There is aanother angle to defamation that is implicit in all the verbiage I've spent on this so far. It relates again to vandalism.
One time I was trying to get a ranch listing in Wyoming, next to a ranch I had listed and sold a month before. I was still new to the area. I encountered the established local broker, with whom I was competing for this business, driving down the mountain road out of the area, as I was driving in. He had just met with the seller that I was headed in to try to see. The other broker recognized my vehicle; we didn't wave.
When I talked to the seller, he revealed that the other broker had claimed to have sold the neighboring ranch. "No, I sold that place," I explained. He just nodded and said nothing more about it. I didn't get the listing, but I did learn more about the other broker.
That is a kind of fraud, claiming an achievement not earned as an inducement to signing a contraact, and thereby implicitly stripping me of my own achievement. That is defamatory. Defamation is the act of negating an important aspect of the victim's past achievements. The aspect that is negated is, for lack of a better term, "conditions" of the perceptions of other people about one's moral standing.
Those conditions are an important part of what one struggles to achieve in work and in other aspects of life. The conditons, if positive, have economic and moral value that one must earn. They are valuable, because people rely on those conditions in deciding whether or not to have dealings with the individual who caused the conditions. If positive conditions are negated, then those values owned by the achiever have been wrongfully taken. If they are wrongfully taken, then opportunities that the achiever would otherwise have access to are also taken away, not to mention other costs. Because the achiever has been deprived of his right to peacefully pursue opportunities to survice and flourish, as the result of defamation, his rights have been violated.
Does the achiever own the conditions others rely on to judge him? The conditions are scarce--only one broker could sell the neighboring ranch, only one artist could paint a particular scene, etc. The conditions, distinct here from the actual achievements, are also valuable: in pursuit of productivity, love, etc. Ownership pertains to scarcity and value. But still, does one own one's record of achievement? I don't know.
I suspect the confusion stems from a fuzzy definition of "conditions." What has been negated is public perception of one's record. There is probably no such thing as a floating "condition" out there in the ether. There is what one does, and there is what others believe one has done. Nothing else.
If so, then I am back to square one. Comitting fraud against people who believe the lie about some poor sap is wrong. But the poor sap doesn't own the ideas of other people, even about his personal record. So if other people choose to believe false charges or implications about him, and do not concern themselves with the reliability of the claimant and the basis of the claims, then the victim of defamation is a casualty of poor thinking. He can seek to demonstrate the charges are false, thereby justifiably hurting the repuation of the liar. But is bad thinking by other people really a violation of the rights of the defamed?
As you can see, I'm genuinely confused about all this.