Guide to libel and slander for businesses

Guide to libel and slander for businesses

What is libel and slander?

We’ve all seen libel and slander cases hitting the headlines – most seemingly involving celebrities or the rich and famous – however it’s also a big problem for businesses and in the most extreme cases can damage a businesses reputation to the point where it can no longer continue trading. So what should you do if your business finds out that a third party is making libellous or slanderous statements about it?

What is libel and slander?

As you might already know, libel and slander is when somebody makes a false or untrue statement or claim about an individual or an organisation that harms their reputation or good standing. Both are classed as defamation but there is an important difference between the two - libel concerns written or drawn statements, whilst slander concerns spoken defamatory words. In either case, defamation is said to have occurred simply when a statement is made that lowers somebody’s opinion of your business as a result of hearing or reading it.

Defamation can often take place on social media, where individuals and customers are able to express their feelings about your business. Find out how social media can damage your brand.

What can I do about it?

If your business finds itself in the unfortunate situation of having a libellous or slanderous statement made about it then the most important thing is to quickly assess and the situation and, if necessary, take decisive action. In many cases no action will need to be taken because few people are likely to hear the statement and/or take the comments seriously even if they do because of where they have come from or by whom they have been made. In this scenario the comments are unlikely to do much harm to your businesses success and in such circumstances drawing attention to it may actually do more harm than good.

If you do decide that action is needed then remember that you don’t necessarily have to go down the route of legal action. Launching a positive marketing campaign for example may be a more effective way of addressing the problem and turn out to be money well spent. Legal action can be costly and time consuming and there is no guarantee that the outcome will be what you were hoping for.

What if I need to take legal action?

If you decide that legal action is needed then your first step is to get in touch with a solicitor. They will firstly be able to assess if you have a claim and if so will start legal proceedings on your behalf. Bear in mind that in order to make a claim you need to start legal proceedings within 12 months of the defamatory statement being made otherwise you will be legally unable to take any action against the other party.

How can I avoid making libellous or slanderous statements myself?

It’s not just the threat of other people saying things about you – bearing a few simple principles in mind can help you to avoid landing yourself in trouble too. This is especially the case in situations where you might feel angry about defamatory comments others have made about you and you feel like retaliating. Obviously this is the worst thing you can do and it is much better to remain calm and take a considered approach rather than acting on impulse.

In short, the think to remember is quite simply ‘think before you speak!’ Be extremely careful about making accusations about another party, especially if you cannot provide proof that what you are saying is true. While you might believe that what you are saying is absolutely true, making statements to a third party leaves you open to being sued for defamation. It is much better to focus on yourself and your business rather than on the action of others.

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