Media Law Handbook



3. What must a libel plaintiff prove?
1. Libel

2. Who can sue for libel?

Any living person.[4]  Unlike property rights, which survive death and can be passed on to heirs, personal rights, including the right to reputation, die with the individual.[5] 

A corporation.  A corporation can sue for libel to vindicate its corporate reputation or the reputation of its product.

An unincorporated association, organization or society, including a labor union, charitable foundation or fraternal organization.  Suits by such groups are uncommon.  However, it is possible for a religious or charitable organization, for example, to sue if a news story damages its ability to raise money or attract members.

Agencies and units of government — cities, counties, states, the U.S. government — may not sue for libel.  Because in a democratic society citizens have the right to criticize and comment upon their government, courts consistently have held that governments cannot be defamed.  However, individual government officials and employees can — and do — sue for libel when they feel their individual reputations are harmed by news stories.


[4] N.C. Gen. Stat. §28A-18-1 (2011); Gilliken v. Bell, 254 N.C. 244, 118 S.E.2d 609 (1961).

[5] See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 560 (1977).

3. What must a libel plaintiff prove?
1. Libel

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