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Definition - What does Defamation mean?

Defamation is a civil offense which includes making written or verbal statements which injures another person's reputation. Written statements are considered libel; verbal statements are considered slander.

Not all injurious statements are considered defamatory. State laws vary, but generally to be considered defamatory the statements must be published, false, injurious, and unprivileged. Published statements do not have to be written but can include statements spoken, gestured, or pictured. The statement or information also does not have to be printed but can simply be made public to someone other than the speaker and the injured party.

Next, the statement must not be true. If the statement is true then it is not considered legally damaging. It also must injure the party, although injury does not have to be monetary. It can also include harassment, shunning by family or friends, or lost employment opportunities.

Finally, parties who offered statements in court, in official materials, or in the legislative chambers may have privileges which protect their speech them from civil claims of defamation, even if the statements they made could have otherwise been considered defamatory.

Public officials and defamation

Public officials or parties considered "public" such as celebrities may also have a more difficult time proving defamation. Courts have upheld that those in the public eye can be criticized. Generally, in these cases the public official must also prove the defamatory statements or written information was made with malice, which means someone published information they knew to be false or they recklessly published the information without doing due diligence to find out whether the information was true or not.

Compensation for Defamation

Individuals who have suffered injury or loss from defamatory statements may have the legal right to seek compensation. Compensation can include actual damages, such as loss of sales. It also can include injury due to personal anguish if the injured party can prove the lies and rumors caused mental or emotional distress. If the defamatory statements or written information was especially egregious the courts may award punitive damages to the plaintiff to penalize the defendant and to send a message to others who may consider similar future actions.

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