III. Conveying defamatory matter to others

Under the law of defamation, publication is the communication or making known by one person (the publisher) to another (the third party) of defamatory matters about and concerning the person defamed. It is not confined in printing and distribution of books/newspapers/magazines. If the words complained of have been told/disclosed/ disseminated (in written or oral form) to a third party, those words are considered to have been "published". To establish a claim for defamation, the plaintiff has to prove publication of the defamatory words by the defendant.

Suppose that there are only 3 persons involved in a case. If Mr. A published something defaming Mr. B to Mr. C, then Mr. A (i.e. the publisher) may be liable for defamation. The publication does not need to be made to a group of people (although the level of damage would be much lower if the defamatory matter is only published to a single person).

  1. If the defamatory words were neither written by me nor originate from me, and I have simply repeated the publication to others, will I be liable for defamation?
  2. If I only talk to my wife about another person, and some of the words I use are defamatory, will I be liable for publishing defamatory matter about the other person?
  3. If we just talked about a colleague in the company office, will such a conversation be regarded as publication under defamation law?
  4. If I sent an article defamatory of X in a sealed envelope addressed to my best friend (Y) but the letter was opened by Y's secretaries and assistants, will I be liable for the publication of the defamatory article to these other persons?
  5. If we are employers, to what extent are we liable for the acts of our employees after they have published something defamatory of others?
  6. In a public place, person C talked to another person B in a loud voice, accusing a 3rd party (A) of some wrong doing. The conversation was defamatory of A. What C said was recorded by a member of the public who then uploaded the conversation to a website on the Internet. In these circumstances, C will be liable for the publication of those defamatory words against A when his conversation is heard by the public. However, when the public hear what C said on the Internet, who will be liable for the publication of the defamatory words?
  7. If defamatory words about a person were placed on an internet website by users/viewers of the website, will that website (or the person/company in charge of it) be liable for defamation?
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