Let's say you make a movie and you show a deceased person under a negative light, can you get sued successfully by his relatives, and does the success of a lawsuit get diminished if the movie is a parody rather than a film biography?

  • Can we just say if you did anything that would get you sued successfully for defamation if the person was still alive?
    – gnasher729
    Jul 6, 2021 at 6:51

3 Answers 3


Many countries of Continental law recognize “desecration”, “deningration” or defamation of the deceased or similar civil or criminal wrongs, the special form of defamation of the deceased and it is ordinary that those who had been relatives to the subject are entitled to press charges. (e.g. Germany (See: §189 “denigration of a deceased person”), Slovakia (See: MAC TV v. Slovakia before the European Court of Justice leaving ambiguity about the extent of legality of defamation-of-the-dead laws under Community law), Greece (See: Penal Code, Article 365, “disparaging the memory of the deceased” etc.)

Additionally, the prosecutors may press charges by the operation of law or as a duty of their office if certain conditions are met.

One example in detail is the Penal Code of Hungary:


§ 226 (1) Whoever states, reports or uses an expression directly referring to a fact capable of defaming the honour of another person, shall be punished for a misdemeanour by imprisonment for up to one year. (2) The penalty shall be imprisonment for up to two years if the defamatory statement a) with malicious motive or purpose,

(b) in public, or

(c) by causing substantial damage to the merits is committed.

Making a false sound or visual recording likely to defame

§ 226/A (1) Whoever, with the intent to defame the honour of another or others, makes a false, falsified or untrue sound or image recording, if no other offence is committed, shall be punished for a misdemeanour by imprisonment for up to one year.

Disclosure to the public of a false sound or image recording likely to defame

§ 226/B (1) Whoever, with the intention of defaming the honour of another or others, makes available a false, falsified or untrue sound or image recording, shall be punished by a misdemeanour with imprisonment of up to two years.

(2) The penalty for a felony shall be imprisonment for up to three years if the offence is

(a) in public, or

(b) by causing substantial damage to the interests of is committed.


§ 227 (1) A person who, against another person other than those specified in § 226

a) in connection with the performance of the victim's duties in the exercise of his or her employment, public office or activity in the public interest, or

b) in public uses an expression capable of defaming the honour or commits any other such act, shall be punishable for a misdemeanour by imprisonment for up to one year.

(2) A person who commits defamation by an act of deed shall be punishable under subsection (1).

Desecration (“Kegyeletsértés”)

§ 228 Whoever desecrates a dead person or his memory in the manner specified in §§ 226 or 227 shall be punished for a misdemeanor with the punishment specified therein.

In the case of Hungary, one, including especially a surviving relative, may also step up as a substitutive civil prosecutor and file a motion with the court for criminal charges to be filed in case the public prosecutor fails or refuses to press charges.

This is true despite freedom-of-speech rights.

In the U.S., some states allow for libel and/or slander claims to go forward and be brought against one who engage in such or similar conduct (e.g. Rhode Island, Texas etc.)

Many Asian countries also recognize both the civil and criminal forms of such acts (e.g. the Philippines, Thailand etc.)


Not in California:

"Defamation of a deceased person does not give rise to a civil right of action at common law in favor of the surviving spouse, family, or relatives, who are not themselves defamed. A libel on the memory of a deceased person is not deemed to inflict on the surviving relatives of the deceased any such legal damage as will sustain a civil action for the defamation. (Skrocki v. Stahl, 14 Cal. App. 1 [110 P. 957]; Saucer v. Giroux, 54 Cal. App. 732 [202 P. 887].)

  • Where does "A libel is a malicious defamation, expressed either by writing, printing, or by signs or pictures, or the like, tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, " come from? I do not find it in CA law. Jul 6, 2021 at 3:09
  • I yield. I think something I missed is that Pen. Code § 248 was repealed or amended since and is no longer applicable.
    – kisspuska
    Jul 6, 2021 at 3:14
  • I found it in Flynn v. Higham, 149 Cal.App.3d 677, 197 Cal. Rptr. 145 (Cal. Ct. App. 1983). That Section now is about blinding aircraft pilots probably with a laser pen or something. The content of it does not seem to be moved to any other Section.
    – kisspuska
    Jul 6, 2021 at 3:18

You can't defame dead people

Legally, dead people can feel no shame or embarrassment which is at the heart of defamation.

  • that’s incorrect without specifying a jurisdiction. It’s incorrect in many U.S. states and European countries, too.
    – kisspuska
    Jul 5, 2021 at 23:34
  • In fact, the reputation of the deceased is a matter of value for the purposes of U.S. federal extortion statutes — 18 U.S.C. § 875 (d) "Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure … the reputation of a deceased person … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." It's questionable if U.S. courts would recognize anyone to have standing for damages even if arguably they should.
    – kisspuska
    Apr 30, 2022 at 8:37

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