Libel Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Libel, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Libel?

(n) Libel is the recorded publishing or broadcasting of false or untrue information about a person or entity, as if they are statement of facts, with an intention to defame or harm the reputation of the person or entity about whom such statements are made. Libel is defamation which is written or otherwise broadcasted as against slander, which is oral defamation. Libel needs to be known to just one person to claim damages provided there is a harm done on the basis of that intentional untrue statement of fact.

History and Meaning of Libel

Libel has been a legal term for centuries, with origins in the common law of England. The term refers to the act of publishing false information about someone that is intended to cause harm to their reputation. The false information must be presented as a statement of fact, as opposed to an expression of opinion. Libel is a civil offense, which means that a person who has been libeled can sue the person who wrote or said the false information.

In the United States, the First Amendment provides significant protection for freedom of speech, which includes the right to criticize public figures and officials. However, there are limits to this protection when it comes to the publishing of false information, especially if it harms the reputation of a private individual. Libel suits can be difficult to win, but they can result in significant damages if successful.

Examples of Libel

  1. A newspaper publishes a story claiming that a local business owner is running an illegal gambling operation out of their store. If the allegations are false and caused harm to the business owner's reputation, this could be considered libel.

  2. A political campaign publishes an advertisement that claims their opponent has a history of fraud and embezzlement. If these statements are false and designed to harm the opponent's reputation, this could be considered libel.

  3. A blogger writes a post claiming that a celebrity has been arrested for drug possession, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support this claim. If this false information damages the celebrity's reputation, it could be considered libel.

Legal Terms Similar to Libel

  1. Slander: spoken defamation, as opposed to written defamation (libel).

  2. Defamation: an umbrella term that includes both libel and slander.

  3. False Light: the publicizing of private information that is not necessarily untrue, but is presented in a way that creates a false or misleading impression.