Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Libel Definition:

Written form of defamation such as on the Internet, in a newspaper or a letter.

Related Terms: Defamation, Defamatory Libel, Slander, Absolute Privilege, Qualified Privilege, Cartoon

The law recognizes that the verbal, oral or libel variety of defamation can be more damaging than slander.

In Gatley on Libel and Slander:

"Libel is committed when defamatory matter is published in permanent form or in a form which is deemed to be permanent. Defamation published by spoken word or in some other transitory form is slander."

Justice Parke wrote in O'Brien:

"Everything printed or written, which reflects upon the character of another, and is published without lawful justification or excuse, is a libel whatever the intention may have been."

In Pollard, the US Supreme Court adopted these words:

"(Defamation), in writing or in print, says the commentator, has always been considered in our law a graver and more serious wrong and injury than slander by word of the mouth, inasmuch as it is accompanied by greater coolness and deliberation, indicates greater malice, and is in general propagated wider and farther than oral slander."

Historically, the common law used the word to capture both libel and slander, which lawyers today prefer to use the word defamation in that context. The common law described what we now call slander as verbal or oral slander and libel as written or printed slander.

Note the value the law places on reputation; this, from Justice Malins in Dixon:

"His reputation is his property and, if possible, more valuable than other property."

French: diffamation écrite.


  • Dixon v Holden 7 Eq. 492 (L.R., 1869)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Defamation Law
  • Milmo, P. and others, Gatley on Libel and Slander (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 2004)
  • O'Brien v Clement 15 M. &. W. 437 (1846)
  • Pollard v Lyon 91 US 225 (1875)

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