What is defamation?
Generally, defamation is a false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone's reputation, and published "with fault," meaning as a result of negligence or malice.
Libel is a written defamation; slander is a spoken defamation. Until the recent development of podcasts, YouTube videos and streaming, defamation on the internet was largely designated libel. But whether an online case of accused defamation should fall under either category of libel or slander will not be nearly as meaningful as whether the activity satisfies the basic defamation criteria. What is most important, then, is to focus on whether the actual statement is defamatory.
What laws govern online defamation?
While there are very few or no specific online defamation acts, libel lawsuits that cite the Communications Decency Act have been successfully been tried in courts around the world.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 can be viewed in full at the FCC website - http://www.fcc.gov/Reports/tcom1996.txt
What should I know about suing for defamation?
Much of the difficulty in successfully winning an online defamation case is due to the plaintiff having to prove:
(1) who the publisher or writer of the statement is,
(2) that the statement is false, and
(3) written with the intention of causing damage.
While it’s certainly possible to find out which computer was used to to post the defamatory comment, tracking it to an individual can be very difficult.
Whether you can sue under state laws is a complicated issue that depends on what state you live in, what state the alleged defamer lives in, and the contacts that the defamer has had with your state, if any. If you think that you have been defamed online, you should contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options and the best course of action.
A statute of limitations does exist for online content, and while these statutes differ in some states, the most common statute lasts for a period of twelve months. This period starts from when the comment is first posted online.
Legal action should be considered a last resort because it can prove very costly and results can vary. However, if this does appear to be your final option, you can start with issuing a “cease and desist” letter, eventually culminating in a lawsuit that involves damages and punitive costs.