Defamation and libel: differences explained 

Defamation and libel: differences explained 

Libel and slander are terms that originate from the Criminal Code. They are crimes punishable by fines and even prison sentences, although, in the Netherlands, someone rarely ends up behind bars for libel or slander. They are mainly criminal terms. But someone guilty of libel or slander also commits an unlawful act (Art. 6:162 of the Civil Code) and can, therefore, also be prosecuted under civil law, whereby various measures can be claimed in summary proceedings or proceedings on the merits, such as rectification and removal of the unlawful statements.


The law describes defamation (art. 261 of the Penal Code) as deliberately harming someone’s honor or good name by accusing a particular fact to make it public. In short: defamation occurs when someone knowingly says ‘bad’ things about another person to bring this to the attention of others and put this person in a bad light. Defamation involves statements that attempt to ruin someone’s reputation.

Libel is a so-called ‘complaint offense’ and is prosecuted when someone reports it. Exceptions to this principle are defamation against the public authority, a public body, or an institution and slander against a civil servant in office. In the case of defamation against deceased persons, blood relatives must report it if they want the prosecution to take place. In addition, there is no punishment when the perpetrator has acted in the necessary defense. Also, a person cannot be convicted of defamation if he could have assumed in good faith that the charged offense was actual and it was in the public interest for it to be set. 


Besides defamation, there is also libel (art. 261 Sr). Libel is the written form of defamation. Libel is committed to deliberately blackening someone in public through, for example, a newspaper article or a public forum on a website. Defamation in writings that are read out loud also falls under libel. Like defamation, libel is only prosecuted when the victim reports this crime.

Difference between libel and defamation

Defamation (art. 262 of the Criminal Code) involves someone making accusations about another person in public while they know or should have known that those accusations are not valid. The line with defamation can sometimes be difficult to draw. If you know something is not true, then it can be defamation. If you tell the truth, then it can never be defamation. But it can be defamation or libel because telling the truth can also be punishable (and therefore unlawful). Indeed, the issue is not so much whether someone is lying but whether someone’s honor and reputation are affected by the accusation in question.

Agreement between libel and defamation

The person guilty of defamation or libel runs the risk of criminal prosecution. However, the person also commits a tort (Art. 6:162 of the Civil Code) and can be sued by the victim through the civil law route. For example, the victim can claim compensation and initiate summary proceedings.

Attempted libel and defamation

An attempt to libel or slander is also punishable. ‘attempt to’ means attempting to commit libel or slander against another person. A requirement here is that there must be a beginning of the execution of the offense. Do you know that someone will post a negative message about you? And do you want to prevent this? Then you can ask the court in summary proceedings to prohibit this. You will need a lawyer for this.


People or companies are daily accused of scams, fraud, and other crimes. It is the order of the day on the internet, in newspapers, or on television and radio. But accusations should be able to be backed up by facts, especially if those accusations are serious. If the accusations are unjustified, the person who made the accusation may well be guilty of libel, defamation, or slander. Then it is a good idea to start by filing a police report. You can do this yourself or together with your lawyer. You can then take the following steps:

Step 1: check whether you are dealing with libel (writing) or defamation

Step 2: Let the person know you want him to stop and ask him to delete the messages.

Is the message in a newspaper or online? Ask the administrator to remove the message.

Also, let it be known that you will take legal action if the person does not stop or delete the messages.

Step 3: It is difficult to prove that someone purposely wants to damage your ‘good name.’ Someone may also speak negatively about you to warn others. Both defamation and libel are criminal offenses and a ‘complaint offense.’ This means that the police can only do something if you report it yourself. So gather as much evidence as possible for this, such as:

  • copies of messages, photos, letters, or other documents
  • WhatsApp messages, e-mails, or other messages on the internet
  • reports from others who have seen or heard something

Step 4: You must report it to the police if you want there to be a criminal case. The prosecutor decides whether he has enough evidence and starts a criminal case.

Step 5: If there is enough evidence, the prosecutor can start a criminal case. The judge may give a punishment, usually a fine. Also, the judge may decide that the person must delete the message and stop spreading new messages. Keep in mind that a criminal case can take a long time.

Will there be no criminal case? Or do you want the posts removed quickly? Then you can file a lawsuit in civil court. In this case, you can ask for the following:

  • have the message removed.
  • a ban on posting new messages.
  • a ‘rectification.’ This involves rectifying/restoring the previous reporting.
  • compensation.
  • a penalty. Then the offender must also pay a fine if he does not comply with the court’s decision.

Damages for libel and slander

Although defamation and libel can be reported, these offenses rarely lead to a prison sentence, at most to a relatively low fine. Therefore, many victims choose to take legal action against the perpetrator (also) through civil law. The injured party is entitled to compensation under the Civil Code if an accusation or imputation is unlawful. Different types of damages can be suffered. The main ones are reputation damage and (for companies) turnover damage.


If someone is a repeat offender or is in court for committing libel, defamation, or slander multiple times, they can expect a higher penalty. In addition, whether the offense was one continuing act or separate acts must be considered.

Are you facing libel or slander? And would you like more information about your rights? Then do not hesitate to contact Law & More lawyers. Our lawyers are very experienced and will be happy to advise you and assist you in legal proceedings. 



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