What Is Slander & Libel? - Definition, Laws & Examples

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  • 0:01 Slander & Libel
  • 2:34 Law on Slander & Libel
  • 4:11 Example
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes slander and libel. Review their respective definitions and analyze the laws. Examine some examples. At the conclusion of this lesson, you will have a thorough understanding of slander and libel.

Definition of Slander and Libel

Have you ever found yourself standing at the checkout line in the grocery store, looking at some of the magazines touting stories that seem to be incredulous - from aliens landing at the White House to details of celebrity weddings that have not even happened yet? The stories may seem ridiculous, but they're right there on the cover of a magazine, begging you to come closer. Do you think there should be consequences to these magazines for printing false stories? The growing number of celebrities who are suing tabloids for libel seem to think there should be.

Libel and slander are both defamatory processes. In other words, each one discredits the party about whom the statements are made. However, each one is unique. Initially, slander occurs when one makes false statements to another individual by speaking the words. The transmission can be made by an oral statement or by a hand gesture. Slander does not include communications that are recorded or transfixed. In addition, there must be publication, which in the case of slander, means that the statement is made to another person.

Conversely, libel occurs when one makes a false statement about another person or entity that causes harm to that person's or entity's reputation. In order to constitute libel, there must also be publication of the statement. Publication of the libelous statement can be made by a written format, such as a newspaper article or Internet posting, or by an oral statement in a broadcast, such as by radio or television. In addition, the statement can be made to one person or many people, such as in a speech. Moreover, cartoons, signs and artistic depictions may constitute libel.

Slanderous and libelous statements must be expressed as a factual statement. Therefore, the statement cannot simply be an opinion about a person or entity. For example, if one says, 'The movie star looked disheveled,' this would be an opinion and not a statement and therefore does not constitute slander or libel. However, if the statement was, 'The actress was drunk and looked disheveled,' this would constitute slander or libel if the actress was not drunk. Additionally, libel differs from slander because slander refers solely to spoken words; thus, even though radio or television broadcasts involve spoken words, the fact that the words are made via a transfixed method results in the radio and television broadcasts conveying libel.

The Law on Slander and Libel

Slander is an action based upon torts, or civil wrongs that are grounds for a lawsuit. In addition, the state law applies to slander cases. Typically, in these cases, it is necessary to show that the slander occurred. It is not necessary for the defendant to prove that the statements he made are true; rather, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defamatory statements that were made are false.

Similarly, libel is an action based upon torts. Moreover, the specific laws applicable to a tort depend upon the state with jurisdiction over the case. Generally, in order to sue for libel, one must demonstrate that the libelous statement is not only false but also that it caused, or could potentially cause, harm to one's reputation.

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