The basic difference between libel and slander is that libel is published defamation, while slander is fleeting, mostly verbal. In the court of law, both are considered defamation—that is, the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, or group. Some countries also have defamation laws that protect religions; these are usually known as blasphemy laws.
|Definition||Defamation (communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation) in printed words or pictures.||Defamation (communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation) in spoken words or gestures.|
|Form||Tangible: Print, writing or pictures.||Intangible: Spoken words or gestures.|
|Burden of Proof||On defendant in English law; On plaintiff is American law.||On defendant in English law; On plaintiff is American law.|
|Cause of Action for Suit||A defamatory statement; Published to a third party; Which the speaker knew or should have known was false; That causes injury to the subject of the communication.||A defamatory statement; Published to a third party; Which the speaker knew or should have known was false; That causes injury to the subject of the communication.|
|Negation||If statement in questions stands to be the truth.||If statement in questions stands to be the truth.|
|Punishment||Generally civil, monetary. Seditious libel – crime to criticize public officials||Generally civil, monetary.|
|Legal Implications||No need to prove financial damages||No need to prove financial damages|
|Famous Cases||New York Times vs. Sullivan||Food Label Law|
|limitation||six years||two years|
Libel is a type of defamation, or communication of false information that harms the reputation of an individual, business, or group. With libel, the offending material is written or printed, involves pictures, or is in any format other than spoken words or gestures.
Slander is also a type of defamation, or communication of false information that harms the reputation of an individual, business, or group. With slander, the offending material is published in some fleeting form -- spoken words or sounds, sign language or gestures. A law institution created the video below to educate clients on libel versus slander:
English and American Law
The concept of defamation originated in English law. The English defamation law dates back at least to the 1700s in England. With English defamation law, actions of libel are brought to the court as published statements that defame a name an identifiable individual. The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove there was no libel.
In American law, the plaintiff must prove the offending statement was false, was made by the defendant, and that it caused damage. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff.
Cause of Action for Legal Suit
For both libel and slander in the US, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a defamatory statement that is false, and can sue for libel or slander if any, sometimes all of the following conditions are met:
- The statement must be addressed to a third party – in print for libel or announced for slander.
- The plaintiff must also prove that the statement was such that the speaker knew or should have known was false.
- With slander, the said statement must also cause some damage to the plaintiff, in the form of damaged reputation, missed work, etc.
- In addition, public officials and celebrities must prove that the defendant had intent to harm them.
How do you prove libel and slander?
Libel is generally considered in civil court. Compensation given to the plaintiff, if any, is usually monetary. However, both the United States and England had seditious libel laws at one time. These stated it was a crime to criticize public officials and were punishable by prison time and at times even death penalty. However, these laws have been overturned.
Slander is also considered in civil court and any compensation given to the plaintiff is monetary.
Defense Against Suits
People being sued for libel or slander have several defense options. The most common defense option is that they were simply stating or publishing an opinion. While this does not always stand up in court, it is a strong defense. Likewise, if the offensive statement is true, there is no defamation involved.
In the United States
In the US, with libel, there is no need to prove financial damages in order to win a case in court. If a person printed libelous material, that person can be sued for libel regardless of the effect on the plaintiff.
In the case of slander, there is a need for the plaintiff to prove financial damages caused by this defamation. This is due to the transitory nature of the defamation.
In the U.K.
In U.K., actions for libel may be brought to the High Court for any published statements which are alleged to defame an identifiable individual in a manner which causes them loss in their trade or profession, or causes a reasonable person to think worse of them. A public figure must prove actual malice while a private individual must only prove negligence to collect compensatory damages.
In the U.K., only the following cases of slander are actionable without proof of damage:
- Words implying a crime punishable with imprisonment
- Words implying certain diseases
- Words disparaging a person in his office, calling or profession
- Words implying that a woman committed adultery
New York Times v. Sullivan
A public figure, Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, claimed to be defamed by an advertisement criticizing the Montgomery police. The Supreme Court ruled against Sullivan. The Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting the criticism of public officials in relation to his duties would have a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech. This case set the precedent of needing to prove malice in defamation.
Texas Cattlemen v. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was at the receiving end of a famous slander suit. Winfrey publicly disparaged beef in the context of the mad cow scare. A cattle rancher in Texas claimed that this disparagement caused financial harm to his business and sued for $12 million. The plaintiff needed to prove that Winfrey had knowingly and deliberately spread the false information with malice. Similarly to the Sullivan case, the defendant prevailed in the name of free speech.
BCA v. Singh
A famous case of slander in the U.K. involved a science writer who criticized claims made by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) that chiropractic could help cure childhood conditions such as asthma. The BCA sued the writer, Simon Singh from Liverpool, for libel. Though it never reached trial, the case lasted two years and cost Singh an estimated £70,000 to defend.