The law of defamation treats corporations almost identically to natural persons. In most common law countries, corporations may bring defamation actions, and the elements are the same for corporate plaintiffs as for natural person plaintiffs, as are the defences. So too, are the principles for awarding damages.
Both people and corporations have valuable reputations worthy of legal protection. However, given the significantly different effect of reputational injury on humans than on corporations, the principles applied in quantifying damages to each should differ. Aggravating factors relating to emotional injuries should not be considered in assessing reputational injury to corporations, because corporations cannot suffer such injuries. Specifically, I focus on the relevance to the quantification of damages of: a) the defendant’s failure to apologize; b) the defendant’s malice; and c) the aim of vindicating reputation. Examples are drawn primarily from Canadian law but also from the laws of other common law countries.
The article first argues against treating a defendant’s failure to apologize to a corporation as a factor aggravating damages. The only relevance to a corporation of an apology is as a form of setting the record straight. Thus, an apology may mitigate damages but a failure to apologize will often have no effect on damages. Yet the law treats a failure to apologize as aggravating damages.
Similarly, the defendant’s malice is considered a factor aggravating damages, but since corporations cannot be upset, embarrassed or insulted, it is not clear that malice should be relevant to calculating their compensatory damages.
Finally, courts should no longer award damages in order to vindicate corporate reputation. The interest in human dignity may justify the vindicatory goal of defamation law. However, given that corporations have no dignity to protect, and given a number of problems associated with attempting to award damages to vindicate reputation, it is not justifiable to award corporations damages to vindicate their reputations.Australian law, of course, takes a different stance regarding defamation of corporate persons.
'Splendid Isolation? Australia as a Destination for 'Libel Tourism'' by David Rolph in (2012) 19 Australian International Law Journal 79 comments
The phenomenon of ‘libel tourism’ has caused tension between the United States and the United Kingdom. The issue highlights the differences between American and English defamation laws and conflict of laws rules. Both in the United States and the United Kingdom, there has been legislation proposed or enacted to address the real or perceived problem of ‘libel tourism’. This article analyses ‘libel tourism’ and the responses to it in both countries. Given that Australia’s defamation laws and conflict of laws rules are arguably more restrictive than those of the United Kingdom, this article examines the prospect of Australia becoming an attractive destination for ‘libel tourism’.