Law of Defamation: Meaning & Significance

Since the very beginning of civil governance, defamation—or appropriating someone else's fame—has been a crime subject to the threat of imprisonment. In his book Artha Sastra, Kautilya referred to it as "Vakarushyam" and provided a penalty for "man had" while keeping in mind the social circumstances of the period. Modern legal experts consider defamation to be an injury to a person's reputation. Since reputation is regarded as property, any damage to it may result in legal action on both a criminal and civil level.

Defamation is a crime that is defined in Section 499. With four explanations and 10 exceptions, it is fairly thorough. Defamation is obviously considered a criminal offence under this provision. Although our nation lacks a defined civil law of defamation, the harmed party does have the option of bringing a common law civil lawsuit. There have recently been unsuccessful attempts to enact a comprehensive statute that would encompass both civil and criminal defamation offences.

What is Defamation?

A person's reputation is damaged when false comments about them are spread about them, according to the dictionary definition of defamation. Defamation is the purposeful, intentional, and knowing publication or utterance of a false and untrue statement with the intent to harm another person's reputation. A man's reputation is considered his property, and any harm to it is illegal. It might be spoken or written. Libel refers to defamatory written, printed, or typed information or images, whereas slander refers to defamatory spoken language.

Roman law and German law both have a long history of addressing defamation. In Roman law, abusive chanting was punished by death. The punishment for insults in early English and German law was to have the tongue cut out. Only the imputing of criminal activity, social sickness, or the casting of doubt on one's professional capacity constituted slander in England in the late 18th century. Imputation of unchastity became unlawful after the Slander of Women Act was passed. Defamation laws in France were fairly strict. Conspicuous retractions of libellous material from newspapers were harshly punished, and the only valid defence when the publication included public figures was the truth. In Italy, defamation is illegal and is rarely justified by the facts.

Defamation law in India

  • The Constitution's Article 19 grants its citizens a number of liberties. However, the reasonable exemption to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1) has been imposed by Article 19(2). Among the exceptions are contempt of court, slander, and incitement to commit a crime.

  • Both civil and criminal laws consider defamation to be a crime. Defamation is a crime under the Law of Torts in civil law, and the victim may be given damages as compensation. Defamation is a compoundable, non-cognizable, and bailable offence under criminal law. So, only an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate may be used by a police officer. According to the Indian Penal Code, the offence is punishable by a simple sentence of up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.

Laws for Defamation
Civil Defamation Criminal Defamation

Civil Defamation

It means −

  • The assertions must be untrue and made without the permission of the putative victim of defamation. The defendant may be held liable for financial damages for defamation. For a defamation lawsuit to be successful, there are specific prerequisites.

  • There must be a derogatory statement present. Defamatory content is intended to harm the reputation of an individual or group of individuals by subjecting them to animosity, scorn, or ridicule. It must be determined from the perspective of the average person and his understanding of the issue to determine whether it hurts their reputation.

  • It has to be communicated either verbally or in writing. Defamation cannot occur until the information is made available to a third party. The recipient needs a third party to read letters to him when they are received in a language he is not familiar with. Even though it was delivered as a private letter and a third party was required to read it, if a defamatory statement is made in it, it will still be considered slander.

The defendant may raise the following defences

  • Fair statements based on true incidents made in the public interest;

  • The statement published was true;

  • Even if their statements are false, some people have the right to speak up.

Criminal Defamation

It means −

  • It is merely defamation for which a sentence of simple jail may be imposed. In a criminal lawsuit, defamation must have been intended. The claim must be made with the deliberate intent to harm another person, or at the very least, it must be known that the publication is likely to harm another person. The act's motivation must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if it was intended to harm another's reputation.

  • The definition of defamation and its exceptions are provided in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Words or indications that are attributed with malice aforethought or with awareness that such attribution will result in malice. Any accusations made against a deceased person may qualify as defamation if they would have damaged their reputation if they were still alive.


A person who uses defamatory language is exempt from punishment if they fall within one of the ten categories stated in Section 499 of Indian Penal Code. the following −

  • Any imputed truth that serves the general welfare. Rarely is truth upheld unless it benefits the greater good.

  • Any judgement of a public servant's conduct while doing their job that is made in good faith.

  • Any sincere assessment of another person’s behaviour that touches on a public problem.

  • Any honest assessment of the strengths or weaknesses of a civil or criminal case that has been decided by the Court of Justice, or the actions of any party, witness, or agent in such a case, and only that.

  • If spoken in good faith, comments made concerning the quality of any performance that its creator has left up for public judgment—or about the author—do not constitute defamation.

  • Defamation is not committed when someone is condemned by someone who does not have any authority over them, whether that authority comes from a law, a valid contract, or something else. A formal declaration of strong displeasure is called censure.

  • Defamation does not apply when someone is falsely accused of an offence by someone who has legal authority over the person being accused of the offence. Children complaining to parents and bosses about their employees are the exceptions.

  • If a statement is made to further the interests of the speaker or any other person or for the good of the community, it does not constitute a defamation of character.

Damages in Defamation
Actual Damages General Damages Punitive Damages


Everyone can benefit from having a good reputation. Such an asset can be legally repaired if it is damaged. Laws against defamation have been put in place to stop people from utilizing their freedom of speech and expression for malevolent purposes. To its credit, Indian law does not distinguish between libel and slander. Otherwise, there might have been opportunities to commit defamation and break the rule that nothing should be published in writing.

A person cannot be defamed with the aim of harming them, and intentional acts of defamation are also punishable by jail. The right to free speech and expression is reasonably limited by the defamation law, which is likewise constitutional. If the actions taken fall under the listed exceptions, it is not defamation nonetheless.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is an example of defamation?

Ans. Defamation accounts a false statement, which is presented as a fact with the intention to causes injury or damage to the character of other person. For example, Mr. X, who is a well-known businessperson of the city, has an illicit love affair with a prostitute.

Q2. What are the major types of defamation?

Ans. Libel and slander are the two major types of defamation.

Q3. Which law defines defamation in Indian?

Ans. Section 499 of Indian Penal Code defines “Defamation” and section 500 defines punishment.

Updated on: 14-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started