What is the Difference Between Libel, Slander, and Defamation?

Article Details
  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Experts think that If the whole world followed a meat-free diet by 2050, it could save over 7 million lives a year.  more...

April 6 ,  1896 :  The first modern Olympic games were held.  more...

Defamation, libel, and slander are related terms that refer to harm done to reputation or character through untrue, twisted, or malicious statements. Issues regarding these concepts may be as simple as high school gossip or as complicated as corporate litigation for defamation. Generally, defamation is the act of harming reputation through untrue or malicious statements, while libel and slander are considered forms or methods of defamation.

Reputation is incredibly important in human civilization; defamation lawsuits do not merely handle the hurt feelings of a person or entity, but instead attempt to determine if there is grounds for monetary damages based on actual harm caused. For instance, if a person states factually to the media that all of the products sold by a company are tainted with lead, that company may lose customers and stock value even if the statement is untrue or twisted. If the statement could be shown to be malicious and misleading, the person making the statement could be sued for defamation.


Libel is the term used to describe defamation when it is made in print or through written communication. Generally, the information must be given to a third party and published publicly; a person usually cannot be sued for libel for something he or she writes in a personal diary, for instance. It is also necessary for the libelous statement to cause measurable harm. A written lie that causes no damages may be a violation of integrity, but is usually not grounds for a lawsuit.

Slander is a verbal statement that causes defamatory damages. The statement in question usually must be made to a third party, and generally must be considered to be intended to have a malicious effect. It is interesting to note that slander laws do not always require quantifiable damages; if a person maliciously accuses another to a third party of criminal behavior, inability to perform work-related duties, or sexual misconduct, some regions allow civil prosecution.

The print, television, and Internet media must deal extensively with the possibility of defamation accusations. Since the media is usually considered a source of fact, any defamatory statements made through the press are usually given more weight and may result in higher damage levels and greater settlements for the plaintiff. Protection against defamation lawsuits is one of the major reasons that journalists are trained to check sources and receive multiple confirmations of a fact before printing or going on record with the information. Much modern criticism of the media relates to a breakdown in these standards, citing a growing quantity of unverified statements presented as fact.

Regional laws vary extensively, but in general libel and slander are considered civil rather than criminal offenses. People found guilty of defamation must usually pay fines to the plaintiff, rather than serve jail time or other penalties. In most areas, if a statement can be proven true, it is not eligible for prosecution even when made with malicious intent. It is also important to note that it is critical that the statement in question be presented as fact rather than opinion, as the right to free opinion is guaranteed in many areas.


You might also Like


Discuss this Article

Post 4

I wrote an e-mail directly to my customer stating that I felt he was trying to cheat me because he did not want to pay the invoice in full. No other party saw this e-mail. It was sent from me to him and that was it.

This guy is now threatening to sue me and I really do not think he can. Does he have anything to stand on at all? Today he e-mailed me and cc'd his attorney. Should I be worried?

Post 3

Cafe41-It is really difficult to sue for libel which is why most people do not. The people most affected by libel are generally celebrities and pubic figures that have a reputation to maintain in order to continue working in their chosen field.

Although many tabloids print unflattering pictures and commentary on these celebrities most people in the public eye ignore these tabloids because they do not want to give them free publicity and drive up the sales of the publication so that more people see it.

Post 2

BrickBack-The jury judgments are often less than the legal fees which are why most libel lawyers seek ongoing payment.

This is different than a personal injury case or a medical malpractice suit in which the jury can award compensatory and punitive damages of several million dollars.

Most states have no cap on punitive damages which is why many doctors have been lobbying for tort reform in order to lower their operating costs and overall malpractice insurance rates.

Post 1

Libel laws indicate that in order for a comment to be considered libel in a legal sense it has to meet the following qualifications: first it has to be factually incorrect information that is printed about another person that has brought irreparable harm to them and there also has to be an element of malice involved.

Many things that are factually incorrect are not considered libel because they did not express malicious intent on hurting the other person.

Libel attorneys often will only represent these cases on a retainer and not a contingency basis. They do this because usually the libel damages that the jury awards when you sue in a libel case are small.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?