Our social group brings out a monthly journal and in the last issue we included a few lines copied from another major journal. Now we are told what we included in our journal is likely to be defamatory. How can we be liable for defamation when we copied it from another journal?
Theoretically, when one publishes defamatory material, it does not matter whether or not the defamatory material was copied from somewhere else. Defamation, basically, occurs when someone communicates in any way which lowers or is likely to lower the reputation of another. Intention and motive are irrelevant. Basically, what the plaintiff – the one aggrieved by the defamatory statement – has to prove in a defamation case is that what was said about him was defamatory, that the material identified the plaintiff himself and the defamatory material was in fact published, meaning it was spoken or printed or put on air or on the internet. So in publishing defamatory material, even if you were copying it from other sources, theoretically you would be liable. However, the fact that you were not the original offender would be an issue in terms of reduction of damages. Of course, there are a number of defences to defamation especially for journals and newspapers.