Elements of a Defamation Claim

In this article we will learn about the meaning of defamation and the differences between its various elements – libel and slander.

What is Defamation?

The act wherein the reputation of a person, business, nation, religion, group or product is harmed by a false statement made by another person, is called Defamation. The important factor here is the intent of the accused. If the statement given by the accused is intended to harm or negatively portray the other party’s image, it qualifies as defamation. Defamation cuts across different media.

  • When the defamation caused is oral in nature, it is termed as Slander.
  • If defamation caused is written in nature, it is called Libel.

What is the Difference between Slander and Libel?

Both the terms are legal, referring to statements or forms of communication that cause harm to a person’s reputation. They are both equally capable of legal charges. However, there are some striking differences between the two terms:

ORIGINS

  • The origins of the term Slander can be traced to the word “scandulum”, also the root word for “scandal”. Over the years, American and English judges agree to the concept that sticks and stones cause more damage than words. Therefore, to convince a court of law to consider awarding damages, the offence had to be something scandalous.
  • Libel is derived from the Latin word “libellus” (meaning: “little book”). It became common after the printing press was invented. Defamatory pamphlets during the 1500s were called “libelli famosi”. Libel became a legal offence in the 17th century.

MEDIUM

  • Slander is oral in nature and takes the form of a verbal utterance or utterances.
  • Libel is through a written instrument which includes emails, publications and digital formats or images.

Initially, libel and slander were used interchangeably. With the passage of time, law courts began to recognize the idea that derogatory remarks published on paper can, in fact, be far more damaging than the spoken word. This is due to the fact that written documents are recorded permanently and can be circulated at any point in time. A British court formally recognized libel as a legal claim, distinct from slander.

DAMAGES

Slander calls for proving ‘Special Damages’. This means that slander cases require the plaintiff to plead special damages. A slander victim has to prove to the court of law that she/he had to incur financial losses directly resulting from the slandering offence. If these damages are not proved, the plaintiff loses the cases.

Libel does not call for proving special damages. Anybody can be sued for an insult that is in written form, irrespective of the insult causing any financial losses to the plaintiff. Legal implications suggest that you have an upper hand if the insult caused was in writing.

The United States of America as well as the United Kingdom have definite legal distinctions between the two elements. In fact, numerous other English-speaking countries recognize both differently. However, with the advent of new media such as internet, the definitions of both these elements have changed considerably across countries as well as across the American states.

Because the law of defamation is constantly evolving and varies from Jurisdiction to Jurisdiction, it is essential for you to consult with a licensed attorney serving your area to properly assert your rights.