NounTo meet the Supreme Court's definition of libel involving a public figure, a quotation must not only be made up or materially altered. It must also defame the person quoted, and damage his or her reputation or livelihood …—Jane Gross, New York Times, 5 June 1993It is relevant to note that in 1987 the suit against Ms. Malcolm was dismissed … in a narrow ruling that stated that even if the quotations were "false and mischievous," Ms. Malcolm's alterations did not represent malicious intent and therefore did not constitute libel.—Fred W. Friendly, New York Times Book Review, 25 Feb. 1990The above is not only a flat lie but a political libel which may possibly damage me. Publish it at your peril …—Bernard Shaw, letter, 16 Sept. 1949In their tiresome addiction to this use of alleged, the newspapers, though having mainly in mind the danger of libel suits, can urge in further justification the lack of any other single word that exactly expresses their meaning; but the fact that a mud-puddle supplies the shortest route is not a compelling reason for walking through it.—Ambrose Bierce, Write It Right, 1909
He sued the newspaper for libel.
The newspaper was found guilty of libel.
The newspaper's attorneys argued that the article was not a libel. VerbAnd in Oklahoma last year, lawyers filed a class-action suit against a group supporting tort reform, saying they had libeled trial lawyers.—Judith Miller, New York Times, 11 June 1996Government officials, he observed, were public servants who remained accountable to the people and therefore could not be libeled for their performance in office.—Leonard W. Levy, Emergence of a Free Press, 1985
The jury found that the article libeled him.
the court decided that the newspaper's reportage of the former mayor, while irresponsible, did not constitute an effort to libel him See More
Recent Examples on the Web
But other news outlets largely ignored the story, and Mr. Kitagawa won a libel suit against Shukan Bunshun’s publisher.—Ben Dooley, New York Times, 7 Sep. 2023 But the question is, will plaintiffs be successful in suing generative AI companies for libel?—Michelle Cheng, Quartz, 7 June 2023 Kitagawa, for his part, denied the accusations and sued Shukan Bunshun for libel.—Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 30 Aug. 2023 Ratner denied all the allegations and sued Kohler for libel in her home state of Hawaii hours after the Munn-Henstridge story was published, but dropped his lawsuit after the two reached a settlement the next year.—Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times, 25 Aug. 2023 The women testified before the congressional Jan. 6 committee about their ordeal and sued several Trump backers, including former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for libel.—Nicholas Riccardi and David Klepper, Anchorage Daily News, 21 Aug. 2023 The scale of abuse and the Japanese media’s part in covering up the allegations, which were first disclosed in the 1990s by the Shukan Bunshun magazine and were heard in open court as far back as 2003 in a libel suit, make the Johnny’s case a major scandal.—Patrick Frater, Variety, 7 Aug. 2023 In the countersuit, Depp was found guilty of one charge of libel and Heard was awarded $2 million.—Eric Lagatta, USA TODAY, 27 July 2023 But while Kitagawa may have lost the libel case, no criminal charges were ever brought against him.—Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 30 Aug. 2023
This quickly arose this question: What happens when somebody libels somebody in an online forum?—The Politics Of Everything, The New Republic, 10 May 2023 Don't libel anybody, and mind your language.—Karen Martin, Arkansas Online, 23 Aug. 2020 The jury of nine began deliberations on Friday afternoon and on Tuesday said the newspaper did not libel the former vice presidential nominee through a 2017 editorial.—Marina Pitofsky, USA TODAY, 16 Feb. 2022 Its self-righteous blinders have led it to reflexively libel even accomplished scholars.—A. J. Caschetta, National Review, 26 July 2021 The real industry is the network of academics, lawyers, activists, and funders who libel and slander critics of Islamism, even those who cautiously stipulate between Islam and Islamism.—A. J. Caschetta, National Review, 26 July 2021 Krull said one of the main things to consider is whether Dakich libeled or defamed anyone.—Dana Hunsinger Benbow, Indianapolis Star, 25 Mar. 2020 In 1964, the US Supreme Court, in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, raised the standard for public officials to prove they’d been libeled in their official capacity by news organizations.—BostonGlobe.com, 9 Mar. 2020 There’s no law against defaming, slandering or libeling the dead.—Danielle Bacher, Billboard, 3 Apr. 2019 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'libel.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Noun and Verb
Middle English, written declaration, from Anglo-French, from Latin libellus, diminutive of liber book
: something spoken, written, or drawn that injures a person's good name
: the act or crime of publishing a libel
2 of 2verb
libeled or libelled; libeling or libelling
: to hurt by a libel
Middle English libel "a written statement, little book" from early French libel (same meaning), from Latin libellus, "little book," from liber "book" — related to library
The ancient Romans used the Latin noun liber to refer to the inner bark of a tree. Because this material was used to write on before the introduction of papyrus to Rome from Egypt, liber came to be applied to a written document, especially a lengthy one. After papyrus became common, a liber was usually an entire papyrus scroll, hence a "book." Libellus, the diminutive form of liber, was borrowed into French as libelle, which was in turn borrowed into English as libel. Originally libel was used in the sense "little book," but in the 1500s handbills and leaflets, being likened to little books, were also called libels. Because they were a popular means of spreading gossip about famous people, the meaning of libel was extended to such injurious statements as well as to the crime of writing them.
Although libel is defined under state case law or statute, the U.S. Supreme Court has enumerated some First Amendment protections that apply to matters of public concern. In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Court held that in order to recover damages a public person (as a celebrity or politician) who alleges libel (as by a newspaper) has to prove that “the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not” in order to recover damages. The Court has also held that the states cannot allow a private person to recover damages for libel against a media defendant without a showing of fault (as negligence) on the defendant's part. These protections do not apply to matters that are not of public concern (as an individual's credit report) and that are not published by a member of the mass media. A libel plaintiff must generally establish that the alleged libel refers to him or her specifically, that it was published to others, and that some injury (as to reputation) occurred that gives him or her a right to recover damages (as actual, general, presumed, or special damages). The defendant may plead and establish the truth of the statements as a defense. Criminal libel may have additional elements, as in tending to provoke a breach of peace or in blackening the memory of someone who is dead, and may not have to be published to someone other than the person libeled.
2 of 2transitive verb
libeled also libelled; libeling also libelling
: to make or publish a libel against : to hurt the reputation of by libel
respondent's complaint alleged that he had been libeled by statements in a full-page advertisement—New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)
: to proceed against in law by filing a libel (as against a ship or goods)
several French ships were libeled in Boston—J. K. Owens
Anglo-French, from Latin libellus, diminutive of liber book