Legal Definition of Defamation: Everything You Need to Know
Although defamation is primarily governed by state law, the First Amendment safeguards for freedom of speech and press limit state law.2 min read
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 defamation.
What Laws Govern Defamation?
Although defamation is primarily governed by state law, the First Amendment safeguards for freedom of speech and press limit state law. New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 264 (1964); Masson, 501 U.S. at 510. 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. Milkovich, 497 U.S. at 20 (rejecting categorical exemption of all statements in form of opinion; statement that may imply verifiable assertion of fact is actionable).
To determine whether a statement implies a factual assertion, courts examine the totality of the circumstances in which it was made. First, they look at the statement in its broad context, which includes the general tenor of the entire work, the subject of the statements, the setting, and the format of the work. Next, they turn to the specific context and content of the statements, analyzing the extent of figurative or hyperbolic language used and the reasonable expectations of the audience in that particular situation. Finally, they inquire whether the statement itself is sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false. See Partington v. Bugliosi, 56 F.3d 1147, 1153 (9th Cir.'94) (applying three-factor test as the starting point for analysis); Unelko Corp. v. Rooney, 912 F.2d 1049, 1053 (9th Cir.'90), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 961 (1991).
'[T]he First Amendment requires that the courts allow latitude for interpretation.' Partington, 56 F.3d at 1154 (quoting Moldea v. New York Times Co., 22 F.3d 310, 315 (D.C.Cir.), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 202 (1994)).
The speaking slanderous words of a person so as to hurt his good fame.
Remedies for Defamation
In the United States, the remedy for defamation is by an action on the case, where the words are slanderous.
In England, besides the remedy by action, proceedings may be instituted in the ecclesiastical court for redress of the injury. The punishment for defamation, in this court, is payment of costs and penance enjoined at the discretion of the judge. When the slander has been privately uttered, the penance may be ordered to be performed in a private place; when publicly uttered, the sentence must be public, as in the church of the parish of the defamed party in time of divine service, and the defamer may be required publicly to pronounce that by such words, naming them as set forth in the sentence, he had defamed the plaintiff, and therefore, that he begs pardon, first of God, and then of the party defamed, for uttering such words.