2020 Georgia Code
Title 51 - Torts
Chapter 5 - Libel and Slander
§ 51-5-3. What Constitutes Publication of Libel

Universal Citation: GA Code § 51-5-3 (2020)

A libel is published as soon as it is communicated to any person other than the party libeled.

(Orig. Code 1863, § 2918; Code 1868, § 2925; Code 1873, § 2976; Code 1882, § 2976; Civil Code 1895, § 3834; Civil Code 1910, § 4430; Code 1933, § 105-705.)

Law reviews.

- For comment on Walter v. Davidson, 214 Ga. 187, 104 S.E.2d 113 (1958), holding that defamatory statements made by a member of faculty before a chaplain, another member of faculty, are privileged as a result of their relationship as colleagues, see 21 Ga. B. J. 239 (1958). For comment on Arvey Corp. v. Peterson, 178 F. Supp. 132 (E.D. Pa. 1959), finding dictation of material to stenographer sufficient publication to support an action for libel, see 11 Mercer L. Rev. 381 (1960). For comment on Rives v. Atlanta Newspaper, Inc., Case No. 40617, Ga. App., July 16, 1964, rehearing denied, July 30, 1964, see 1 Ga. St. B. J. 236 (1964). For comment, "Room for Error Online: Revising Georgia's Retraction Statute to Accommodate the Rise of Internet Media," see 28 Ga. St. U.L. Rev. 923 (2012).

JUDICIAL DECISIONS

Necessity of publication.

- Before there can be a recovery for libel under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-1, there must be communication to any person other than the party libeled. Sigmon v. Womack, 158 Ga. App. 47, 279 S.E.2d 254 (1981).

A parent's claims of defamation against a school official were either time-barred or, if viable, failed as a matter of law because: (1) there was no claim that the alleged defamatory letter was published to anyone other than the parent; and (2) without publication, there could be no cause of action for defamation. Chisolm v. Tippens, 289 Ga. App. 757, 658 S.E.2d 147 (2008), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 576, 172 L. Ed. 2d 431 (2008).

Statute of limitations barred claim.

- Conspiracy to defame action against a police officer was properly dismissed on statute of limitations grounds as: (1) under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-3, a libel was published as soon as it was communicated, and the claim accrued no later than the date of the officer's last communication with the newspaper defendants; (2) there was no evidence that the officer directed or procured the reporters to record and publish the officer's comments; (3) under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, a party had one year from the date that a slanderous statement was uttered or published to bring suit; (4) case law did not support the teenager's claim that the limitation period for conspiracy to defame ran from the date of the publication of the articles; and (5) an invasion of privacy claim was not an injury to the teenager's person and was not subject to the two-year limitation period in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 since the interest protected was clearly that of reputation. Torrance v. Morris Publ'g Group, LLC, 281 Ga. App. 563, 636 S.E.2d 740 (2006), cert. denied, 2007 Ga. LEXIS 160 (Ga. 2007).

Printing libel is regarded as publication when possession of the printed matter is delivered with the expectation that it will be read by some third person, provided that such result actually follows. Colonial Stores, Inc. v. Barrett, 73 Ga. App. 839, 38 S.E.2d 306 (1946).

Word "communicated" and word "publication" are broad enough to include reading aloud of written defamation. Garren v. Southland Corp., 235 Ga. 784, 221 S.E.2d 571 (1976).

Oral communication of written defamation constitutes publication of libel. Garren v. Southland Corp., 235 Ga. 784, 221 S.E.2d 571 (1976).

Libel may be published by transmission thereof through telegraph; the writing of a message and the delivery of it to the telegraph company for transmission to the plaintiff constitutes a publication by the writer of the message. Brandon v. Arkansas Fuel Oil Co., 64 Ga. App. 139, 12 S.E.2d 414 (1940).

Letter written and mailed by one agent of corporation within scope of the agent's employment to another agent of same corporation does not amount to publication so as to constitute a libel as against the corporation. George v. Georgia Power Co., 43 Ga. App. 596, 159 S.E. 756 (1931).

Intracorporate communications.

- Memorandum in which a vice chairperson of an organization alleged that the organization's vice president and treasurer acted improperly in violation of the organization's conflict of interest rules by allowing the treasurer to receive payment for work that the treasurer performed for the organization, was not actionable under O.C.G.A. § 51-5-1(b) because the memorandum was not considered to have been published in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 51-5-3 but instead was an intracorporate memorandum because it was sent only to board members and contained information related to organization business. Koly v. Enney, 269 Fed. Appx. 861 (11th Cir. 2008)(Unpublished).

Circulation of employment evaluation within company not publication.

- There is no publication giving rise to a claim for libel when a report written by the immediate supervisor evaluating the performance of duties by a corporate employee, being critical of the employee and the employee's performance, is sent to the employee personally, to the director of the division of the corporation in which the employee works, to members of the office personnel committee, whose duties include the evaluating of the performance of employees on the job for retention on the job, transfer, promotion or discharge, this being done largely through the use of personnel files maintained on the employees, and to the secretary of the committee who is in charge of the maintenance of the files. Taylor v. St. Joseph Hosp., 136 Ga. App. 831, 222 S.E.2d 671 (1975).

Dictation of letter to stenographer.

- Letter dictated to stenographer and sent to agent of corporation is not published within the meaning of this section. Central of Ga. Ry. v. Jones, 18 Ga. App. 414, 89 S.E. 429 (1916).

Reading termination notice in presence of others.

- That the author of the termination notice read it to the employee in the presence of the co-manager of the store who had general supervisory authority does not constitute publication and, the fact that in filling out an application employee personally informed a prospective employer that the employee was terminated by the employee's previous employer for "misappropriation of company funds" does not constitute a publication of a libel by the former employer; in this regard the employee libeled oneself by the employee's own voluntary action. Sigmon v. Womack, 158 Ga. App. 47, 279 S.E.2d 254 (1981).

Statements in document subpoenaed for workers' compensation hearing.

- Even if the statements were libelous and were published in the workers' compensation hearing, were not actionable inasmuch as the document in which appeared had been subpoenaed by the plaintiff for use in the hearing, and there can be no recovery for an invited libel. Auer v. Black, 163 Ga. App. 787, 294 S.E.2d 616 (1982).

Publication to plaintiff's representatives.

- There is no actionable publication of libel when alleged libelous statements are communicated to one whom the plaintiff had appointed to represent the plaintiff at a meeting with the defendant at the plaintiff's request. King v. Masson, 148 Ga. App. 229, 251 S.E.2d 107 (1978).

Parental liability for social networking posting by teen.

- In a libel action involving a teen creating a disparaging social networking page about another teen, the trial court erred by granting the posting teen's parents summary judgment because a reasonable jury could find that the parents proximately caused some part of the victim's injuries by allowing the false and offensive statements to remain on display and continue to reach readers for an additional 11 months after learning of the teen's actions. Boston v. Athearn, 329 Ga. App. 890, 764 S.E.2d 582 (2014).

The rule, that there is no publication when words are communicated only to person defamed, is subject to exception or qualification. Thus, in the case of a libel, whether the general rule extends to a disclosure by the person libeled is to be determined by the causal relation existing between the libel and the publication. There may be a publication when the sender intends or has reason to suppose that the communication will reach third persons, which happens, or which result naturally flows from the sending. Colonial Stores, Inc. v. Barrett, 73 Ga. App. 839, 38 S.E.2d 306 (1946).

Letter sent to others.

- While letter addressed to person libeled does not constitute publication, copies sent by author to third persons does constitute publication. Brandon v. Arkansas Fuel Oil Co., 64 Ga. App. 139, 12 S.E.2d 414 (1940).

When the plaintiff in action for libel alleges publication of libelous matter at certain designated times and places, the plaintiff cannot at trial show publication at a different time and place from those alleged since such testimony would tend to prove a separate cause of action as each publication of matter shown to be libelous constitutes a separate cause of action. Western Union Tel. Co. v. Vickers, 71 Ga. App. 204, 30 S.E.2d 440 (1944).

"Did publish" as a sufficient allegation.

- The averment in the plaintiff's petition, that the defendant "did publish" the alleged libelous matter, imported a communication to others. Morgan v. Black, 132 Ga. 67, 63 S.E. 821 (1909).

Separate publication not material for amendment.

- An amendment which sought to add to a petition, by declaring upon another and distinct publication alleged to have been libelous, was properly rejected. Colvard v. Black, 110 Ga. 642, 36 S.E. 80 (1900).

Plaintiff may join all previous publications in same petition. Central of Ga. Ry. v. Sheftall, 118 Ga. 865, 45 S.E. 687 (1903).

Burden of proof.

- The plaintiff has the burden of proof on the question of the publication of the defamatory matter; to satisfy this burden, it is necessary that the plaintiff show not only that the defendant spoke or wrote or otherwise prepared the defamatory matter or made it available to a third person, but also that the third person understood its significance. Sigmon v. Womack, 158 Ga. App. 47, 279 S.E.2d 254 (1981).

Invited libel.

- To constitute an invited libel it is enough that the complainant requests or consents to the presence of a third party and solicits the publication of matter which the complainant knows or has reasonable cause to suspect will be unfavorable to the complainant. Sophianopoulos v. McCormick, 192 Ga. App. 583, 385 S.E.2d 682 (1989).

When a university professor sought the assistance of a professional association in resolving a complaint with the professor's superiors and knew that the superiors would respond with information unfavorable to the professor, the professor's actions were sufficient to constitute an invited libel. Sophianopoulos v. McCormick, 192 Ga. App. 583, 385 S.E.2d 682 (1989).

Reevaluation of punitive damages.

- Since the jury might not have awarded the total amount of attorney fees or the sum of $10,000 for punitive damages if were considering the husband's liability alone, reversal of judgment against the wife warranted a new trial for reevaluation of these damages. Roberts v. Lane, 210 Ga. App. 10, 435 S.E.2d 227 (1993).

Cited in Aiken v. Constitution Publishing Co., 72 Ga. App. 250, 33 S.E.2d 555 (1945); American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres, Inc. v. Simpson, 106 Ga. App. 230, 126 S.E.2d 873 (1962); Dickey Constr. Co. v. Georgia S.E. Corp., 116 Ga. App. 791, 159 S.E.2d 180 (1967); Georgia Power Co. v. Busbin, 159 Ga. App. 416, 283 S.E.2d 647 (1981); Mays v. Hospital Auth., 582 F. Supp. 425 (N.D. Ga. 1984); Merritt v. Brantley, 936 F. Supp. 988 (S.D. Ga. 1996); Kramer v. Kroger Co., 243 Ga. App. 883, 534 S.E.2d 446 (2000); Mathis v. Cannon, 276 Ga. 16, 573 S.E.2d 376 (2002); Gettner v. Fitzgerald, 297 Ga. App. 258, 677 S.E.2d 149 (2009).

RESEARCH REFERENCES

Am. Jur. 2d.

- 50 Am. Jur. 2d, Libel and Slander, § 223 et seq.

C.J.S.

- 53 C.J.S., Libel and Slander, § 87 et seq.

ALR.

- Libel and slander: entries in records as a publication, 7 A.L.R. 900.

Libel and slander: communication of defamatory matter only to person defamed as a publication which will support a civil action, 24 A.L.R. 237; 46 A.L.R. 562.

Communication of defamatory matter only to person defamed as a publication which will support a civil action, 46 A.L.R. 562.

Communication to agent or representative of person defamed as publication or as privileged, 172 A.L.R. 208.

Admissibility on question of damages in action for libel or slander of testimony as to the impression or effect of the matter upon the minds of individuals, 12 A.L.R.2d 1005.

Conflict of laws with respect to the "single publication" rule as to defamation, invasion of privacy, or similar tort, 58 A.L.R.2d 650.

Liability of publisher of defamatory statement for its repetition or republication by others, 96 A.L.R.2d 373.

What constitutes "publication" of libel in order to start running of period of limitations, 42 A.L.R.3d 807.

Libel and slander: dictation to defendant's secretary, typist, or stenographer as publication, 62 A.L.R.3d 1207.

Defamation: publication by intracorporate communication of employee's evaluation, 47 A.L.R.4th 674.

Publication of allegedly defamatory matter by plaintiff ("self-publication") as sufficient to support defamation action, 62 A.L.R.4th 616.

In personam jurisdiction, in libel and slander action, over nonresident who mailed allegedly defamatory letter from outside state, 83 A.L.R.4th 1006.

Criticism or disparagement of physician's character, competence, or conduct as defamation, 16 A.L.R.6th 1.

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