A background of Defamation, Slander, and Libel

Defamation law protects the individual’s reputation and good name against any communications that are false and derogatory. Defamation has two torts, namely slander and libel. Slander comprises of oral defamatory communications while libel refers to any defamation that can be seen, typically in writing. The elements of slander and libel are closely identical to one another.

History tells us that the law that governs the slander focused on oral statements that were humiliating to other people. In 1500, the English courts dealt the slander actions as those for damages. Libel, however, was developed differently. English printers were needed to be licensed by and give bond to the government since the printed word was known and believed to be a threat to political security. Libel includes any criticism of the English government, and an individual who made libel committed a crime. This history was brought over in part to USA, where Congress under the presidency of John Adams has passed the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to criticize the government. The Congress and the courts gradually discarded this approach to libel, and the law of libel is now concentrated on the recovery of damages in civil cases.

With the decision from the New York Times v. Sullivan in1964, the US Supreme Court acknowledged that the law of defamation consists of constitutional dimension. In this case and succeeding lawsuits, the Court balanced the person’s interests in reputation with the interests of free speech among the society. This particular approach has changed the regulations that govern slander and libel, specifically where communication is about a public official or figure, or where communication is about a matter of public concern.

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