Libel, Slander, and Defamation

Defamation is the act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person. There are two types of defamatory acts: Libel is a defamatory statement expressed in a fixed medium, e.g. writing, art, picture or sign. Slander, on the other hand, is a defamatory statement expressed in a transitory form, e.g. speech. 

The legal analysis of injuries to reputation depends on whether the individual is a “public figure.” Public figures are well-known or notable persons of substantial public interest, such as celebrities, movie stars, athletes, musicians, politicians, government official, or business leaders. Individuals may become public figures for limited purposes, if they have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies.”

Public figures must demonstrate that the allegedly defamatory statement was false and was made with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. Cases involving non-public figures are easier to prove, and generally require, in addition to proving falsity, only proof of negligence. 

Defamation is not to be confused with insult, upset feelings or emotional distress, which may or may not result from statements that are actually false and injure one’s reputation.

Related Cases

Nelson v. Streeter--Nelson painted an "offensive" image of a recently deceased Chicago mayor, which was seized by city aldermen. 

Sefick v. Gardner--Sefick created a satirical sculpture of a federal court judge, and was denied permission to display it in the lobby of a federal courthouse. He challenged that decision. 

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.