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The law of defamation addresses harm to a party’s reputation or good name through the torts of libel and slander. The common law rules underlying the doctrines of libel and slander have developed over time and typically vary from state to state. At common law libel law governed injurious written communications, while slander law governed injurious oral communications. In general the elements for libel and slander are a false and defamatory statement concerning another, made in a negligent, reckless, or malicious manner, and which is communicated to at least one other person in such a fashion as to cause sufficient harm to warrant an award of compensatory damages. As long as these elements are satisfied, a suit for defamation will not offend the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. A stricter set of elements must be satisfied when the allegedly injured party is a public official or a public figure. New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (1964).

The Internet makes it easier than ever before to disseminate defamatory statements to a worldwide audience. The risk of liability associated with defamatory statements is an important consideration for parties seeking to communicate with others on the Internet, as well as for parties that provide the technological means for such communications. Even satirical or humorous communication can give rise to a cause of action for libel or slander if the communication reasonably asserts a factual charge that is defamatory. However, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit limited the liability of ISPs, when it ruled that 47 U.S.C.A. § 230(c)(1) insulates them from libel or slander claims stemming from defamatory statements that are made by persons using the Internet through their service. Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997).

Inside Defamation