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Defamation law in Australia

in Business Law by Jeremy Zimet on

Everyone has the right to have their reputation protected. If your reputation has been harmed by defamatory comments or publications, then you should promptly seek legal advice.

Although there is no strict definition of what can and cannot be considered defamatory, in summary, a publication will be capable of conveying defamatory meanings if the words spoken or published harm someone’s reputation by exposing them to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.

A defamatory publication can be spoken or broadcast words, written words, or a symbol or gesture.

Claims alleging defamation can be brought by private individuals, incorporated associations and in some instances, companies or corporate entities.

Can a company be defamed?

A corporation may bring a claim for defamation in Australia, if either:

  • the objects for which the company has been formed do not include obtaining financial gain for its members (e.g. a not-for-profit organisation); or
  • the company has less than 10 full time equivalent employees.

A director or officer of a company may also have a claim for defamation if the publication which allegedly carries the defamatory imputations identifies those employees with sufficient certainty.

However, if a company has more than 10 full time equivalent employees and wishes to bring a complaint relating to the publication of false information, the tort of injurious falsehood may be a cause of action available for the company to seek relief.

Cross border defamation and Australia

Online communication takes place almost instantaneously across multiple jurisdictions. Emails and Facebook posts can be authored from anywhere in the world, with many social platforms hosted online in the USA.

From an Australian perspective, this raises significant issues for a person or company who wishes to protect their reputation with the assistance of the Courts. Specifically, when does an Australian Court have jurisdiction to hear claims involving the exchange of international defamatory material?

This type of matter may be determined by an Australian Court, if the publication is accessed and read in Australia. This type of matter is however not a settled proposition.

Online media and defamation

The landscape of where a publication can occur is changing rapidly, and it’s no surprise that we’re going to see more defamation claims arise from defamatory posts online.

Read more on our blog – 5 things to know about social media defamation.

Time limits for commencing defamation proceedings in Australia

There are strict limitations for bringing a claim for defamation. You must commence an action for defamation within one year of the date of publication. This time frame may only be extended in very limited circumstances.

For assistance in matters relating defamation, contact Slater and Gordon using the form below.

Jeremy Zimet
Commercial & Project Litigation, Associate
View profile

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