Libel

DEFINITION of 'Libel'

Libel involves publishing a statement about someone in written form or via broadcast (for example, on radio, television or Internet) that is untrue and would harm the reputation or livelihood of that person.

Libel is considered a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis of a lawsuit.

BREAKING DOWN 'Libel'

Libel represents the published (or broadcast) version of defamation. Defamation occurs when someone’s words hurt another person’s reputation or livelihood.

The statement made must claim to be fact (not opinion). Stating, “I think” does not eliminate the possibility of libel. A case could be made that someone who wrote and published, “I think Jane Smith killed her mother,” has committed libel by suggesting he or she has reason to believe something that may not be true.

Whether a published statement is libel does depend on the person claiming to have been harmed. Public figures have more difficulty proving libel than private parties because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the libel to show "actual malice" in order for a public figure to be able to sue.

Minor factual errors (getting a person’s age wrong, for example) would not be considered libel.