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Criminal Libel vs. Civil Libel

Criminal Libel vs. Civil Libel

Libel laws in the US can get extremely complicated: Criminal Libel vs. Civil Libel.

There’s a difference between Criminal Libel vs. Civil Libel that you need to be aware of when publishing content and when deciding whether to take legal action against a third-party.

First of all, it’s important to mention that in 24 states there are no provisions for criminal libel, so for further information, you should speak to a lawyer in your state.

But let’s take a look at the differences between Criminal Libel vs. Civil Libel.

What are the Definitions?

Criminal defamation is a much more serious charge than civil libel and it can always lead to a prosecution.

An act of criminal defamation involves committing a crime in order to defame another party. For example, someone could write a slanderous blog about a candidate running for political office. They could accuse the candidate of corruption without any evidence to support their claims. This would be criminal defamation.

It should be noted that criminal defamation cases are extremely rare in the US due to concerns about enforcing this law and the effect on First Amendment rights.

Civil libel, on the other hand, involves no criminal offense and it’s not always possible to sue someone over this. It’s possible to get legal compensation, however. Nobody can go to jail as a direct result of civil libel.

Why are Criminal Defamations so Rare?

Criminal defamation is very much a relic of the past and is most commonly associated with dictatorships. The state can use it as a means to control the press. Countries that actively enforce criminal defamation typically don’t have a free press, which is why you rarely find these cases in the US.

On average, a successful criminal defamation case will lead to a conviction once every thirty or so years. Journalists are particularly hostile to these laws and half of US states have removed this law from their books entirely.

How Civil Defamation is Dangerous

The main difference between the two is that criminal defamation has to be malicious. An act of civil libel can happen completely by accident.

You may decide to write a blog about a company that you claim is cutting its quality products with cheaper alternatives in a bid to save money.

That company might decide to sue you for civil libel. You can’t be prosecuted criminally, but if found guilty you would have to pay compensation to the company.

This is why companies have to be extremely careful about what they say. Even saying something slanderous by accident could lead to a lawsuit.

Is there a Defense for Civil Libel?

There’s little point in discussing defenses for criminal defamation cases because they’re practically a non-issue in the 21st century.

However, for civil libel, the most common defense is that you’re telling the truth. This is why companies that do make controversial statements only do so when they have facts to back up their claims. It’s why you’ll never see Apple or Samsung directly attacking each other.

Last Word – Tread Carefully

The main takeaway is that you should always be aware of what you say. Anything that could be construed as an attack should be carefully considered before putting it into the public domain.

Have you ever experienced a libel case?


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