated to another. There is an exception for certain privileged communications, such as those contained in answers to interrogatories, in affidavits, or judicial or legislative proceedings. Communications which take place in the workplace ordinarily are covered by qualified privilege, however, an employer may be liable if it can be shown that the qualified privilege was abused, such as statements made with intent to injure the plaintiff. Defamation in the workplace law varies by state. In some states, publication is not made when the statement is a communication between employees. In other states, communications between corporate employees are enough to establish the publication requirement.