Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

07/14/2010

New Law to Protect US Writers and Publishers from Libel in Foreign Courts

Filed under: freedom of expression,freedom of speech,the Speech Act,writing — gator1965 @ 7:52 pm


Have you ever wondered how our American right to freedom of speech and expression is protected overseas?

It wasn’t…But, it is now, or at least it is just a few clicks away!

This interesting report is from the guardian.co.uk by Paul Harris in Los Angeles:

American legislators have moved closer to shielding US authors, journalists and publishers from libel tourism in foreign courts.

A bill already known as the Speech Act – or the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, to give it its full name – has been passed by the Senate judiciary committee. It is intended to hamper efforts to sue Americans for libel in overseas jurisdictions where rules governing freedom of speech are less strong.

Many places, including Britain, currently have stricter libel laws than the US, leading to libel tourism, where plaintiffs search for a jurisdiction most likely to be sympathetic to their case. Some human rights campaigners and legal scholars saying the practice is used by the rich and powerful to stifle dissent and criticism. The growth of publishing on the internet has sparked fears that libel tourism will grow rapidly in coming years.

The American bill – if passed by the full Senate – will make it difficult to impose any judgments made in foreign courts on US nationals if those decisions are seen as hurting their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. It would allow defendants to obtain a US court’s judgment that the decision was not enforceable under American law, and would protect the assets of American citizens falling victim to libel tourism and not allow them to be used to pay damages.

The bill is based on a state law in New York that was passed after the American author Rachel Ehrenfeld wrote a book on the financing of terrorism and was sued for libel in London by a Saudi billionaire. In a blogpost, Ehrenfeld has said the bill is vital for opposing libel tourism. “[It] will help deter libel tourism and secure Americans’ right to speak, write and publish freely to preserve the safety and integrity of our democracy,” she said.

The bill got cross-party support and was sponsored by Republican and Democrat senators. “We take seriously the challenge of getting this right – to be respectful of foreign nations, many of whom are allies. But at the same time we could have a major detriment to the right to publish and speak freely in America if we don’t confront this problem,” said Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator.

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