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What's the Difference Between Libel and Slander?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

What's the legal difference between libel and slander?

As you may know, both libel and slander are forms of defamation -- a false statement that harms a person's reputation. To prove either libel or slander in court, a victim also needs to show that the statement was negligently, recklessly, or intentionally "published" (disseminated) to a third party.

However, there are a few legal distinctions between libel and slander, notably regarding how the alleged defamation was disseminated (written or spoken) and whether a victim must prove monetary damages as a result of the false statement. Here's a brief overview:

Written or Spoken?

In general, a defamatory statement that's in writing (like in a newspaper article) is considered libel, while a defamatory statement that's spoken aloud (like in a speech) is considered slander. But in some cases, the distinction may be called into question.

For example, what about TV programs? A defamatory statement made by someone on TV may seem like slander because it's spoken, but if the statement was scripted, as opposed to ad-libbed, a court may call it "libel" instead.

In fact, if the form of defamation is more permanent -- like a printed news article, or perhaps even a recording -- then a court is more likely to consider it to be libel. Other factors that suggest a defamatory statement is libelous include premeditation and broad dissemination of the statement.

Do You Need to Prove Damages?

Why does it matter if a defamatory statement is libel or slander? In many cases, it boils down to damages.

In most states, if you're suing over a statement that's libelous "on its face," then general damages are presumed and you don't need to specifically prove the amount of your loss (known as "special damages"). By comparison, if you're suing over a slanderous statement, then in many cases you do need to prove special damages -- unless the statement falls into a category that's considered "slander per se."

As with any set of general legal rules, there are exceptions that may affect the outcome of your case. To learn more, check out FindLaw's section on Defamation, Libel and Slander, or contact an experienced defamation lawyer near you.

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