Can you libel a dead person?

Is there such a thing as libel/slander if the subject of the slur is deceased?

N.B. My question applies only to the laws of the US and Europe.

Cecil touches upon this topic in this column.

How does this apply to stars like Elton John and Billy Joel who have copyrighted their names?

In the UK you can not libel the dead. This site says:

John Thaw and Spike Milligan were involved in a syndicate that sold pornographic pictures of underage sheep.

[sub]My, that was in extremely poor taste.[/sub]

I know for sure that you can’t hurt their feelings. :wink:

IANAL but I did get an A in media law last year…

According to US law, you cannot libel the dead.

The estate/survivors of the person in question cannot sue you if you say something nasty about a dead person because there are 7 criteria or something you have to meet in order to prove libel/slander, one of them being that the words caused personal trauma and you can’t very well be traumatized if you’re 6 feet under. And the trauma of the survivors doesn’t count.

So, you can say publicly or publish that JFK used to kill little children and eat them for breakfast and no one can sue you for it.

There was a lawsuit regarding that in 1964, when a scurrilous “biography” of Jean Harlow was published. Her father sued the author and publisher, but a judge ruled that you cannot libel the dead. . . Which explains the trashy books that come our right after celebs die . . . (cough—Mommie Dearest—cough)




Not only do the dead have no protection against claims of libel or slander, they lack other legal protections afforded to the living…a good example would be the right to “confidentiality” as regards medical information that otherwise would be protected.

In other words, nothing about the dead is confidential or protected. For example, the fact that a living person may be infected with HIV is considered “protected” information. Once the person is defunct, no such confidentiality exists.

Well, the dead do retain at least one right: right of publicity (in California at least. New York they didn’t although there was some noise a few years ago to grant ROP to the dead).

Most famous (and first real) case was Bela Lugosi. Larry, Moe & Curley won a recent victory: