Protecting Reputation: Defamation and Negligence
29 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (2009), 603-41
45 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2012 Last revised: 14 Feb 2014
Date Written: February 10, 2012
The present article concerns itself with the relationship between defamation and negligence in the protection of the interest in reputation. The bijection between defamation and reputation is typically thought of as perfect: defamation only protects reputation, while reputation is only protected by defamation. This article shows, however, that neither limb of the proposition is true; furthermore, there is no principled ground why they should be. In particular, there is no reason why the tort of negligence could not prima facie extend the scope of its protection to reputation. It might seem that the fact that negligence, as a tort, requires by construction culpa, whereas defamation appears to rely on either more or less than that as a standard of liability, would prove an insuperable stumbling-block in the way of this suggestion. The hurdle, however, is not nearly as formidable as it might appear at first, because, as this article documents, negligence has for more than a century been acting as a magnet on the law of defamation, surreptitiously bringing its standard of liability increasingly close to negligence-culpa.
Keywords: defamation, negligence, English law, tort law, taxonomy, reputation
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