Libel is defamation where the defamatory words are written or printed; slander is defamation where the defamatory words are spoken.
Oral publication of a written defamation constitutes libel, not slander. The speaking of defamatory words to a newspaper reporter will support an action for slander, but will also support an action for libel if the speaker intends that his or her words be embodied forthwith in a physical form and the words are subsequently so embodied.
Defamatory statements in letters are libelous rather than slanderous.
Comment: Defamatory pictures, caricatures, statues, and effigies are libels because the defamatory publication is embodied in physical form.
Some states make no distinction between libel and slander, applying a single set of rules to both.
Slander, unlike libel, is an individual, not a joint, tort, giving rise to a separate, independent right of action for each statement made.
Model Codes and Restatements
Restatement Second, Torts
No definition of libel has been formulated that is sufficiently comprehensive to cover all the cases.
Under the Restatement Second, Torts, libel consists of the publication of defamatory matter by written or printed words, by its embodiment in physical form, or by any other form of communication that has the potentially harmful qualities characteristic of written or printed words. The area of dissemination, the deliberate and premeditated character of its publication, and the persistence of the defamation are factors to be considered in determining whether a publication is a libel rather than a slander.
Courts have defined libel as:
- defamation which is expressed by print, writing, pictures, or signs.
- written or visual defamation.
- malicious defamation expressed in writing.
- the malicious publication, expressed either in printing or in writing or by signs and pictures, tending to injure the reputation of another person or to expose that person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule or to injure that person in the maintenance of the person's business.
- a statement of and concerning the plaintiff which is false in some material respect and is communicated to a third person by written or printed words and has a tendency to harm the plaintiff's reputation.
- a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy or which causes him or her to be shunned or avoided or which has a tendency to injure him or her in his or her occupation.
- the malicious defamation of a person made public by any printing, writing, sign, picture, representation, or effigy tending to provoke that person to wrath or expose him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or to deprive him or her of the benefits of public confidence and social intercourse.
- a false and malicious publication made with the intent to injure a person's reputation or expose him or her to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame, or disgrace, or to affect him or her adversely in his or her trade or profession.
Some jurisdictions have defined libel by statute as"
- a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy or which causes him or her to be shunned or avoided or which has a tendency to injure him or her in his occupation.
- a false and malicious defamation of another, expressed in print or writing, tending to injure the reputation of the person and exposing him or her to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, and published to another.
- a false or malicious unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, or effigy or fixed representation.
- a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person's reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or to publish the natural defects of anyone and thereby expose the person to public hatred, ridicule, or financial injury.