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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Author: Alan Bryson

A brief history of libel

At a Cambridge court hearing in 1584, Margery Johnson reported that she heard Thomas Wylkinson refer to “the said Jane Johnson thus ‘A pox of God on thee, bitch fox whore, that ever I knew thee.’” If Wylkinson indeed called down such a curse on Jane, he was guilty not of libel, but of slander, a verbal attack on another person. Libel, in contrast, is defined as defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.

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