U.S. Defamation & Libel Laws

In this article, we discuss the history of U.S. defamation and libel laws, defamation and libel definitions, several explanatory libel examples, veggie libel laws, common defenses to defamation and libel, libel damages, and how to remove libelous online posts and comments.

Curious about your state’s respective defamation and libel laws?  Skip ahead to our interactive map breaking down U.S. defamation and libel laws by state.



What are Defamation & Libel Laws?

What are Defamation & Libel Laws?

Commonly referred to as the ‘tort of defamation,’ defamation is the all-encompassing legal term for an act, communication, or publication of a false statement to a third-party, which causes harm or damage to another person’s reputation. In Common Law jurisdictions, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, defamation is considered a civil wrong, and may typically be broken down into two fundamental types:

  • Libel: the written or published (media, print, signs, etc…) false assertion of fact communicated to a third-party, which ultimately causes damage to another person’s reputation.
  • Slander: the spoken communication of a false assertion of fact to a third-party, which ultimately causes damage to another person’s reputation.

When understanding defamation, it’s extremely important to look to the form and medium in which the false assertion of fact was communicated. Also, it’s important to understand that libel and slander laws may vary significantly between states. For the rest of this blog post, keep in mind that we are placing emphasis on exploring libel laws and their evolution in the United States.

Defamation and libel may also be commonly referred to as:

  • Defamation of character,
  • Calumny,
  • Character assassination,
  • Vilification,
  • Traducement, &
  • Disparagement*.

Keep in mind that when using the term “disparagement,” it is typically use in cases of commercial or business disparagement – where a business or company’s proprietary and financial interests/rights are in danger, not their reputation. You can read up further about “What is Business/Commercial Disparagement,” in our detailed blog post.

Furthermore, parties who commit defamation are typically referred to as:

  • Libelers,
  • Slanderers,
  • Defamers, &
  • Famacide.

Note that the term ‘Famacide’ is a more traditional term that is rarely used, and literally means, “a person who destroys another’s reputation.”


Suing For Libel

Plaintiffs considering suing for libel or defamation will typically be required to prove four (4) fundamental elements in order to succeed in their claim.

Most U.S. defamation and libel laws require the following our elements be proved:

  • False assertion of fact: There must be a false assertion of fact about a person;
  • Communication: Such false statement was unprivileged and communicated or published to a third-party;
  • Fault: There was fault on the part of the plaintiff, amounting to at least negligence;
  • Damages: The statement or publication caused damage to the plaintiff or was ‘defamatory per se’ or ‘libelous per se’.

It’s important to understand that defamation and libel elements differ by state, so we strongly recommend you consult an experienced defamation attorney if you’re unsure of your state’s respective libel laws.


What is Defamation Per Se?

As mentioned under the fourth required element – Damages – for proving libel or defamation, plaintiffs will not have to prove they suffered damages if the statement or publication is considered “defamation per se.”

For starters, defamation per se may also be commonly referred to as ‘libel per se’ or ‘slander per se,’ depending on whether the statement was written or verbally communicated.

Defamation per se is the legal doctrine that there are certain statements which are so inherently defamatory and libelous, that damage to a plaintiff’s reputation will be presumed and they will not need prove damages. Most U.S. states and their defamation laws outline four types of statements which will be considered defamatory per se:

  • Crime: Statements charging the plaintiff with having committed a crime or a crime of moral turpitude;
  •  Loathsome Disease: Statements imputing the plaintiff suffers from a loathsome disease (typically, STDs & leprosy).
  •  Chastity: Statements imputing the plaintiff is unchaste and has engaged in sexual misconduct;
  •  Profession: Statements imputing the plaintiff has acted improperly or committed misconduct in regards to their trade, occupation, profession, or business.

Now, let’s take a look at another legal doctrine, which requires plaintiffs actually prove they suffered damages – defamation per quod.


Defamation Per Quod

Think of ‘defamation per quod’ or ‘libel per quod,’ as the exact opposite of defamation per se, as it requires a plaintiff to provide extrinsic and supporting evidence that they suffered damages as a result of the statement(s) in question.

Defamation and libel per quod does not presume damages, and plaintiffs will be required to prove “special damages,” which will be addressed further in Section 6.

Simply put, if a statement(s) does not fall under one of the four main categories prescribed by libel per se, then a plaintiff will likely have to prove damages.

Libel Removal Tip: Before bringing a libel claim, it’s important to preserve as much evidence as possible. At Minc Law, we highly recommend screenshotting all libelous and defamatory online materials, and having a trusted third-party document it as well. Doing so will not only strengthen your libel claim, but will refute any claims that you’ve tampered with evidence.

If you’re unsure of your state’s respective libel laws or have been a victim of defamation, reach out to the defamation removal lawyers of Minc Law today! At Minc Law, we’ve litigated in over 19 states and 3 countries, and have secured hundreds of online defamation takedowns and removals (all for a flat, reasonable fee).

The abuse stops today! It’s time to take back control of your reputation.

Reach out to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation, call us at (216) 373-7706, or schedule a meeting online.

 At Minc Law, we want to fight for your reputation.  



History & Evolution of U.S. Libel Laws

History & Evolution of U.S. Libel Laws

Defamation and libel laws are ingrained deeply in U.S. history, taking early shape and form before the American Revolution and the founding of the United States in the late 1700s. However, the enforcement and application of U.S. libel laws is actually relatively recent compared to how long they’ve been around – with emphasized importance only arising from 1964 onwards.


The Beginning of U.S. Libel Laws

One of the most influential libel cases and precedents, ultimately shaping our modern day libel laws and decisions, is the 1734 case of John Peter Zenger.

In 1734, a New York city publisher – John Peter Zenger – was incarcerated for over 8 months for printing ‘libelous’ attacks against the governor. Remember, this is preceding the establishment of the United States in 1776, so the English Common Law was the applicable governing law.

Ultimately, Zenger – represented by Andrew Hamilton – was acquitted, establishing “truth” as an absolute defense to libel claims and charges. Furthermore, Zenger’s case established that libel cases could be heard before a jury and subsequently ruled on by them.

One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Gouverneur Morris, cited the case of Zenger as “the germ of American freedom,” and the “morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”

Unfortunately, the subsequent drafting of the United States Constitution – immortalizing the protection of free speech and freedom of the press – was rarely enforced in the following two hundred years. That was until the opinion issued by a New York Court in the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which revived interest and application of U.S. libel and defamation laws.


Private vs. Public Figures

The landmark defamation case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan laid the modern framework for one of the most important legal distinctions affecting defamation and libel laws in the United States: the distinction between private and public figures.

In Sullivan, the court ruled that there should be a clear distinction in requisite fault levels needed to be proved in order to succeed in one’s defamation claim. With the ideal of furthering “uninhibited debate of public issues” and the First Amendment, the court established a stricter burden of proof needed to be met for public figures bringing a defamation or libel claim, while establishing a second and lesser burden for ordinary and private citizens.

Let’s take a look at the two burdens of proof established:

  • Private Persons: The court in Sullivan recognized that private persons are as their name implies…private, and as such, should enjoy a heightened degree of privacy concerning their lives. Specifically, private persons are plaintiffs who have never availed themselves to the spotlight or public arena in any significant way. And, as they have not availed themselves to the limelight and opened themselves up for criticism, it’s only necessary that when they are defamed and libeled in a public light, they should have a lessened burden of proof needed to be met in order to succeed in their claim. In order to succeed in a defamation or libel claim, private persons need only prove the defendant acted with ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence simply means that a party failed to act as a reasonably prudent person would in similar circumstances.
  • Public Persons & Figures: Think of the Celine Dions, Barack Obamas, and Jon Hamms of the world. These persons are considered public persons and figures due to to their voluntary (or involuntary) trusting of themselves into the public light. As it’s in the best interest of a democratic and open society to be able to talk openly about public figures, public defamation plaintiffs are required to prove that a defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard when communicating or publishing a false statement of fact.

Furthermore, the idea of private and public figures is often broken down even further in most U.S. states, and each state will typically have their own classifications similar to the below four:


Four Core Types of Defamation PlaintiffsPrivate PersonsPublic OfficialsGeneral Purpose Public FiguresLimited-Purpose Public Figures (LPPFs)
DefinitionPrivate persons are persons who have not voluntarily or involuntarily thrust themselves into the public light for debate, criticism, or comment.Public officials are typically persons in the hierarchy of government, and who are shaping government affairs.General purpose public figures are persons who are usually in a position of such power and influence, that it inherently draws comment, criticism, or debate.LPPFs are generally persons who have only availed themselves to public comment, criticism, or debate for a particular issue or controversy.
ExamplesEveryday persons who are not in the public light.Government workers, politicians, and other parties employed by the state. .Celebrities, athletes, musicians.Persons who engage in behavior or actions which generate public interest, or involuntarily are exposed to public comment. For example, a person accused of a high-profile crime would likely be considered an LPPF.


U.S. Libel Law Fact: The United States is generally considered a pro-defendant defamation and libel jurisdiction due to the enforcement of the U.S. Constitution and Free Speech, while European and other Commonwealth countries are typically considered more pro-plaintiff.

So, how have the above developments in U.S. libel law shaped our present day defamation framework?

First, the United States has become a defendant friendly defamation and libel jurisdiction due to courts and their strict adherence to the notion of free speech and the First Amendment.

Secondly, United States defamation laws have evolved very differently, depending on the state, and an all-in-one definition of what constitutes libel or slander still remains to be agreed upon or codified. Furthermore, state defamation laws also significantly differ from federal defamation law.

Third, some U.S. states have codified defamation as a criminal wrong, while others have opted out of doing so.

Finally, the wild wild world of defamation and libel law has become infinitely more complicated and difficult to prosecute with the rise of the Internet and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As such, online libel and defamation has become rampant, due to user ability to cloak and hide IP addresses, usernames, and other identifying information. If you’re unsure about navigating the ins and outs of online defamation law and libelous posts, reach out to an experienced defamation removal attorney today!

Now, let’s take a look at the effect and potential effect of the election of President Donald Trump on U.S. defamation and libel laws.


Priebus Libel Laws & Trump Libel

In mid 2017, after Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein called for a closer examination of Donald Trump and his ties to Russia, Reince Priebus – Trump’s then chief of staff – issued several statements that the White House was actively contemplating changing current libel laws which affect news reporting.

Such statements echoed a similar sentiment to Trump’s musings while campaigning the previous year, where he threatened to sue the New York Times for “irresponsible intent.” However, “irresponsible intent” isn’t actually a legal standard under U.S. libel laws, and public figures (as established in Sullivan) are required to prove a statement(s) was made with actual malice.

Subsequently, Trump tweeted, “The failing [New York Times] has disgraced the media world. Got me wrong for two solid years. Change libel laws?” Furthermore, Trump stated, “Our current libel laws are sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness.”

Priebus was also questioned about Trump’s statements that citizens who burn the American flag should be imprisoned or have their citizenship stripped, stating, “People need to stand up for our flag.” However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning if an acceptable form of free speech, and precedent has been so well established, that Trump libel law overhauls would be unlikely in matters of the press. The American Civil Liberties Union chimed in, “President Trump’s threat to revise our country’s libel laws is, frankly, not credible.”

Ultimately, our present day libel laws are likely not going anywhere anytime soon.


Interactive U.S. Defamation Law Map & Libel Law Examples

Below is an interactive map of all 50 states and their respective defamation and libel laws.

U.S. Libel Fact: Libel and slander statutes of limitations often differ, and most states require plaintiffs to bring a slander action before a libel action. Reach out to an experienced defamation attorney to learn further about your state’s respective libel and slander statutes of limitation.

If you’ve been subject to libelous, slanderous, or other defamatory attacks, and want to explore your legal options, reach out to the defamation lawyers of Minc Law today! At Minc Law, we love no stone unturned, and are here to fight for your reputation.

Call us to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation, call us at (216) 373-7706, or schedule a meeting online.

To help break down libel laws even further, let’s take a look at two notable state libel cases.


International Libel Laws & Group Libel Laws

As mentioned above, the United States is generally considered a pro-defendant libel and defamation jurisdiction due to the U.S. Constitution and free speech, while European and other Commonwealth countries are typically considered pro-plaintiff.

It’s important to first understand the United States is a common law jurisdiction, which draws its body of law from judicial precedent (past decisions) where courts look to past decisions and judgments in order to rule on a case. Common law countries are significantly outnumbered by civil law jurisdictions in the world, so it’s necessary to understand the general attitude employed by a large percentage of the world towards defamation and libel.

Civil law jurisdictions differ from common law jurisdictions as their laws and core principals are codified into a primary source of law, which is then applied to a particular case or situation. Simply put, case law is secondary to an established legal corpus of delineated rights and remedies.

Some civil law jurisdictions actually criminalize defamation and libel, something which has created notable contention in the international defamation and human rights arena. As of 2017, there’s over 130 countries who have criminal defamation and libel laws in their books. The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a statement in 2012 that state parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) should consider decriminalizing libel.

For perspective, let’s take a look at three countries and notable libel laws and reformations.

  • Saudi Arabia: Saudia Arabia criminalizes the defamation of state, past or present rulers, and blasphemy (religious defamation), resulting in punishments ranging from imprisonment to death. In 2015, a Saudi Arabian court convicted a 32 year-old woman of defamation after she sent libelous messages via WhatsApp and ultimately sentenced her to two months in prison, 70 lashes, and a fine equivalent to USD $5,000.
  • Philippines: In 2012, after a broadcaster was imprisoned for violating Philippine libel law, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights ruled that criminalizing libel without an actual provision of a public figure doctrine was in violation of freedom of expression and incompatible with Article 19 of the ICCPR.
  • Azerbaijan: In Azerbaijan, the act of defamation is punishable by fine up to 500 times the amount of minimum wage and salaries, up to 240 hours of public work, 1 year of correctional work, or 6 months imprisonment. And, in especially egregious cases of libel, where a plaintiff acted in a “grave nature,” a plaintiff may face up to 3 years imprisonment.


Group Libel Laws & The Case of Beauharnais v. Illois

A notable form of libel which has been found to be punishable under common law in the United States is ‘group libel’ or ‘group defamation.’ Specifically, group libel is the defamation, attacks, or hateful communications made towards a specific group, based on their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.

Simply put, libel and defamation is not limited to a particular person, but may be extended to a multitude of persons, and in a single case.

Group libel and defamation has been ruled on in many instances, but none as notable as the case of Beauharnais v. Illinois.


Beauharnais v. Illinois

Beauharnais v. Illinois is a staple in the realm of group libel laws in the United States, and centers around a case where in 1950, Joseph Beauharnais was arrested for passing out bundles of leaflets in Chicago.

Beauharnais’ leaflets invoked the Mayor and Chicago government “to halt the further encroachment, harassment and invasion of white people, their property, neighborhoods, and persons by the Negro.” Furthermore, the publication stated, “If persuasion and the need to prevent the white race from becoming mongrelized by the negro will not unite us, then the aggressions … rapes, robberies, knives, guns and marijuana of the negro, surely will.”

Beauharnais was found guilty of group libel, and in the majority opinion by Justice Frankfurter, he opined that Beauharnais’ statements evoked hostility, and given the racial tensions in the state of Illinois at the time, such statements and comments should be prohibited.

Four dissenting opinions were issued, all embodying the complexity and depths of United States libel laws. For example, Justice Black stated that such statutes could avail itself to widespread abuse while trampling on speech that shouldn’t actually be protected.

The ruling in Beauharnais was ultimately an integral decision in preventing the manifestation of hate speech into a tangible and violent form.

Online Libel Removal Tip: Websites are typically immune from defamation and libel liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (but for several core exceptions), therefore when looking to hold a party liable for online libel, the best option of recourse is to identify the individual poster.

If you’ve been the victim of libel or online defamation, reach out to the defamation removal lawyers of Minc Law today!

At Minc Law, we’ve worked tirelessly with countless website administrators, content managers, and third-party arbitration firms to secure swift and permanent libel removals and take-downs. Call us today to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation at (216) 373-7706,  or fill out our contact form online.


Veggie Libel Laws, Oprah & The Amarillo Texas Beef Trial

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey on the front page of the Amarillo Daily News on Feb. 27, 1998, the day after a jury voted unanimously in her favor in a


A rather peculiar name at first glance, you might be wondering, ‘what are veggie libel laws?’ Look no further, in this section we are going to break down one of the more nuanced libel laws in the United States which highlights the complexities and reach of modern day defamation laws.

Also, we’re going to address how Oprah is tied to veggie libel laws in the United States.


What are Veggie Libel Laws?

Also known as ‘food libel laws’ and ‘food disparagement laws,’ veggie libel laws are laws protecting food manufacturers and producers from defamatory statements about the quality and safety of their food products.

Typically, food libel and food disparagement laws establish a lower burden of proof for plaintiffs in order to hold defendants liable, while allowing for a plaintiff to recover punitive (punishment) damages.

At present, only 13 U.S. states have veggie libel laws codified in their books. Such states include:

  • Alabama,
  • Arizona,
  • Colorado,
  • Florida,
  • Georgia,
  • Idaho,
  • Louisiana,
  • Mississippi,
  • North Dakota,
  • Ohio,
  • Oklahoma,
  • South Dakota, &
  • Texas.

Veggie libel laws are not without their criticism and have been considerably panned for hindering and censoring food and animal activists looking to expose and highlight unethical and improper manufacturing and processing.

At this point, you’re probably dying to know, how does Oprah factor into all of this? Let’s take a look…


Oprah & The Amarillo Texas Beef Trail

In 1998, Oprah was involved in a highly contentious lawsuit with a beef feedlot operator, Paul Engler, after she and a guest, Howard Lyman, made libelous and disparaging comments about beef and its relation to mad cow disease.

The case became better known as the “Amarillo Texas Beef Trial,” and centered around a Texas food libel law known as the “False Disparagement of Perishable Food Products Act of 1995. Under such law, Engler was required to prove such statements were not “based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data,” as opposed to just having to prove “knowledge of falsity.” Texas Beef Group v. Winfrey.

Immediately following the statements made by Oprah and Lyman, cattle futures dropped over 10 percent, with beef prices falling nearly 7 cents per pound – resulting in an estimated $6.7 million loss by Engler. Ultimately, the jury found Winfrey and Lyman’s statements did not constitute libel. However, it’s worth noting that Oprah no longer speaks openly on the case.

Online Brand Management & Reputation Tip: It’s important to establish a budget for monitoring your business’s online brand and reputation. Doing so will allow you to understand how your business or company is perceived by the general public, while also allowing you to identify intellectual property infringers before significant damage is done.

Have you been the victim of online libel or other false and malicious attacks? Put an end to the online abuse today, and reach out to the defamation lawyers of Minc Law now!

To get started, call us at (216) 373-7706, or schedule a meeting online..


6 Common Defenses to Libel & Defamation Actions in the United States

Common Defenses to Defamation

In the realm of U.S. defamation and libel law, even if a person communicates or publishes a defamatory statement, there are still numerous grounds and defenses they can rely on in order to protect against liability.

Below are just some of the most common defenses to the tort of libel and defamation in the United States.

  • Opinion,
  • Truth/Falsity,
  • Privilege (Absolute, Qualified, Statutory, Fair Report),
  • Wire Service Defense,
  • Libel-Proof Plaintiff Doctrine,
  • Consent, &
  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Let’s start with possibly the most used defense to a claim of libel or defamation – the defense of ‘opinion’.


The Defense of Opinion

Libel and defamation both deal with the false assertion of fact, something which can be proved true or false. Think of opinion as a statement which is incapable of being proved true or false.

Statements of opinion will not be actionable under libel laws. However, statements mixed with both opinion and fact may be actionable where the facts presented are defamatory and false.

Keep in mind that simply labeling a statement as opinion does not immunize the speaker, and should a listener or reader reasonably understand to the statement to be one of fact, then there’s a likelihood it won’t be considered opinion.


Truth/Falsity: Is the Statement Able to Be proved or False?

Simply put, the truth hurts, and it’s an absolute defense to libel and defamation actions in the United States. Opposite to opinion, statements which may be proved true or false in a court are actionable.

Falsity is at the heart of libel and defamation, so if a statement(s) in question is actually true, then there’s nothing to dispute. Furthermore, statements or publications don’t need to be truthful down to “every detail,” and a few immaterial inaccuracies will still allow for a defendant to invoke the defense of truth.

As long as a statement still conveys the “gist” or “sting” of the matter, it will avail itself to the defense of truth.


Legal Privilege & U.S. Defamation law

Although ‘privilege’ might sound like a complicated legal term and defense, it’s actually relatively straightforward and simple. Privilege simply refers to the legal enjoyment, entitlement, or right to communicate or publish a statement – regardless of its contents.

Privilege exists to further our core democratic decision making processes by enabling free debate and open discussion – without fear of legal consequences. Should privilege cease to exist, all decision making processes and bodies as we know it would fail to thoroughly protect fundamental rights and governing policies would fail to be as robust.

Privilege is typically broken down into several fundamental types. Below are four of the most common privileges:

  • Absolute,
  • Qualified,
  • Fair Report,
  • Statutory.


Absolute Privilege: The Apex Form of Privilege

Absolute privilege is an all-encompassing and immunizing form of privilege, allowing persons to communicate or publish specific statements at a specific time – regardless of whether its contents are considered defamatory.

Absolute privilege is unqualified, meaning it even protects speakers who communicate or publish defamatory statements with actual malice or reckless disregard. It’s commonly granted in judicial, administrative, legislative, and other official proceedings, with the purpose and goal of furthering social, political, economic, and legal debate and policy.

Without absolute privilege, persons in judicial, administrative, legislative, and other official proceedings would not be able to present the flipside of the coin, leaving our policies, regulations, and laws subject to loopholes and unanticipated consequences.


Qualified Privilege: Absolute Privilege’s Younger Sibling

Also known as ‘common interest privilege’, qualified privilege is a lesser form of privilege enabling persons to communicate or publish specific statements at a specific time. Unlike absolute privilege, qualified privilege does not extend to persons who publish or communicate a statement with actual malice or reckless disregard.

Qualified privilege is typically granted to persons in positions of authority and trust, who have a moral, social, or legal duty to communicate and publish a specific type of statement to a specific audience. Furthermore, the audience has a correlating interest in hearing such statements.

Some common examples of qualified privilege include professors who write less than stellar reference letters for students and persons presenting important facts at public meetings, local government forums, or in other situations involving public and government bodies.


Statutory Privilege: It’s the Law

Statutory privilege simply refers to privileges which have been codified in a state’s respective laws.

Some common examples of statutory privileges include: statements made in conjunction with insurance policy cancellations, statements issued by hospital and medical review committees, statements made in connection with unemployment benefits, and persons who make good faith reports alleging child abuse or neglect.


Fair Report Privilege: & the U.S. News Media

Fair report privilege is granted to persons and organizations who merely relay information provided to them from official, judicial, administrative, and legislative reports or proceedings. It does not however extend to persons or organizations who have altered the contents of the report in a material or significant way.

Fair report privilege is essential for an informed and thriving news media, as it protects newspapers, journalists, and other media organizations in their dissemination of information.

Think about it, if a news agency was punished for relying on an officially released government report, the general public would also opt out of trusting them, and might otherwise not receive important information.


Wire Service Defense & News Organizations Liability Immunity

A rather scarcely used defense in the wild world of libel and defamation law, the wire service defense provides immunity for news organizations and media who publish statements and communications received from “reputable news services” by way of reputable wire service.

Not every single U.S. state recognizes the wire service defense, therefore we recommend you consult with an experienced defamation attorney if you are unsure.


Can a Reputation Be Immune to Defamation? The Libel-Proof Plaintiff Doctrine

Sometimes, there’s just certain plaintiffs that already have such low standing in their community that even a libelous or slanderous statement about them fails to harm or damage their reputation. Cue the libel-proof plaintiff.

Some common examples of libel proof plaintiffs include drug dealers and habitual criminals and such defense is commonly used in smaller communities (due to a heightened familiarity with the individual in question).


Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act

One of the most significant defenses affecting the online defamation arena today is Section 230 the Communications Decency Act (CDA) – a landmark piece of legislation granting near-blanket immunity for ISPs and other Internet websites.

Simply put, Section 230 of the CDA immunizes websites for defamatory content which is posted on their forums or website, treating them similar to how the law treats telephone companies. Just because telephones and telephone lines are used for illegal communications, it doesn’t mean the telephone company is directly liable.

As long as websites and ISPs do not materially alter content (there’s also several other notable exceptions), they will not be held liable for libel or online defamation committed by its users.


Defamation & Libel Damages

What are Libel & Defamation Damages?

As mentioned under “Suing for Libel” and our defamation and libel definition, a fundamental element in libel and defamation claims is damages. Damages are typically quantified in a monetary sum and act as restitution or reimbursement for the injury or damage suffered as a result of a libelous or defamatory statement.

Defamation damages can be divided into four specific types:

  • Presumed
  • Special
  • Actual
  • Punitive


Presumed Damages & Defamation Per Se

Presumed damages are associated with defamation per se and libel per se due to the fact that plaintiffs need not prove they suffered actual damages.

As the nature of the statement(s) in question is so inherently (unchastity, loathsome disease, crime, & profession) defamatory (per se), damages will be presumed.

Note that the Supreme Court has seemingly eliminated the recovery of such damages in libel per se and defamation per se actions against media defendants. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc.


Special Damages & Defamation Per Quod

While presumed damages are associated with libel per se and defamation per se, special damages are associated with defamation per quod and libel per quod due to the necessity for a plaintiff to prove they suffered a special harm.

The need to prove special damages exists in cases where the harm or damage done isn’t as obvious, and plaintiffs will be required to produce supporting and extrinsic evidence to prove the harm suffered.


What are Actual Damages in the USA?

Commonly referred to as “compensatory damages,” actual damages are true to their name, and are damages sought for the actual and tangible harm suffered by them due to a libelous, slanderous, or defamatory statement.

Some courts have ruled mental anguish and personal humiliation to satisfy actual damages, as they can both be considered tangible effects of defamatory and false statements.


Punitive Damages: When Should Defendants Be Punished For Their Behavior?

Also known as “exemplary damages,” punitive damages are awarded to libel plaintiffs in order punish a defendant who has acted egregiously or in a wanton and malicious manner when communicating a libelous or defamatory statement.

Punitive damages are commonly awarded in situations where compensatory damages are seen as inadequate and may be used in cases of undercompensation. Note that punitive damages are only awarded in special cases, and each state’s level of what constitutes malice, reckless disregard, and other wanton conduct varies, so we highly recommend you consult an experienced defamation attorney if you’re unsure of whether a defendant’s conduct rises to such a level.

Defamation Removal Tip: Setting up a Google Alerts account is an effective way to combat libel and online defamation. Just enter your name and you’ll be notified as soon as it shows up anywhere online. Online defamation is like a wildfire, the longer you let it sit and spread, the more damage it’s going to do to not only your personal life, but your professional one.


Work With the Libel Removal Lawyers of Minc Law Today!

If you’ve been the victim of libelous or slanderous statements or unsure of your state’s specific libel laws, reach out to the internet defamation lawyers of Minc Law today! At Minc Law, we boast a nearly 100% online defamation removal rate, and have procured hundreds of defamation removals – all for a flat, reasonable fee.

The defamation removal lawyers of Minc Law know who to work with and how to work with them in order to secure permanent and swift defamation takedowns. At Minc Law, we know the ins and outs of U.S. libel laws, and have worked with countless website administrators, content managers, and third-party arbitration firms in order to secure removals. Take solace in knowing that websites respond to Minc Law.

To schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation, call us at (216) 373-7706, or schedule a meeting online.


We want to fight for your reputation.

U.S. Defamation & Libel Laws by State

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Where Do I File My Online Defamation Lawsuit?
How to Identify Anonymous Online Posters
Can I Put an Online Defamer in Jail? A Guide To U.S. Criminal Defamation & Libel Laws
The Minc Law Guide to Colorado Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Wisconsin Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Virginia Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Massachusetts Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to North Carolina Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Michigan Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to New Jersey Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Pennsylvania Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Nevada Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to District of Columbia Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Arizona Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Georgia Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Indiana Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Illinois Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to California Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Florida Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Texas Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to New York Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Utah Defamation Law
The Minc Law Guide to Ohio Defamation Law

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