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Defamation

Defamation is a false statement of fact that (1) is published; (2) damages or injures the reputation of another party; and (3) is made without legal excuse (defense or privilege). Defamation may be in the form of a written statement (libel) or a spoken statement (slander) and is a tort or legal wrong that may create civil liability (for money damages) for a person who makes a defamatory statement that is not privileged (e.g., made during a judicial proceeding) and for which there is no defense (such as truth or retraction).

To be actionable and subject the person making the statement to liability the statement must be published to a third party. In other words, a written or spoken statement made from one person to another that is not read or heard by a third person (or could not have been reasonably expected by the person making the statement to be read or heard by a third person) is not published and is not defamation.

In Texas, defamation is recognized as a false statement of fact that is published, injures another party's reputation, and is made without a legal excuse. Texas law distinguishes between libel, which is written defamation, and slander, which is spoken defamation. For a defamation claim to be actionable in Texas, the statement must be communicated to a third party; a private exchange between two people that is not overheard or seen by others does not constitute publication. Defamation is a civil wrong, and the party responsible for the defamatory statement can be held liable for monetary damages. Defenses against defamation claims in Texas include truth, which is an absolute defense, and retraction, which may mitigate damages. Additionally, certain statements made in privileged contexts, such as during judicial proceedings, are typically immune from defamation claims. It is important for individuals in Texas to be aware of these laws to understand their rights and potential liabilities regarding defamatory statements.



Texas Statutes & Rules

Federal Statutes & Rules

Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230
This federal statute is relevant to the topic of defamation as it provides immunity to providers and users of an 'interactive computer service' from liability for content published by third parties.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) states that 'No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.' This means that online platforms such as social media sites, forums, and other internet service providers are generally not liable for defamatory statements posted by their users. This immunity has been pivotal in the development of the internet, as it allows for a free exchange of ideas without the threat of a defamation lawsuit for every post. However, this does not prevent the individual who actually made the defamatory statement from being held liable.

Defamation Mitigation Act (Apology or Retraction Statutes)
While not a federal statute, many states have enacted laws that allow for the mitigation of damages in defamation cases if the defendant issues a timely and appropriate retraction or apology for the defamatory statement.

These state-level statutes typically provide that if a publisher or broadcaster of a defamatory statement issues a retraction or apology, the injured party's ability to recover damages may be limited. The intent behind these laws is to encourage the resolution of defamation disputes without litigation and to mitigate the harm caused by defamatory statements. While these laws vary by state, they often require the retraction or apology to be made promptly after the publisher learns of the potentially defamatory nature of the statement and to be given a similar level of prominence as the original statement. It is important to note that these statutes do not exist at the federal level, but they are relevant in the context of state law defamation claims.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)
This landmark Supreme Court case established the 'actual malice' standard for defamation cases involving public officials, which has been extended to public figures as well.

In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court held that for a public official to win a defamation lawsuit, they must prove that the statement was made with 'actual malice'—that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not. This high standard was established to protect the freedom of speech under the First Amendment, particularly in relation to speech about public officials and matters of public concern. This case has had a profound impact on defamation law, making it more difficult for public figures to sue for defamation and thereby promoting a more robust and uninhibited public discourse.

How Alex Jones Lost the Sandy Hook Defamation Cases
Alex Jones, a far-right broadcaster, came under fire for defamation over his controversial claims about the Sandy Hook school shooting. Now, juries will decide how much he must pay the families in damages and court costs.