What is libel?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Libel is defined as the defamation of a person, business, group, product, government, or nation that is made in written or printed words or pictures. In order to be libel, the claim must be in writing, it must be false and the person making it must state or imply that it is factual. In other words, libel means printing or implying something negative as if it were true, when it is not. The publication where the libel occurs is assumed to be read by persons other than the person defamed.  

How Does Libel Differ From Slander?

Slander, another legal term, is also a false, defamatory, and often malicious statement. The difference between slander and libel is that slander is spoken and libel refers to written words and pictures. Libel covers any form of defamation other than spoken words or gestures. 

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Proving Libel

Several factors must be in place to prove that libel has occurred. 

  • The person defamed must prove that the statement was indeed false.  
  • Next, he must prove that the statement did harm. 
  • Lastly, he must prove that the statement was made without enough research into its validity.  
  • When a libel case is brought by a celebrity or public figure, an additional step is needed. The public figure must prove that the statement was made with the intention to do harm. This is known as actual malice and a reckless disregard for the truth.  

What Is Libel Per Se?

There are four kinds of libel that are considered defamation per se, meaning that proof of damages is not needed. These include:

  • A serious charge of sexual misconduct, 
  • A claim that a person has a loathsome disease, 
  • An accusation of a crime, and 
  • A statement that a person is not fit to run his business or trade.  

To successfully sue for libel in these cases, the claimant only needs to prove that the statement was published.

What Should I Do if I Have a Claim for Libel?

If you believe you have a claim for libel, you should contact an attorney. An attorney who specializes in defamation cases will be able to tell you whether or not you have a case and will help you put together the evidence so that you will be properly compensated for any damages you suffered as a result of the libel.   

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