This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
For many people, reputation means everything. So when it’s damaged, it can impact both their personal and professional relationships. When a statement begins to tarnish someone’s reputation, it can in some cases be legally considered defamation. Read on to find out what constitutes a defamatory statement, the penalties and if it appears on a public record.
According to Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, defamation is a, “statement that injures a third party’s reputation.” A written defamatory statement is called libel, while a spoken statement is referred to as slander. Defamation is not considered a criminal act; it is a tort, or a civil wrong, according to NOLO.com
Defamation suits have many nuances, including if, the plaintiff is considered a “public figure.” A public figure is anyone that voluntarily places themselves in the public eye. Public figures tend to have a harder time proving that a statement was defamatory, according to the Free Dictionary by Farlex.
The next step in proving a defamation claim is to establish that the statement was actually made. Because the spoken word is often harder to remember accurately, courts often consider slander to be less harmful than libel, according to Findlaw.com It must also be proven that the statement was “published,” meaning a third party read, listened to or saw it.
According to, the Cornell University University Law Schools, Legal Information Institute, in order to be successful in a defamation lawsuit it must be proven that the statement caused injury to the subject of the statement. For example, the subject’s reputation was harmed, resulting in financial injury.
It is also important to be able to prove that the statement was false and that the person communicating this statement did so with “malicious intent”, having full knowledge that the statement was incorrect, according to the Free Dictionary by Farlex.
Lastly, it must be shown that the statement is “unprivileged”. The statement is unprivileged if the defendant cannot prove that they acted on a justifiable motive. For example, a journalist in a defamation case could use the defense that the statement was made under “qualified privilege”, meaning it was important that the statement be published for the public good, according to NOLO.com.
Defamation is considered a civil action and, if you are found guilty of defamation you could be forced to pay heavy fines or damages. According to LawyerGurus.com defamation cases that are settled typically include a privacy clause that will avoid such information appearing on a public record. A formal judgment, however, may appear as public record depending on the jurisdiction.
Celebrities that have been involved in defamation suits include the late Robin Williams, Sharon Stone and Cameron Diaz, according to Inside Counsel.