[ lahy-buh l ]
/ ˈlaɪ bəl /


  1. defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.
  2. the act or crime of publishing it.
  3. a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.
anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.

verb (used with object), li·beled, li·bel·ing or (especially British) li·belled, li·bel·ling.

to publish a libel against.
to misrepresent damagingly.
to institute suit against by a libel, as in an admiralty court.



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Origin of libel

1250–1300; Middle English: little book, formal document, especially plaintiff's statement < Latin libellus, diminutive of liber book; for formation, see castellum


in·ter·li·bel, verb (used with object), in·ter·li·beled, in·ter·li·bel·ing or (especially British) in·ter·li·belled, in·ter·li·bel·ling.un·li·beled, adjectiveun·li·belled, adjective


liable libeldefamation libel slanderdefame libel slander

Definition for libel (2 of 4)

libel tourism


the act of suing a writer for alleged defamation in a foreign jurisdiction where there are weak libel laws.

historical usage of libel tourism

The term libel tourism was coined somewhat cynically to describe taking advantage of the legal system of a foreign country where it is easier for you to file a libel lawsuit against a writer or journalist for publishing serious criticisms of or accusations against you. The United Kingdom, for example, has been a favorite venue for a so-called libel tourist to sue for libel, because traditionally under British law the burden of proof rests with the defendant (the accused author and/or publisher), who must establish to the satisfaction of both judge and jury that the published statements in dispute are not defamatory. This contrasts sharply with U.S. law in which it is the plaintiff (the person filing the suit) who must establish not only that a critical statement made about him or her is untrue, but also that it was published with a reckless intent to do harm. After several high-profile libel suits filed in the U.K. against U.S. authors resulted in judgments against the authors—lawsuits that, in the opinion of many jurists, probably would not have held up in a U.S. court of law—Congress in 2010 passed the SPEECH (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) Act. The title of the act speaks volumes: foreign libel judgments are no longer enforceable in the U.S. unless they meet the same high legal standards in libel matters as required by U.S. law, including that they do not violate the First Amendment right of free speech of an American author. Thus the tourist must return home.

Definition for libel (3 of 4)

libel tourist


someone who engages in libel tourism.

Definition for libel (4 of 4)

blood libel


the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals: blood libels that spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.
Also called blood accusation. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for libel

British Dictionary definitions for libel

/ (ˈlaɪbəl) /


  1. the publication of defamatory matter in permanent form, as by a written or printed statement, picture, etc
  2. the act of publishing such matter
any defamatory or unflattering representation or statement
ecclesiastical law a claimant's written statement of claim
Scots law the formal statement of a charge

verb -bels, -belling or -belled or US -bels, -beling or -beled (tr)

Derived forms of libel

libeller or libelist, nounlibellous or libelous, adjective

Word Origin for libel

C13 (in the sense: written statement), hence C14 legal sense: a plaintiff's statement, via Old French from Latin libellus a little book, from liber a book
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for libel


A written, printed, or pictorial statement that unjustly defames someone publicly. Prosecution of libel as a punishable offense puts some measure of restriction on freedom of the press under the First Amendment (see also First Amendment).

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.