Libel is the publication or display of untrue and defamatory statements or images that harm the reputation of an individual or organization.
Libel is a type of defamation that is seen by another person. It is false, written information that damages a person's reputation, exposes them to public hatred and ridicule, or causes a loss of income.
It could happen through just about any form that is published or displayed. This includes news media, blog posts, websites, social media, online reviews, signs, and advertising.
Libel should not be confused with offering a negative opinion. For example, if someone wrote an online review that a restaurant's food doesn't taste very good, it wouldn't be considered libel. If someone falsely wrote that the restaurant gave people food poisoning, it would likely be considered libel or a defamation of character.
If the local health department cited a restaurant as a source of food poisoning, a news article or blog that reported this information would not be considered libel.
To prove that something is libelous, it must meet certain criteria:
If the injured party is a public figure, such as a politician or a celebrity, a libel claim must also prove a statement was made with malicious intent, or a reckless disregard for the truth.
Someone could defend themselves against a libel lawsuit by proving:
While the First Amendment forbids the government from punishing people for what they write and publish, it doesn't protect you or your business from defamation claims.
Most libel suits fall under state jurisdiction. State courts follow the common law principles of defamation, which allows a legal cause of action without proof of actual harm. Under U.S. libel laws, simply demonstrating that something is a defamatory statement could be enough to support a liability claim.
Winning special damages from a defamation lawsuit is a different story. In the landmark 1964 case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment limits someone's ability to claim damages in matters of public concern. A claimant would have to prove that someone acted with "actual malice" by publishing false statements about public officials.
General liability insurance covers common business risks such as bodily injury, as well as advertising injuries. If someone accuses your business of libel, the defamation insurance included in your general liability insurance policy covers your legal costs in part, along with any settlement or judgment.