Legal Definition and Related Resources of Libel

Meaning of Libel

defamation in a permanent form, as distinguished from slander which is defamation by spoken words. A defamatory statement , which, when published, tends to expose the complainant, in the minds of ordinary people, to contempt , hatred or ridicule, or conveys an imputation disparaging the complainant in his trade . See defamation and slander. Also see Per quod and Per se. In some jurisdictions libel is defined by statute . To constitute libel the defamatory matter must be published by writing , printÂing, picture, effigy, or some other form of communication which has the potential harmful qualities characteristic of written or printed words. See Bennett v Norban, 396 Pa. 94, 141 A.2d 476.

Libel Alternative Definition

In Practice. A written statement by a plaintiff, in ecclesiastical and admiralty courts, of his cause of action, and of the relief he seeks to obtain in a suit. Law, Ecc. Law, 17; Ayliffe, Par. 346; Shelf. Mar. & Div. 506; Dunl. Adm. Prac. 111. It performs substantially the same office in the ecclesiastical courts, and those courts which follow the practice of the ecclesiastical courts, as the bill in chancery and the declaration in common-law practice. In Torts. That which la written or printed, and published, calculated to injure the character of another by bringing him into ridicule, hatred, or contempt. Parke, J., 15 Mees. & W. 344. Everything, written or printed, which reflects on the character of another, and is published without lawful justification or excuse, is a libel, whatever the intention may have been. 15 Mees. & W. 487. A malicious defamation, expressed either in printing or writing, or by signs or pictures, and tending either to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or the reputation of one who is alive, and expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule. 1 Hawk. P. C. bk. 1, c. 73, i 1; 4 Mass. 168; 2 Pick. (Mass.) 115; 9 Johns. (N. Y.) 214; 1 Denio (N. Y.) 347; 24 Wend. (N. Y.) 434; 9 Barn & C. 172; 4 Man. & R. 127; 2 Kent, Comm. 13. It has been defined, perhaps, with more precision, to be a censorious or ridiculous writing, picture, or sign made with a malicious or mischievous intent towards government, magistrates, or individuals. 3 Johns. Cas. (N. Y.) 354; 9 Johni. (N. Y.) 215; 5 Bin. (Pa.) 340. Any publication not oral, which exposes a person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or tends to injure him in his business or calling, impairing his standing in society, or cause him to be shunned or avoided by his neighbors. Odgers, Libel & S. 22.

Libel Legal Definition

A method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures or signs. In its most general sense any publication that injures the reputation of another.

Synonyms of Libel


  • accuse falsely
  • accuse in writing
  • asperse
  • besmirch
  • calumniate
  • censure
  • condemn
  • debase
  • decry
  • defame
  • defame by a published writing
  • degrade
  • denigrate
  • denounce
  • derogate
  • discredit
  • discredit in writing
  • disparage
  • expose to public contempt
  • impair one’s reputation
  • incriminate
  • injure another’s reputation
  • injure by a published writing
  • injure one’s reputation
  • maliciously defame
  • malign
  • publish a falsehood
  • revile
  • ridicule
  • scandalize
  • slander
  • slur
  • smear
  • traduce
  • vilify
  • Associated Concepts: absolute privilege
  • actionable libel
  • actual malice
  • criminal libel
  • defamation
  • defense of truth
  • disparagement
  • First Amendment
  • libel per quod
  • libel per se
  • privileged communication
  • publication
  • qualified privileged
  • republication
  • slander
  • trade libel


  • accusation
  • aspersion
  • calumny
  • carmen famosum
  • censorious writing
  • defamation
  • defamatory writing
  • degradation
  • denigration
  • denunciation
  • disparagement
  • false accusation
  • false publication
  • false statement
  • falsehood
  • falseness
  • falsification
  • impairment of reputation
  • impeachment of virtue
  • injury to character
  • injury to one’s reputation
  • invective
  • libellus famosus
  • malicious defamation
  • malicious falsehood
  • malicious publication
  • revilement
  • slur
  • smear
  • vilification
  • writing that discredits
  • written accusation
  • Associated Concepts: actionable libel
  • libel per quod
  • libel per se
  • publication of libel
  • slander

Related Entries of Libel in the Encyclopedia of Law Project

Browse or run a search for Libel in the American Encyclopedia of Law, the Asian Encyclopedia of Law, the European Encyclopedia of Law, the UK Encyclopedia of Law or the Latin American and Spanish Encyclopedia of Law.

Libel in Historical Law

You might be interested in the historical meaning of this term. Browse or search for Libel in Historical Law in the Encyclopedia of Law.

Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms

Search for legal acronyms and/or abbreviations containing Libel in the Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms Dictionary.

Related Legal Terms

You might be also interested in these legal terms:

Mentioned in these terms

Absolute Privilege, Actual Malice, Calumny, Communicate, Consultation, Contestation Of Suit, Defamation, Fair Comment, Innuendo, Rolled-up Plea, Single Publication Rule.


You might be interested in these references tools:

Resource Description
Libel in the Dictionary Libel in our legal dictionaries
Browse the Legal Thesaurus Find synonyms and
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Legal Maxims Maxims are established principles that jurists use as interpretive tools, invoked more frequently in international law
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Related topics Libel in the World Encyclopedia of Law


This definition of Libel is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary . This entry needs to be proofread.

Vocabularies (Semantic Web Information)


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Topic Map A group of names, occurrences and associations
Topic Tree A topic display format, showing the hierarchy
Sitemap Index Sitemap Index, including Taxonomies The URI of Libel (more about URIs)

Libel in the Dictionary of Law consisting of Judicial Definitions and Explanations of Words, Phrases and Maxims

Middle English libel, a brief writing: Latin libellus, a little book, a pamphlet; Libellus famosus, a defamatory pamphlet, 4 Bl. Com. 150. In the civil law, the declaration of an action. In ecclesiatical law, the formal complaint. 3 Bl. Com. 100. Slander by written or printed words, pictures, signs, or the like. 3 Bl. Com. 125.

Note: This legal definition of Libel in the Dictionary of Law (English and American Jurisprudence) is from 1893.

English Spanish Translation of Libel

Difamar, Calumniar, Calumnia

Find other English to Spanish translations from the Pocket Spanish English Legal Dictionary (print and online), the English to Spanish to English dictionaries (like Libel) and the Word reference legal translator.

Libel in Law Enforcement

Main Entry: Law Enforcement in the Legal Dictionary. This section provides, in the context of Law Enforcement, a partial definition of libel.


This term is a noun.

Etimology of Libel

(You may find libel at the world legal encyclopedia and the etimology of more terms).

c. 1300, “formal written statement, a writing of any kind,” especially, in civil law, “plaintiff’s statement of charges” (mid-14c.); from Old French libelle (fem.) “small book; (legal) charge, claim; writ; written report” (13c.), from Latin libellus “a little book, pamphlet; petition, written accusation, complaint,” diminutive of liber “book” (see library). Meaning “false or defamatory statement” is from 1610s. Specific legal sense of “any published or written statement likely to harm a person’s reputation” is first attested 1630s.

Meaning of Libel in Spanish

Description/ translation of libel into Spanish: delito contra el honor (injuria o calumnia) cometido a través de la prensa[1]

Note: for more information on related terms and on the area of law where libel belongs (criminal procedure law), in Spanish, see here.

Notes and References

  1. Translation of Libel published by Antonio Peñaranda


See Also

  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police Work
  • Law Enforcement Agency

Further Reading

Meaning of Libel in the U.S. Legal System

Definition of Libel published by the National Association for Court Management: Published words or pictures that falsely and maliciously defame a person. Libel is published defamation; slander is spoken.




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