Definitions of libel, slander, and defamation

By Katharine Swan On Thursday, October 18, 2007 At 2:08 PM

During the entire Laray Carr fiasco, it was reported that LCP was threatening writers and contractors with legal action if they posted online about the company. In response, I and several others made sure to remind others that it is not libel if what you say is 1) the truth (and can be backed up with evidence), OR 2) clearly stated as opinion.

On the Writer Beware thread regarding Laray Carr, Amy Derby of Write-From-Home.com went a step further than that: She found a posted a link that explains what libel is, and what defenses you have available to you if you are accused of it.

First of all, let's discuss the difference between libel and slander, since many scammers don't seem to get this: Slander is spoken defamatory statements. Libel is written defamatory statements.

Defamatory statements are defined as "the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm."

In other words, in order for the things you have written to be considered libelous, they have to actually be false, and they have to somehow damage the person's reputation.

But what can you do if you are actually accused of libel? Well, if you have proof to back up the truth of your statements, obviously you are in the clear. But what if you said something that can't be backed up, such as, "Quincy Carr is an asshole"? (Just an example, obviously.)

In this case, an accepted defense is that your statement was actually an opinion, rather than a statement of fact. Of course, this defense is much easier to use if you actually state it as opinion: "I think Quincy Carr is an asshole." (This time I mean it!)

The moral of this story:

1. Read the definition of libel for yourself.

2. Always make sure that your statements can be proven to be truthful.

3. If you can't produce proof, or you think what you do have might not hold up in court, then make sure your statements are clearly stated as opinion.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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