Is libel reform now really possible?

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  • While I'm no particular fan of corporations, I'm not sure that legislating that even the most deliberately false and defamatory things may be said of a corporation without it's being able to take any legal action is really necessary.
    To make up an example, if someone was going about saying that baby food made by 'Mike from Ottawa Baby Foods Inc' was made with actual babies, I'd think it a bit unfair that MFOBFI was unable to take any legal action. It's also hard to see why Mike from Ottawa, carrying on business as MFOBF, could sustain an action in defamation while MFOBFI could not when it seems to me identical issues and interests are involved.

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  • @Mike:
    It strikes me as reasonable for a corporation to be able to sue for actual proven economic damages (such as loss of business) for malicious libel. However, it is ridiculous for a corporation to be able to sue for non-economic damages in libel. Corporations don't have feelings!

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  • @Mike: At least in English law there is a separate tort of malicious falsehood: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malicious_falsehood

    As I understand it, the view of libel reformers is that corporations should still be able to sue for malicious falsehood, but not for defamation. This seems to me to be a sensible compromise.

    (A question to Allen: in the UK public authorities cannot sue for defamation; can they still sue for malicious falsehood?)

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  • @dw

    "Corporations don't have feelings!"

    Indeed they don't, but then libel isn't about isn't about hurt feelings. That would be more in the line of the tort of intentional infliction of mental suffering.

    Libel is about reputation which is an important asset in a business. Damage to the reputation of a business occasions exactly the same loss in regard to reputation when the business is a corporation as it does if the business is a sole proprietorship, for example, a lawyer practicing on her own.

    And damages are not necessarily the important factor but rather the ability to obtain an injunction to prevent further damage to reputation.

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  • @dw:
    They do have reputations, though, and libel seeks to protect reputations not "feelings".
    Mr Green simply does not establish that private companies should be treated the same as public authorities. There is a clear policy ground for refusing a right to sue for defamation to public authorities: it is central to democracy that public bodies can be discussed fully. If democracy is the right to take part in communal living then the agencies that regulate communal living must be fully open to interpretation in any way possible. Their financial fortunes must come second to this.
    Private bodies are different. By definition we do not all have an equal interest in the very nature of their individual existences. They exist for profit, and so harm to their reputation goes to the core of their purpose. In the absence of other compelling policy grounds their reputations can be vindicated.

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  • @gb:

    But why should a corporation's "reputation" be worthy of protection? My suggestion is that, while a person's reputation may be deserving of protection for a variety of reasons, a corporation should be able to sue for loss of reputation only insofar as it leads to tangible economic loss.

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  • @dw
    I suppose you've got a point- a person's reputation is intimately connected to their ability to have a meaningful role in society and that has to be protected. But I would contend that a) businesses, if taken as unconnected to the ability to live a 'good life' ought to benefit from libel protection anyway and that b) business is intimately connected to a 'good life'.

    A) Forcing a business to prove damage does seem a little harsh to me- could it be so simple as pointing to a downturn in sales or would it need something more qualitative?
    In that case would businesses be allowed to sue for the full cost of their losses? This could strengthen the power of big companies in 'libel' cases.

    B) And this would leave a problem in the case of sole-owner businesses: 'libel' against the business in de facto libel against the owner, but with less protection for the victim. This argument could even be extended to the CEOs of major companies.

    I'm not sure we should protect the reckless slanderer at the expense of the damaged company: the ability to earn a living is also closely connected to the ability to live a good and meaningful life as it gives us the opportunity to provide for ourselves and to be productive for society. This can be impaired by libel.

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