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A man’s reputation is his property. The objective of law of defamation is to protect one’s reputation, honor, integrity, character and dignity in the society. A person aggrieved may file a criminal prosecution as well as a civil suit for damages for defamation.

Defamation is intentional false communication, act of publication of defamatory content, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation, or induces disparaging, hostile or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.

The right to take legal action for defamation is restricted to a period of one year

Defamatory statements can be made as libel or as slander:

Libel: the publication of a false and defamatory statement to injure the reputation of another person without lawful justification or excuse. The statement must be in a printed form, e.g. writing, printing, pictures, statue, etc.

Slander: A false and defamatory statement by spoken words and/or gestures tending to injure the reputation of others.

Remedies available under Indian Law:

India offers the defamed a remedy both in civil law for damages and in criminal law for punishment. In Civil Law, defamation falls under the Law of Torts, which imposes punishment in the form of damages awarded to the claimant (person filing the claim). Under Criminal Law, Defamation is bailable, non-cognizable and compoundable offence.  Limitation to file criminal defamation complaint is 3 years from the period of knowledge of offence. The civil remedy is to file a suit for damages and section 499 and 500 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals in criminal defamation.

In case of Criminal Defamation, a private Complaint is filed before the Judicial Magistrate.

In Civil Defamation, a person who is defamed can move the competent Court having pecuniary jurisdiction and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation. Under Section 19 of Civil Procedure Code (CPC) civil suit can be filed either where the Defendant resides or where the Defamatory statement was made/published.

Court Fees for Civil Defamation suit is to be paid in accordance to the value of the monetary compensation claimed. Court Fees varies State to State.

Essential Ingredients of Defamation:

Regardless of whether a defamation action is framed in libel or slander, the plaintiff must always prove the following:

  1. That the words, pictures, gestures, etc. are defamatory.
  2. That the plaintiff must show that they refer to him.
  3. That they were maliciously published.

Publication means making the defamatory matter known to some other 3rd party and unless the content is published – made available to someone other than the claimant, there can no defamation.

Defamation on social networking websites:

Social media and networking websites have occupied an insurmountable space in our lives. In the current age of lightning fast communication channels and the fast growing Social Networking Websites, majority of the people suffer from an urge to put up their thoughts and opinions about different matters and incidents on these Social Networking Websites. With the proliferation of social networking websites and their widespread use, especially amongst the youth, one observes certain legal loopholes in their operation and use. One such glaring drawback is the opportunity they provide for "cyber-defamation" or "virtual defamation" to mushroom.

Under the operative Indian law, the person who made such statement as well as its distributor and publishers can be sued. Apart from the author of such statement, intermediaries such as the concerned Social Networking Websites, the website holder, the internet service providers, as well as the other users of such Social Networking Websites on whose profiles defamatory statements have been written by the author, can be sued in their capacity as a publisher of defamatory statements and can be held liable for such statements. After the Information Technology Amendment Act 2008 became effective, intermediaries such as Social Networking Websites became immune from any defamation liability provided such intermediaries acted bonafide or came within the purview of the exemptions envisaged under the amendment.

Some common Defenses/Exceptions to Defamation:

There are following exceptions for Defamation under Sec. 499 IPC:-

  • Imputation of truth which public good requires be making or publishing.
  • Public conduct of public servant.
  • Conduct of any person touching any public question.
  • Publication of reports of proceedings of courts.
  • Merits of the case decided in court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned.
  • Merits of Public performance.
  • Censure passed in good faith by person having lawful authority over another.
  • Accusation preferred in good faith to authorized person.
  • Imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or other’s interests.

- As on 1st July 2019