Concise definitions of legal terms used on the Digital Media Law Project site. (The glossary is currently a work-in-progress. Please use our contact form to suggest additional terms for this glossary.)

Actionable search for term

Sufficient to establish grounds for a legal claim.

Actual damages search for term

Damages awarded to compensate a plaintiff for the real, proven injuries he or she suffered.

See also: Damages
Actual malice search for term

The characterization of a certain type of fault regarding defamation, where the publisher made statements knowing that they were false, or acting with reckless disregard for the truth of the statements. Defamation claims involving public officials and public figures require that the plaintiff show the defendant acted with actual malice.

Synonyms: For more information see the Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence section of the legal guide.
Affirmative defense search for term

A defense in which a defendant introduces evidence that will negate criminal or civil liability, even if it is proven that the defendant committed the alleged acts. Self-defense, entrapment, and insanity are examples of affirmative defenses in the criminal context.

Amicus search for term

Shortened version of amicus curiae.

See also: Amicus curiae
Amicus curiae search for term

Latin term meaning "friend of the court." Often used to refer to a person or group who is not a party to a lawsuit but has petitioned the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court's decision.

See also: Amicus
Bench trial search for term

A trial where a judge, rather than a jury, determines all questions of law and fact.

Civil search for term

In terms of actions under law, civil refers to conflicts between private individuals.

Commercial misappropriation search for term

A category of invasion of privacy where one's name or likeness is used without permission for commercial purposes.

See also: Right of publicity
Common law search for term

Law that is derived from judicial decisions instead of from statutes. Early American common law was taken from English common law.

Compensatory damages search for term

Damages awarded by a court to compensate a plaintiff for the actual harm suffered.

See also: Damages
Conversion search for term

Conversion is a tort that exposes you to liability for damages in a civil lawsuit. It applies when someone intentionally interferes with personal property belonging to another person.

Synonyms: For more information see the Conversion section of the legal guide.
Copyright search for term

A property right in an original creative work. Owning a copyright gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to, among other things, copy and display the work.

See also: Copyright infringement, Copyright notice, Fair use, Intellectual property Synonyms: For more information see the Copyright section of the legal guide.
Copyright infringement search for term

The act of tortiously exercising one or more of the exclusive rights held by a copyright owner.

See also: Copyright Synonyms: For more information see the Copyright Infringement section of the legal guide.
Copyright license search for term

A license is a grant of permission to exercise the copyright holder's rights under copyright. In copyright terminology, there are non-exclusive and exclusive licenses.

Synonyms: For more information see the Understanding the Difference Between a Transfer and a License section of the legal guide.
Copyright notice search for term

A notice that a work is copyrighted. Generally, the copyright notice appears either as a © or as the phrase "all rights reserved."

See also: Copyright
Corporation search for term

An organization formed with the approval of a state governmental entity to act as an artificial person to carry on business or other activities.

Synonyms: For more information see the Corporation section of the legal guide.
Cross claim search for term

A claim brought by a plaintiff against a co-plaintiff or brought by a defendant against a co-defendant.

Damages search for term

A remedy in the form of monetary compensation to the harmed party.

See also: Actual damages, Compensatory damages, Presumed damages, Punitive damages, Statutory damages
Declaratory judgment search for term

A binding judgment issued by a court that defines the legal relationship between the parties and their rights with respect to the matter before the court.

Defamation search for term

A false statement of fact, whether written or oral, that is communicated to a third-party and injures the subject's reputation.

See also: Libel, Slander, Trade libel Synonyms: defamatory, defamed, For more information see the Defamation section of the legal guide.
Defendant search for term

In a civil matter, the party sued by the plaintiff; in a criminal matter, the party being prosecuted.

Dicta search for term

Short for "obiter dictum," which means in Latin "something said in passing." When judges make comments in opinions that are extraneous to the line of reasoning that leads to the decision in the case, lawyers refer to the comments as "dicta." These comments are not binding authority on other judges.

Dividends search for term

Payments made by a for-profit corporation to its shareholders out of the corporation's profits.

DMCA search for term

Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Passed in 1998, the DMCA extended the reach of copyright law and is generally regarded as favoring the interests of copyright owners, it also created provisions limiting the liability of certain online actors. Section 512 of the DMCA, 17 U.S.C. § 512, contains the DMCA's "safe-harbor" provisions for online service providers.

Synonyms: For more information see the DMCA section of the legal guide.
En banc search for term

French for "on the bench." Used when all judges of a particular court hear a case.

Ex parte search for term

A Latin phrase meaning "for one party." It refers to motions, hearings, or other court proceedings conducted or granted at the request of one party to a lawsuit, where the other party does not participate. These types of proceedings are rare because they go against the basic rule that both parties should be present for argument before a court. Judicial orders stemming from ex parte proceedings are usually temporary in nature, like a temporary restraining order, which are granted pending a full, two-party hearing on the issue.

Fair use search for term

The doctrine that permits certain limited uses of copyrighted materials without the permission of the copyright holder. Generally, to be protected by the fair use doctrine, the use of the copyrighted material must contribute to society by continuing the public discourse or by creating a new work in the process.

See also: Copyright Synonyms: For more information see the Fair Use section of the legal guide.
False light search for term

A type of legal claim, which is similar to defamation, that generally involves untrue factual implications.

Synonyms: For more information see the False Light section of the legal guide.
Federal search for term

Generally used to refer to the United States government, its legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and the statutes, rules, and regulations enacted by those branches of government.

FOI search for term

Freedom of Information ("FOI") is a general term for the laws — sometimes called "sunshine laws" — and principles that govern the public’s right to access government records.

See also: FOIA Synonyms: For more information see the Access to Government Records section of the legal guide.
FOIA search for term

The federal Freedom of Information Act (otherwise known as "FOIA") provides access to the public records of all departments, agencies, and offices of the Executive Branch of the federal government.

See also: FOI Synonyms: For more information see the Access to Records from the Federal Government section of the legal guide.
Grand jury search for term

A group of people selected to sit on a jury that decides whether to return criminal indictments. Grand juries usually consist of 23 people and convene for a minimum of one month but can last up to a year.

Immunity search for term

Generally refers to freedom from a legal obligation to perform actions or to suffer legal penalties.

Injunction search for term

A court order requiring a person or entity to do or cease doing a specific action.

Intellectual property search for term

A broad class of property, that generally includes four different kinds of rights: patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secrets.

See also: Copyright, Patent, Trade secret, Trademark Synonyms: For more information see the Intellectual Property section of the legal guide.
Interlocutory search for term

Legal term that refers to a judicial order or decree that is issued prior to the termination of a cause of action. An interlocutory order is not considered final and is typically not subject to immediate appeal, except in a certain limited situations.

Intrusion search for term

Intrusion upon seclusion is a type of legal claim that protects people from intentional intrusions, physical or otherwise, upon their solitude or seclusion.

Synonyms: For more information see the Elements of an Intrusion Claim section of the legal guide.
Liability search for term

Legal accountability, either to another party or to the state, that can be enforced through damages or criminal punishment.

Libel search for term

A form of defamation that generally refers to statements or visual depictions in written or other permanent form, such as web pages, blog posts, and forum posts.

See also: Defamation
Limited liability company search for term

Limited liability companies (known as LLCs) combine the tax advantages of partnerships with the limited liability of corporations. An LLC can be operated by a sole owner (single-member) or in conjunction with fellow owners (multi-member).

Synonyms: For more information see the Limited Liability Company section of the legal guide.
Limited-purpose public figure search for term

A private individual who, while not generally a public figure, is prominent in a particular field or on a particular issue. As a result, the individual is considered a public figure in regards to those specific activities or expertise.

Synonyms: For more information see the Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence section of the legal guide.
Negligence search for term

When a person fails to exercise the care that a reasonable, prudent person would exercise under the same circumstances, that person is said to be negligent.

Operating Agreement search for term

The basic written agreement between the members (i.e., owners) of an LLC, or between members and managers of the company.

Partnership search for term

A partnership is an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners of a business for profit.

Synonyms: For more information see the Partnership section of the legal guide.
Patent search for term

Patent law provides ownership rights and protection for unique processes, procedures, methods, inventions, and discoveries. It gives the patent owner the exclusive right to exploit (i.e. create, use, sell, distribute) the invention for a limited period of time (typically twenty years from the time of a patent application filing).

See also: Intellectual property
Plaintiff search for term

In a civil matter, the party who initiates a lawsuit against the defendant.

Presumed damages search for term

Damages that require no proof of actual injury to be awarded. Generally, presumed damages are awarded for torts, such as defamation per se, that the law deems will almost always lead to actual injury.

See also: Damages
Prima facie search for term

Latin phrase meaning "at first sight." A prima facie case presents enough evidence for the plaintiff to win the case barring any defenses or additional evidence presented by the defendant.

Private figure search for term

A private individual who does not fall under the category of public figure under defamation law.

Synonyms: For more information see the Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence section of the legal guide.
Pro bono search for term

From the Latin phrase "pro bon publico," which means for the public good. Pro bono refers to legal service provided voluntarily by law firms, law schools, or individual attorneys without monetary compensation.

Pro se search for term

Latin for "for oneself, on one's own behalf." When a litigant proceeds without legal counsel, they are said to be proceeding "pro se."

Public figure search for term

Under defamation law, an individual who is so famous, powerful, or influential that they are subject to public interest and scrutiny. Public figures include movie stars, elite professional athletes, and the heads of major corporations. The passage of time does not affect one's public figure status as long as the original source of their fame is of continued interest to the public.

Synonyms: For more information see the Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence section of the legal guide.
Publication search for term

The dissemination of information to one or more persons. Publication can include news articles, blog posts, podcasts, videos, or even user comments. In the defamation context, publication occurs if the statement is made to one or more persons other than the plaintiff.

Publication of private facts search for term

The legal claim known as "publication of private facts" is a species of invasion of privacy. A person commits this kind of invasion of privacy by publishing private facts about an individual, the publication of which would be offensive to a reasonable person. Such a claim can only be successful, however, if the facts in question are not legitimately newsworthy.

Synonyms: For more information see the Publication of Private Facts section of the legal guide.
Punitive damages search for term

Damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages in certain circumstances. Punitive damages are considered punishment and are awarded when the defendant's behavior is found to be especially willful.

See also: Damages
Quash search for term

To set aside; to void. As in "to quash a motion," or "quash evidence."

Remand search for term

A term that describes an appellate court's action of sending a case back to a lower course for further action, like reconsideration or revision of previous ruling or a re-trial.

Res Judicata search for term

A legal doctrine that precludes parties from litigating claims and facts that a court has ruled on previously. Res judicata typically does not apply to an individual who was not a party to the original case, unless that individual has a preexisting legal relationship with an original party.

Right of publicity search for term

The "right of publicity" is the right of a person to control and make money from the commercial use of his or her identity

See also: Commercial misappropriation Synonyms: For more information see the Using the Name or Likeness of Another section of the legal guide.
Right to petition search for term

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from abridging "the right of the people ... to petition the Government for redress of grievances."

Secondary meaning search for term

A term used in trademark law to denote when a descriptive trade name or other trademark used in connection with a good or service comes to be uniquely associated in the minds of the public with that particular good or service. When a descriptive trade name or trademark acquires secondary meaning, trademark law protects it against confusingly similar uses by others.

Synonyms: For more information see the Trademark section of the legal guide.
Slander search for term

A defamatory statement, usually made orally, in which damages are not presumed and must be proven by the party suing.

See also: Defamation
Sole proprietor search for term

A sole proprietorship is a business owned by a single individual.

Synonyms: Sole proprietorship, for more information see the Sole Proprietor section of the legal guide.
Statute search for term

The product of a legislative body (i.e., a law).

Statute of limitations search for term

A statute applying to both civil and criminal cases that requires suit or prosecution within a prescribed period of time following the injury or the date of the crime.

Statutory damages search for term

Damages which are awarded as defined by statute, rather than by common (case) law.

See also: Damages
Subpoena search for term

An order to compel an individual or entity to give testimony on a particular subject, often before a court, but sometimes in other proceedings (such as a Congressional inquiry).

See also: Subpoena duces tecum
Subpoena duces tecum search for term

A type of subpoena that requires the witness to produce documentary evidence pertinent to a proceeding. From the Latin duces tecum, meaning "you shall bring with you."

See also: Subpoena
Temporary restraining order search for term

A short-term order, issued by a judge, which prevents one party from acting in a way that could irreparably harm another before a hearing can be held. Sometimes referred to as a "TRO."

Tort search for term

A negligent or intentional civil wrong not arising out of a contract or statute. A tort is an act that injures someone in some way, and for which the injured person may sue the person for damages.

Trade libel search for term

A form of defamation that disparages a business, product, or service.

See also: Defamation
Trade secret search for term

Confidential information held by a business or individual, that is not made available to the public, and which has commercial value.

See also: Intellectual property
Trademark search for term

Trademark law creates usage rights in words, phrases, symbols, and other indicators that identify the source or sponsorship of goods or services. The owner of a valid trademark can stop others from using its trademark or a similar mark under certain circumstances.

See also: Intellectual property Synonyms: For more information see the Trademark section of the legal guide.
Trespass search for term

If you enter private property without the owner's permission or enter portions of public property that are off limits to the public, you could be liable for civil or criminal trespass.

Synonyms: For more information see the Trespass section of the legal guide.
Voir Dire search for term

The process of questioning potential jurors to determine whether they are suitable to serve in a particular trial.

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