U.S. Defamation Laws & Standards

Federal Defamation Statutes

Defamation: Slander v. Libel

Defamation — also called slander (for spoken or otherwise transitory statements) and libel (for written or otherwise published content) — is:

"the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image."

What Plaintiffs Must Prove To Win A Defamation Lawsuit In The U.S.

To win a U.S. defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff, at the very least, must prove that the defendant:

  • Published or otherwise broadcast an unprivileged, false statement of fact about the plaintiff;
  • Caused material harm to the plaintiff by publishing or broadcasting said false statement of fact;
  • Acted either negligently or with actual malice;

Free Speech v. Defamation

In the United States, federal defamation law is closely tied to the First Amendment. As a result, federal slander and libel laws are more defendant-friendly in the U.S. than those in common law countries, like the U.K. and Canada. In short, opinion is not considered defamation in the U.S. That being said, false statements of fact that harm the reputation of an individual or business, aren't protected under Constitutional Free Speech provisions.

Internet Defamation Law: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

The United States also has a unique law governing accountability as it relates to acts of online defamation -- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In short, the statute absolves Internet service providers (hosting companies, websites, developers, etc.) of defamation liability over user comments and content. It's why Facebook, the corporation, is not sued every time an individual Facebook user commits an act of libel on the platform.

Actual Malice

If the plaintiff is deemed a "public figure," the standard of actual malice must be met. Click here for a detailed explanation of actual malice.

In addition to the federal standards, each state has a set of slander and libel laws, which can be found below.

Facing a defamation challenge? Kelly / Warner handles all manners of slander and libel cases, and we work with clients across the country. Get in touch today so we can start solving the problem.