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The internet has had a significant influence on the way that people express their views. The messages they share can cross the world in minutes, and could easily lead to a business or individual being libelled. Libel claims are not limited to blog posts and social media, however. Any written or permanent statement that is untrue, and which causes serious harm to your reputation, could give rise to a libel claim.
What is libel?
Defamation of a business or person comes in two forms, slander (spoken) or libel (written). Libel can potentially occur in any written statement, including those made:
- Online, such as social media posts and blogs
- Comments to blog posts
- Business reviews
- In videos streamed on YouTube, TikTok or similar platforms
- In newspapers or magazines
- In advertisements
- On meeting minutes, flyers, marketing communications or other documents
What is the legal test for libel?
Not every false or malicious statement will be libellous. First, the statement must be read by third parties. A tweet that gets no traction will not give rise to a libel claim – you would need to screenshot the likes, re-tweets and comments to prove that the statement was read.
Second, you will need to show that serious harm has been caused to your reputation. Serious harm occurs where the statement:
- Lowers you in the minds of right-thinking members of society
- Exposes you to hatred, ridicule or contempt
- Disparages your business or brand, or
- Causes you to be shunned or avoided.
Businesses often have a tougher time than individuals when making a libel claim. That’s because a business has to show that it has suffered serious financial loss as a result of the libel, as well as reputational harm.
How do I start a claim for libel?
The Court has a protocol for dealing with libel claims. The starting point is to send a letter of claim to the defendant, setting out everything you know about the claim. The defendant then has a period of time in which to respond.
The important thing is to take action quickly as you have only one year from the date of the publication to start court proceedings
There are various defences to a libel claim. The main one is ‘truth.’ If the defendant can show that the statement made about you is true, then the claim will fail. Similarly, if the statement was the defendant’s honest opinion, it was a reasonable opinion, and the defendant set out the basis for formulating this opinion, then it’s likely the claim will fail. You will need advice to confirm whether a defence applies or not.
How can a Collyer Bristow libel lawyer help?
We act for both claimants and defendants in libel claims, bringing decades of experience to the table. Our approach is to resolve the dispute quickly, minimise the damage to your reputation and prevent costs from spiralling out of control.
If it’s too late to make a libel claim or your claim is likely to fail for other reasons, it may still be possible to get the harmful material about you removed. Learn more about your right to have this material removed or corrected on our removal of online material and removal of printed material pages.