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Libel Law for Writers and Authors (What You Need to Know)

What writers and authors need to know
A Simple Guide

What Are Defamation And Libel?

Defamation is any published material that damages the reputation of an individual or an organisation. As well as books, this covers material on the internet as well as radio and television broadcasts – so even drama and fiction can be defamatory if they damage someone’s reputation.

You can only publish defamatory material if it comes within one of the recognised legal defences. If it doesn’t, the publication will amount to libel and you may have to pay substantial damages. Slander is ‘defamation by word of mouth’.

The Purpose Of Libel Law

Libel law protects individuals or organisations from unwarranted, mistaken or untruthful attacks on their reputation.

A person is libelled if a publication:

  • Exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt
  • Causes them to be shunned or avoided
  • Generally lowers them in the eyes of society
  • Discredits them in their trade, business or profession

Get Your Facts Right

The most important point is to make absolutely sure that what you are printing or writing is true. Do not make claims or accusations that you cannot prove. Even if you think you can do this, be cautious. Proving things in court can be very difficult.

And the test of what the words mean is what a reasonable reader is likely to take as their natural and ordinary meaning, in their full context – what you intended as the author or publisher is irrelevant.

If you write something that cannot be substantiated, the credibility of your site, organisation or cause may be questioned. It can also land you with an expensive lawsuit and there is no legal aid for libel cases.