BizApps Wiki, the free Business Applications encyclopedia:Defamation

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The common law origins of defamation lie in the torts of "slander" (harmful statement in a transient form, especially speech) and "libel", each of which gives a common law right of action.

Defamation is the general term used internationally, and is used in this article where it is not necessary to distinguish between "slander" and "libel". Libel and slander both require publication.[1] The fundamental distinction between libel and slander lies solely in the form in which the defamatory matter is published. If the offending material is published in some fleeting form, as by spoken words or sounds, sign language, gestures or the like, then it is slander.


Libel is defined as defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.[2] The law of libel originated in the 17th century in England. With the growth of publication came the growth of libel and development of the tort of libel.[3]

Cases involving libel

An early example of libel is the case of John Peter Zenger in 1735. Zenger was hired to publish New York Weekly Journal. When he printed another man's article that criticized William Cosby, who was then British Royal Governor of Colonial New York, Zenger was accused of seditious libel.[4] The verdict was returned as Not Guilty on the charge of seditious libel, because it was proven that all the statements Zenger had published about Cosby had been true, so there was not an issue of defamation. Another example of libel is the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). The U.S. Supreme Court overruled a state court in Alabama that had found The New York Times guilty of libel for printing an advertisement that criticized Alabama officials for mistreating student civil rights activists. Even though some of what The Times printed was false, the court ruled in its favor, saying that libel of a public official requires proof of actual malice, which was defined as a "knowing or reckless disregard for the truth".[5]

Proving libel

There are several things a person must prove to establish that libel has taken place. In the United States, a person must prove that the statement was false, caused harm, and was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. These steps are for an ordinary citizen. For a celebrity or public official, a person must prove the first three steps, and that the statement was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth,[6] which is usually specifically referred to as "actual malice".[7]

Scandalum magnatum

At one time, the honor of peers was especially protected by the law; while defamation of a commoner was known as libel or slander, the defamation of a peer (or of a Great Officer of State) was called scandalum magnatum, literally "the scandal of magnates."[8]


  1. 50 Am.Jur.2d libel and slander 1–546
  2. "Libel". 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  3. Benenson, R (1981). "Trial of john peter zenger for libel". The CQ Researcher. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  4. "Trial of John Peter Zenger for libel". 2009 – via ESBCOhost. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Patterson, T (2009). The American Democracy. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964)
  7. Sexton, Kevin (2010). "Us political systems".
  8. Lassiter, John C. (1978). "Defamation of Peers: The Rise and Decline of the Action for Scandalum Magnatum, 1497-1773". The American Journal of Legal History. 22 (3): 216–236.