Updated: May 20
Defamation is the general word for a legal claim involving injury to one's reputation caused by a false statement of fact and includes both libel (defamation in written or fixed form) and slander (spoken defamation). Defamation is an oral or written communication of a false statement about someone else that harms the reputation of that person.
In India defamation is both civil and criminal offences and the Indian penal code, 1860 deals with the offense of defamation. From section-499 to section-502 deals with the defamation.
What is defamation?
(Section-499) Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
Section 499 also cites exceptions. These include “imputation of truth” which is required for the “public good” and thus has to be published, on the public conduct of government officials, the conduct of any person touching any public question and merits of the public performance.
Any person intentionally by words either oral or written or by any action do such wrongful action to harm the dignity or reputation of any person, then it is said to defame that person.
The section requires three essentials:
1. Making or publishing any imputation concerning any person.
2. Such imputation must have been made by-
a) Words, either spoken or intended to be read; or
b) Signs; or
c) Visible representations.
3. Such imputation was made with the intention of harming or with knowledge or reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of the person concerning to whom it was made.
Punishment for defamation:-
(Section-500) Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
The quantum of punishment according to this section may extend to two years, whether with or without fine.
In Rekhabai v. Dattatraya, it was held that where an offence of defamation is committed through the letter, the case can be tried either at the place where the letter was written and posted or at the place where the letter was received and read.
Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory:-
(Section-501) Whoever prints or engraves any matter, knowing or having good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory of any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
In this section it clearly defines the punishment for the defamation by publishing and engraves the matter and makes the publisher liable for it.
For the application of this section two things are important-the the accused has printed or engraved a defamatory matter and the accused knew or had reason to believe that such matter was defamatory.
Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter:-
(Section-502) Whoever sells or offers for sale any printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter, knowing that it contains such matter, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
This section clearly deals with the previous section in which publishing and engraver were punishable and in this section the publisher is punishable (making the seller of defamatory matter punishable).
The publisher will only punishable if- Selling or offering for sale any printed or engraved substance, and knowledge that substance contains defamatory matter.