Libel/Slander

Definitions

Libel - For comments about an individual to be libelous, they must: (1) be false and (2) injure that person's reputation.
Slander - Similar to libel except that it appears in transitory form, such as speech, rather than in a published medium such as print or a internet server.

Defamation

Defamation consists of the related torts of libel (written statements) or slander (oral statements), which involve a false statement tending to injure the reputation of another. The Internet is informal and instantaneous, and has numerous outlets for publicly expressing opinions. These characteristics allow users to make defamatory remarks that they may otherwise be incapable of making. Bulletin boards, mailing lists, forums, newsgroups, and even e-mail are subject to the laws of defamation.

II. Impact of the Internet on Libel/Slander

There are a number of features unique to the Internet which distinguish it from any other medium. These features have led to the current re-examination of existing libel laws to allow for their possible evolution and ultimately their application in cyberspace. The first feature of the Internet is its truly global nature. Presently, more than 125 countries are linked via the Internet. This feature immediately raises several interesting conflict of law questions for the libel lawyer, such as:

  1. In which jurisdiction did the publication of the defamation occur?

    Theoretically, every time a third party accesses a defamatory posting on the Internet, publication has occurred.

  2. In what jurisdiction should the plaintiff sue?

    Where the plaintiff resides?
    Where the defendant resides?
    Wherever publication has occurred?

    Defamation laws vary from country to country and in countries such as the Canada, Australia and the United States, it can vary from province to province and state to state. Therefore, plaintiffs may have the luxury of "forum shopping" or choosing the jurisdiction in which the laws most favourable to him/her.

  3. Whose laws should apply?

    For example, should First Amendment protection and the public figure defence available in the United States of America apply; or should the common law of the commonwealth or the civil law?


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