Seditious Libel

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Seditious Libel

Written or spoken words, pictures, signs, or other forms of communication that tend to defame, discredit, criticize, impugn, embarrass, challenge, or question the government, its policies, or its officials; speech that advocates the overthrow of the government by force or violence or that incites people to change the government by unlawful means.

The crime of seditious libel was used by the British Crown to stifle political opponents and consolidate power in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. English juries were permitted only to decide the factual issue of whether or not the defendant had communicated the speech in public; judges decided the legal issue of whether the communication constituted seditious libel. Truth was not a defense, and malicious intent to cause Sedition was not an element of the crime.

In the United States, legal experts disputed whether the English Common Law of seditious libel remained intact after the American Revolution. Federalist Party members in Congress concluded that it did, enacting the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to "write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious" words against the government, the president, or Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the debate in new york times co. v. sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (U.S. 1964), holding that the First Amendment forbids public officials from recovering money damages for libel in civil court, unless they can prove that the allegedly injurious speech was defamatory, false, and made with "actual malice," or in reckless disregard of the truth.


Censorship; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press; Libel and Slander.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Those who have sufficient power usually imprison or put to death any one who tries to shake their faith in their own excellence or in that of the universe; it is for this reason that seditious libel and blasphemy have always been, and still are, criminal offences.
The Tories were in power, and he was a Whig, and he presently found himself expelled from the House of Commons for "uttering seditious libels." Shut out from politics, Steele turned once more to essay-writing, and published, one after the other, several papers of the same style as the Spectator, but none of them lived long.
These are clearly seditious libel that could be subjected to criminal prosecution,' the resolution further stated.
Johnson's spell in King's Bench Prison for seditious libel was
In an era in which an attack on the established Church was tantamount to an attack on the state, even playful mockery of clergymen could be read as seditious libel and a threat to law and order.
'Seditious libel' originates in the 1606 De Libellis Famosis (105) decision of the Star Chamber which created a wide offence of sedition that enabled prosecutions against people who used words that could urge insurrection against those in authority, or who censured public men for their conduct, or criticised the institutions of the country.
After the 2001 judgment, Connolly referred to the operation of the European Court of Justice as having affirmed the concept of "seditious libel," a long-discredited principle of jurisprudence maintaining that any attempt to criticize in writing the sovereign authority should be considered equivalent to seeking to overthrow the government itself.
Officially, copyright began in Britain with the Statute of Anne in 1710, but he begins with the trial and pillorying of Daniel Defoe in 1703 for seditious libel in his satirical pamphlet The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.
(2) We find further evidence of the belief that satire offered immunity from prosecution in Defoe's response to the indictment of The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702) for seditious libel. In his Brief Explanation of a Late Pamphlet Entituled, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters ...
After his successful defense of Rupert Murdoch's News in 1960 in a seditious libel case, John Jefferson Bray made a powerful enemy who coveted the position that Chief Justice Bray would come to hold; an enemy who would then ruthlessly target Bray's unconventional private life.
In 1703 he wrote a satirical pamphlet called "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters," for which he punished; found guilty of "seditious libel" he spent a short term in Newgate prison.