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What is Slander?

Updated on February 12, 2010

Slander, in law, is spoken defamation, a false and malicious oral statement that injures another person's reputation. The distinction was first made between spoken injury (slander) and printed or written injury (libel) soon after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Slander was relatively minor in its effect because it was limited to word of mouth. Although modern electronic amplification and broadcasting have tended to make this distinction obsolete, it is still embodied in most legislation, with proportionately smaller damages for slander. Courts in the United States have tried to modernize the law by defining defamation via radio or television as a hybrid form. They have held that a printed text or typescript is prima facie evidence of intent to publish. Or they have treated both slander and libel as varying forms of the same basic injury, which therefore warrant the same basic remedies. See also libel.

Practical distinctions still exist between an injury caused by a permanent record and an injury caused by the passing impact of spoken words. In slander suits, the tangible record may be an audiovisual tape recording or the testimony of witnesses that is almost all hearsay. However, slander suits may cover the same range of injuries as libel: false or unwarranted allegations of crime, of immoral or antisocial behavior, or of unprofessional activities that denigrate the individual in the opinion of his peers.

Slander may refer to (1) words that are injurious and therefore actionable in themselves or (2) words that create liability only by causing consequential damage. The first category is similar to libel per se in that the words charge the injured party with behavior that is subject to prosecution or at the least, obloquy. The second category, similar to libel per quod, includes statements that under the circumstances cause a direct injury. Slander, like libel, must be "published," which in the case of slander means communication to a third person.

Slander of title is a technical form of defamation that is more accurately described as "disparagement of property." It covers both oral and written injury to an individual's interest in real or personal property.

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