Is Libel Criminal or Civil? Questions Answered
Gone are the days when harming someone’s reputation could get you thrown into a prison cell. Libel is generally considered a civil offense in federal law.
We’ve compiled everything you need to know about libel laws, including what you can actually get from a libel lawsuit, what proof you require and a way to fix libel without going to court!
Getting Acquainted With Libel and Defamation
By legal definition, defamation is a tort (civil wrongdoing) that harms the good reputation of an individual through false statements. These statements can be broken down into the following two categories:
- Libel: This covers written statements that have been published (online or in print) and read by a third party.
- Slander: This refers to statements that have been spoken out loud by someone and understood by a third party as defamatory.
What if the Statement Was Published Online?
Defamatory statements written and published online still count as libel, and fall under the same libel laws if you wish to pursue a lawsuit.
You should keep in mind that you can only sue the user who posted it and never the internet service provider. So for example, if the defamatory statement was made on an Instagram post, you cannot sue Instagram itself but only the user.
Private vs Public Figures in Libel Cases
Journalists and private citizens can continue to hold public figures accountable (such as politicians for example) in the press without fear of being punished for libel. This is straightforward protection of your First Amendment rights and prevents the defamation of vulnerable parties like private figures. Here’s what a private individual vs a public figure needs to prove to win a defamation case:
|Definition:||What They Must Prove:|
|Private Figure||Someone outside of the attention of the public and public controversies.||A private person generally only needs to prove that the publisher or speaker of the false statement acted with negligence (meaning they did not properly research the matter before speaking and unintentionally tarnished the truth).|
|Public Figure||This can include politicians, celebrities, or other people within the public eye.||A public figure, by contrast, has to prove actual malice. This means they must prove that the statement was published either with full knowledge that it was false or without any regard for whether it was true or not. This can be much harder to prove in court.|
What Makes a Criminal Libel Case Possible?
The issue with proving libel as a criminal is that it doesn’t typically present a public threat. The damage libel causes tend to be limited to the reputation of the person who has been defamed. In order to have a criminal case, you would have to prove that the damages are public rather than just individual.
Here is the list of states that currently have criminal libel laws:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
What Do I Need to Prove In a Libel Lawsuit?
Remember to consider state-specific laws. The statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit, whether damages are assumed by the court or not, etc, all vary depending on state laws. Here are some of the general things you need to prove in a libel lawsuit:
- The statement is false and has inaccurately been presented as the truth.
- The statement has been published or communicated to a third person.
- It was published negligently, meaning without any concern for the facts and without care for its potential damage.
- Damages must be proven. The statement must have caused harm to the plaintiff, whether in terms of their reputation, their private life or their workplace.
Get a Defamation Cease and Desist Letter in Just Minutes!
If you want to avoid a defamation lawsuit altogether, a cease and desist letter can spare you the hassle of paying attorney fees and having to go through the long legal process. If you’re feeling lost on how to start, DoNotPay can help! Here’s how to generate a cease and desist letter fast with the app:
1. Search “defamation” on DoNotPay and select the Defamation Demand Letters service.
2. Briefly explain the defamatory issue you wish to resolve, as well as any details that you think might be relevant about the case - be as specific as possible.
3. DoNotPay will be able to draft a formal cease and desist defamation letter based on all the relevant libel laws within your state!
That’s it! You’re done. Feel free to send the letter to the defamer to put a stop to their actions!
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