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Defamation Law in a Changing Society: The Case of Youssoupoff v Metro-Goldwyn Mayer

Legal Studies, Vol. 20, p. 291, 2000

29 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2007 Last revised: 2 Mar 2008

Kim Treiger-Bar-Am

College of Law and Business


Defamation law offers a unique view of society and the changes it undergoes. When a claim of reputational injury is made, the case exposes the prejudices alive in the particular society at hand. When the law deems a claim actionable, it recognizes and, at some level, lends credence to the prejudices held. The case of Youssoupoff v MGM is a case in point. The claim by Princess Youssoupoff in 1934 that an imputation of rape or seduction is libelous reveals underlying currents in English society at the time as to class, nation and gender. The judicial recognition of the claim, and the legal and extra-legal reactions to the claim at the time and since then, further raise for examination the relationship between law and morality. To be recognized as defamatory, must an allegation impute immorality to the plaintiff? Should the law of defamation recognize societal prejudices that are real, even if deemed by lawmakers and the judiciary to be invalid? Is it the function of the law to mirror the society in which it is produced or to carry it forward?

Keywords: defamation, libel, morality, blameworthiness, gender, class, rape

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Treiger-Bar-Am, Kim, Defamation Law in a Changing Society: The Case of Youssoupoff v Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. Available at SSRN:

Kim Treiger-Bar-Am (Contact Author)

College of Law and Business ( email )

Faculty of Law

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