Define: Trade Slander

Trade Slander
Trade Slander
Quick Summary of Trade Slander

Trade Slander refers to the act of making false and damaging statements about a business, its products, or services. This type of slander is verbal and not documented, constituting a form of defamation that harms the reputation of the business. Unlike libel, which is written defamation, trade slander is not a criminal offence and can only be pursued as a civil injury. To establish a case of trade slander, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the untrue statement caused actual harm to their business.

What is the dictionary definition of Trade Slander?
Dictionary Definition of Trade Slander

Trade slander is a form of defamation that involves spoken statements that are not recorded. It involves making false claims about a business or its products or services, which can damage its reputation. For instance, if someone spreads a rumour that a restaurant serves stale food, it can harm the restaurant’s reputation and deter customers from dining there. This serves as an example of trade slander. It is important to note that trade slander differs from trade libel, which refers to false statements that are written or published and harm a business’s reputation. Both trade slander and trade libel are considered forms of defamation and can lead to legal consequences if they cause harm to a business.

Full Definition Of Trade Slander

Trade slander, also known as business disparagement or commercial disparagement, refers to the act of making false and damaging statements about a business or its products. This overview will provide a detailed examination of trade slander, including its definition, legal elements, defences, remedies, and notable cases in British law.


Definition of Trade Slander

Trade slander, or business disparagement, involves making false and injurious statements about a business or its products with the intent to cause financial harm. These statements can damage a company’s reputation, leading to loss of customers, revenue, and goodwill. Unlike personal defamation, which targets individuals, trade slander focuses on protecting the business interests of companies and their products.

Importance of Addressing Trade Slander

Trade slander can have severe financial and reputational consequences for businesses. Addressing such claims promptly and effectively is crucial for maintaining market position and customer trust. Legal redress provides a means to counteract false statements and mitigate damage.

Legal Framework

Overview of Defamation Laws

In the UK, defamation laws are designed to protect individuals and entities from false statements that could harm their reputation. Defamation can be classified into two categories: libel (written or published statements) and slander (spoken statements). Trade slander, though more specific, falls under the broader umbrella of defamation law.

Distinction Between Libel and Slander

Libel involves defamatory statements in a permanent form, such as written articles, online posts, or broadcast media. Slander refers to transient forms of defamation, primarily spoken words. Trade slander typically involves oral statements but can extend to any temporary form of communication that disparages a business.

Specifics of Trade Slander

Trade slander specifically targets false statements made about a business’s goods or services. The key difference from personal defamation is the focus on commercial interests rather than personal reputation. The legal thresholds and defences for trade slander can differ slightly from those for personal defamation.

Elements of Trade Slander

To establish a claim of trade slander, a plaintiff must prove several key elements:

False Statement

The statement in question must be false. Truthful statements, no matter how damaging, do not constitute trade slander. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff to demonstrate the falsity of the statement.


The false statement must be communicated to at least one person other than the plaintiff. Publication in defamation law includes any form of dissemination, whether verbal or written.


The plaintiff must prove that the statement was made with malice, meaning the defendant knew it was false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. Malice can be difficult to prove but is crucial for a successful trade slander claim.


The plaintiff must show that the false statement caused actual damage to the business. This can include financial losses, loss of customers, or harm to the business’s reputation. In some cases, damages may be presumed if the statement is particularly egregious.

Defences to Trade Slander

Several defences are available to those accused of trade slander:


If the statement is true, it is an absolute defence against a trade slander claim. The defendant must provide evidence to substantiate the truth of the statement.


Privilege protects statements made in specific circumstances, such as during court proceedings or parliamentary debates. This defence recognises the importance of free speech in specific situations, even if the statements are defamatory.

Fair Comment

A fair comment allows for opinions or criticisms on matters of public interest, provided they are based on true facts. This defence is relevant in cases where the statement is an honest expression of opinion rather than a factual assertion.


If the plaintiff consented to the publication of the statement, they cannot later claim it was defamatory. Consent can be explicit or implied, but it must be unequivocal.

Remedies for Trade Slander

The purpose of trade slander remedies is to make up for the plaintiff’s losses and lessen the harm that the defamatory statement caused. These can include:


Monetary compensation is the most common remedy in trade slander cases. Damages can be compensatory (to cover actual losses) or punitive (to punish the defendant and deter future misconduct).


Courts can issue injunctions to prevent the defendant from making further defamatory statements. Injunctions are particularly useful in ongoing cases of trade slander where the harm is continuous.

Retraction and Apology

In some cases, a court may order the defendant to issue a retraction or public apology. This can help restore the plaintiff’s reputation and counteract the negative impact of the false statement.

Notable Cases and Precedents

Case Law Analysis

McDonald’s Corporation v. Steel & Morris (1997)

One of the most famous cases of trade slander involved McDonald’s suing two environmental activists, Steel and Morris, over a pamphlet criticising the company’s practices. The case, known as the “McLibel” trial, highlighted the challenges and complexities of proving trade slander, especially against individual activists.

Tesla Motors Inc v. BBC (2013)

Tesla sued the BBC over a Top Gear episode that portrayed its cars as having insufficient range. Tesla claimed the episode constituted trade slander. Although Tesla’s claim was not successful, the case underscored the difficulties businesses face when proving the falsity and damage of statements made in media reviews.

Impact on Subsequent Jurisprudence

These cases illustrate the high burden of proof required for trade slander claims and the importance of balancing free speech with protecting business reputations. They have influenced subsequent cases and legal interpretations in British defamation law.

Practical Considerations for Businesses

Preventive Measures

Businesses can take several steps to protect against trade slander:

  • Reputation Management: Proactively managing a company’s online presence and public relations can help mitigate the impact of false statements.
  • Legal Preparedness: Having legal strategies and counsel in place can enable swift action against trade slander.
  • Employee Training: Educating employees about the implications of making potentially defamatory statements can prevent internal sources of trade slander.

Responding to Trade Slander

If a business becomes a victim of trade slander, it should:

  • Collect Evidence: Document the false statement and its impact on the business.
  • Seek Legal Advice: Consult with legal experts to evaluate the merits of a trade slander claim.
  • Public Response: Issue a public statement or clarification to counteract the false information.
  • Consider Litigation: If the damage is significant, pursuing legal action may be necessary to obtain compensation and prevent further harm.


Summary of Key Points

Trade slander, or business disparagement, involves making false and damaging statements about a business or its products. To establish a claim, a plaintiff must prove the falsity of the statement, its publication, malice, and resultant damage. Defences against trade slander include truth, privilege, fair comment, and consent. Remedies can include damages, injunctions, and retractions. Notable cases such as McDonald’s Corporation v. Steel & Morris and Tesla Motors Inc. v. BBC highlight the complexities of trade slander litigation.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the legal framework and practical considerations surrounding trade slander is essential for businesses to protect their reputation and financial interests. While the legal process can be challenging, taking proactive measures and seeking appropriate legal advice can help mitigate the risks and consequences of trade slander.

Trade Slander FAQ'S

Trade slander is a false statement made about a business or its products or services that harms its reputation and causes financial loss.

The elements of trade slander include a false statement, publication of the statement, and harm to the business’s reputation or financial loss.

Yes, a business can sue for trade slander if it can prove that the false statement caused harm to its reputation or financial loss.

A business can recover damages for lost profits, damage to its reputation, and any other financial losses caused by the false statement.

Yes, an individual can be sued for trade slander if they made a false statement about a business or its products or services that caused harm.

Defenses to trade slander include truth, opinion, privilege, and consent.

The statute of limitations for a trade slander lawsuit varies by state, but it is typically between one and three years.

Yes, a business can sue for trade slander on social media if it can prove that the false statement caused harm to its reputation or financial loss.

Yes, a business can sue for trade slander if it can identify the person who made the false statement, even if it was made anonymously.

A business should consult with an attorney to determine if it has a viable claim for trade slander and to discuss its legal options for pursuing damages.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 8th June 2024.

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