If you are considering a career in the entertainment industry, one of the first things you should do is hire an entertainment lawyer to make sure that your best interest are protected. The field of entertainment law is vast and quite complicated and one of the most complicated and often misunderstood areas is that of libel and slander. While these two terms are very much related and are sometimes, incorrectly, used interchangeably, they are different and it is important that anyone considering a career in the entertainment industry know the difference, know when they have been a victim of libel or slander and know the only true ultimate defense. Let’s take a look at these two terms and how they are used, and often, misused.
Before we talk about how the two terms are different, let’s look at how they are similar. Both libel and slander qualify as defamation of character. Defamation of character is defined as the clear communication of false information as stated as fact which then brings harm to an individual or an entity. To put it simply, defamation of character is a lie told by someone to another individual or group that does harm to you or to a group. Since both libel and slander fit under the definition of defamation of character, it is easy to see how the two can get confused. Even the mass media sometimes uses the words interchangeably, so confusion is understandable.
Libel is defined as defamation of character that is in written form. If you read something untrue written about you that you feel does you harm that is in a magazine, newspaper or other written medium, than you have been libeled. On the other hand, if you hear someone say something that you know is untrue and it is being said to more than just you and that you have been harmed in some way by what was said, than you have been slandered. What makes libel law and slander so difficult to define is that, especially in the world of entertainment, ideas cross multiple media platforms so quickly. There could be a breaking news story in an entertainment publication like Variety that hours later is repeated by an anchor on the television show Entertainment Tonight. In a matter of hours, what was once libel has become slander.
While your entertainment lawyer may craft several defenses in court in an attempt to defend you and win damages against the parties who either libeled or slandered you, there is only one “absolute defense” against these actions and that is proving that they are false. Of course, this can be drastically more difficult than it sounds. For instance, Tom Cruise has sued several different organizations for both slander and libel for reporting that he is gay, but “proving” that he isn’t is obviously extremely difficult. This is why so many slander and libel cases never advance to a court trial and why defamation of character is one of the hardest things to prove in any category of law.