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What is the Law on Seditious libel in Massachusetts and What are the Punishments for it?

Defamation is the act of destroying the reputation of a person, group, business or organization, and humiliating and degrading them in the process. This is done by spreading misleading and untrue statements about them. Defamation is carried out in two ways- slander, which means degrading a person's character through speech, and seditious libel, which entails spreading false, degrading, and untrue statements about a person through written mediums, such as news articles, online blogs, and comments on social media.

Proving a Case of Seditious Libel in the State of Massachusetts

If an individual wants to prove that they have been a victim of seditious libel, they will have to prove the following points in a court of law:

  • The accused made defamatory remarks about the individual to a third party and did not speak to the victim directly at any time about the situation.
  • Due to the libel that was spread by the accused, the victim experienced a drastic drop in their social standing and became a subject of ridicule, contempt, and hate.
  • The victim suffered irreparable damage due to the libel that was spread. The damages include a loss in their social standing, mental and emotional suffering, and monetary loss if the libel cost them their job.
  • In the case of a public official. government employee, or a celebrity, they will have to prove that the libel was a result of actual malice.
Massachusetts Seditious Libel Laws

Penalty for Seditious Libel in the State of Massachusetts

According to the state laws of Massachusetts, anyone who publishes and sends out false information, such as false news and 'informative' articles with an aim to spread hatred and resentment is liable to be punished for defamation and seditious libel. This includes false news against people of any particular gender, race, or religion, or any business and organization which promotes ideals of equality.

Any party which has been convicted of defamation or seditious libel will have to face a maximum jail time of up to one year, a fine of up to $1000, or both, depending on how much of the libel was fabricated, the enormity of the situation, and the losses that were suffered by the victim.

Defenses for Seditious Libel in the State of Massachusetts

The state of Massachusetts gives the accused two main defenses to prove their innocence in a case of seditious libel. The defenses include the following:

  • Privileged information: The accused can claim that the information in question came from a privileged source, or is a part of the job that they are legally required to do by the state, hence it would be against their ethics to have not reported the news. For example, if a newspaper reported that a politician was suspected of taking bribes from businessmen, the news could not be termed as seditious libel, as media outlets have a duty to report the news as they occur.
  • Actual truth: The accused also has the option of showing the source behind the news article, which prompted them to write the news. This source could either be a person or any other first- account report. With this, the media outlet can show that the news that was, in fact, the actual truth, as believed by them. In such a scenario, the accused gets acquitted of the crime. However, if actual malice is involved, that is if the source paid the media outlet to publish and spread the news, then the incident is still counted as seditious libel and the media outlet, as well as the party who paid the, are both punished for the crime.

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