What Is Criminal Defamation?

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  • Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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Criminal defamation is the act of communicating something negative or damaging about a second party, and implying that it is fact when in reality it is false. This communication may be verbal or written, and applies to any form of media. The second party may be one individual, a group of people, a business, or an organization.

These types of insults may also be known as vilification, slander, or libel. Slander is any criminal defamation communicated verbally. Libel is the term given to any written or pictorial forms of this offense. Trade libel refers specifically to false statements made about business products, often agricultural in nature. These inaccurate statements may pertain to an individual or group’s character, business conduct, ethics, financial standing, and more.

The accusations made must be implied or stated to be fact and proven false to be counted as criminal defamation. In some cases, the intent of the party making the statement must also be shown to be malicious. Many countries have laws against committing this crime that allow the one defamed, also known as the claimant, to seek repercussions against the injuring party or parties.


In the United States, these charges are handled by local courts and the punishment varies widely between regions. The U.S. is one of the most difficult nations in which to prosecute cases of criminal defamation. This is due to the country’s First Amendment right, which protects the freedom of speech. Courts are often called upon to decide when the information released is true and protected, and when it is unnecessary, untrue, and destructive to another.

Statements made that are considered to be opinion or fair criticism may not be prosecuted as defamation. Information that is not deemed believable by the public is not considered slanderous or libelous either. For example, a newspaper that claims a politician is in reality an alien from outer space would not be guilty of criminal defamation though the statement could be considered negative.

In some countries, an individual’s feelings are protected as well as his or her reputation. Claimants can sue someone for injury to their emotional well-being as a result of false statements made. These claims may also be known as an attack on someone’s honor.

Laws also exist to protect individuals or groups from the release of factual information that is equally deleterious to their reputations. Information made available to the public that is true and negative is known as public disclosure of private facts. These true statements must be deemed harmful to the second party to which they pertain, and must also be viewed as irrelevant to the public.


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