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What are the Different Types of Libel Law?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 16, 2024
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Libel law offers a legal recourse to those who have false information written and published about them that harms their reputation, moral character, and integrity. The two main types of libel laws are libel per se and libel per quod. The elements to prove libel law are a published statement, a false statement, an injurious statement, and an unprivileged statement, which means the statement is not otherwise protected by law. A libel per quod lawsuit often requires that the plaintiff provide additional facts to prove the elements of the case.

Libel laws are a subset of defamation law in most jurisdictions. These laws are similar to slander laws, and the elements used to prove both are the same. The difference between libel law and slander law is that the former protects against injury to reputation and moral character in written and published statements, and the latter protects against injury to reputation and moral character in spoken statements. There are civil penalties for libel, and the injured has a legal recourse in civil courts. Courts may award punitive damages in libel lawsuits.

Libel per se, which means on its face in Latin, refers to written words that outright defame someone’s reputation. The statement has to be untrue in order for the plaintiff to win a libel per se case. The plaintiff doesn’t have to claim special damages, only that the elements of libel were met. For example, if a newspaper prints that a local businessman murdered his wife and the elements required to prove a libel case are met, then the plaintiff would be awarded damages. No matter how awful the statement is, the plaintiff often has to prove that the statement resulted in actual harm to his reputation, because defamation law is a form of tort law.

Libel per quod, which means under cover in Latin, means that a written and public statement lead to injury to reputation based on the context of the statement and how readers might interpret it. Unlike libel per se, the plaintiff has to claim special damages and show facts additional to what is often required in a libel lawsuit. The reason is that libel per quod in libel law is often more subjective than libel per se, which is straightforward. An example of libel per quod is when a newspaper publishes a birth announcement claiming that Sandra Williams on Main Street is the proud mother, but Sandra is a 16-year-old and a devout Christian, and the paper really meant to write about another Sandra who lives on Second Street. The error is libel per quod because Sandra is a minor, and the announcement may suggest that she is promiscuous and not a devout Christian after all.

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Discussion Comments

By Lostnfound — On Jan 20, 2014

Libel is one of those funny things that is very, very hard to prove, because most courts insist on a *knowledge* of the libel before looking at finding the defendant in violation of libel laws.

In libel per se, the media outlet pretty much has to know what they are printing is a lie when they print it. That's how the tabloids get caught and have to pay up when they are sued. Or, the plaintiff has to prove that the media outlet deliberately neglected to check a "fact" before printing it.

Even so, libel per se is easier to prove than libel per qod. Damage to a reputation is notoriously difficult to prove, and there's still the whole "deliberate" thing.

Reputable media outlets are always concerned about libel because, even if the outlet prevails in the lawsuit, they have spent a great deal of money to prove their innocence. Many outlets will settle out of court, because it's cheaper than a protracted court battle.

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