Is Libel Dead… Or Is It Just Changing?

from the not-dead-yet dept

A few folks have sent over a recent article from The New York Observer declaring that “the end of libel” is upon us, noting that Time Inc. has no active libel suits against it and the NY Times has no domestic libel suits against it. In both cases, it’s the first time in three decades that they don’t have any active libel suits going on. The article then goes on to speculate why this is happening, and comes up with a few compelling reasons, including the fact that those who feel they’ve been wronged now have their own platform to speak out in response. This is a point we’ve mentioned in the past as well. Defamation law was designed for a time when there were gatekeepers to information, and those who were wronged had no way to make that known other than the very expensive and messy process of litigation. But now that anyone can broadcast their own views, there’s a much cheaper and efficient retort when someone feels they’ve been wronged.

The Observer also wonders if another reason may be the general decline of the financial well-being of various big name media publications — such that those who might have filed libel lawsuits in the past just don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t buy that. Most people file libel lawsuits out of anger, not necessarily for the monetary rewards.

I have another thought why such libel suits may have declined, and am somewhat surprised that the article didn’t mention it: our old favorite, The Streisand Effect. That is, over the past decade, perhaps more and more lawyers (and those considering libel lawsuits) are realizing that in bringing such a lawsuit, they often are calling a lot more attention to the content they wish would disappear. It’s often easier to just let it go than to file a lawsuit.

Of course, there is another view on all of this as well. Media lawyer Robert Ambrogi noted, in response to the Observer article, that the article only seems to look at libel lawsuits against the mainstream media. The truth, he questions, might just be that libel lawsuits have moved elsewhere, such as us riffraff who publish online blogs or other online forums. I can definitely say that the number one legal threat we get here is libel (and those come often enough, though, no one’s yet actually filed a lawsuit). Usually, the threat of such a defamation lawsuit is an empty legal threat to get us to delete a comment, but it is made frequently enough. So, while there may be fewer libel suits against big name publishers, it’s still a favorite tool used (or at least threatened) against plenty of online sites.

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Comments on “Is Libel Dead… Or Is It Just Changing?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

it could also be that these publications no longer have the budgets needed to do truly in depth reporting, so everything is done by the numbers. basically, they are not rocking the boat.

dont try to credit your lovely ‘effect’ for much of anything. libel is still libel, it is way more likely that less is being said that is libelous (in these publications) rather than anything else. i suspect more that that the libel occurs anonymously on websites and blogs, and then is ‘reported’ in a manner that leaves the magazines and newspapers free and clear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

i just think as always, mike is fast to try to stick himself in front of something and claim it as his own. my thoughts are that if he is willing to do it on something as simple as this (which has a very simple alternate solution), imagine what he does on the more complex stuff. it makes me wonder.

Another Anonymous Coward says:

Journalistic Dependence

There is another possible explanation for the decline in libel suits. Over the last 30 years, our media outlets have been bought up, consolidated and incorported into giant media empires that may not wish to get involved in expensive litigation. It is possible the the fundamental editorial policies of the NYT are now set in London rather than NYC.

Anonymous Coward says:

bad article

Defamation law was designed for a time when there were gatekeepers to information,

SO its ok if i run around calling the owners of this site pedophiles ?

thought that would get your attention.
Reason NYtimes isn’t getting libel suits is cause they aren’t doing stories to shake up anymore they are embedded journalists in all things now.

Anonymous Coward says:

@ all above

its was serious question cause the fct that somehting right now isn’t happening dont mean it wont

case in point the sun hasn’t become a red giant therefore we must conclude it will never become one.

i urge yu to a trip to the uncyclopedia article about the moon being made of cheese as proof it is.

ASS kissing to govt and industry seem ot be a journalists best bet these days and that seems ot be the trend and why you get a bigger push to pay walling.

Anonymous Coward says:

Last time I looked “slander” did not require use of the internet.

As for “libel”, once a truly libelous statement is out in the public eye there is virtually nothing one can do to put that “genie back in the bottle”.

The solution(s) suggested in the article do nothing to undo the potentially serious consequences associated with a libelous statement.

Sometimes the best thing to do is, in fact, to do nothing. But this is hadly a universal rule.

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