We have recently received a legal threat that we feel deserves attention and airing for a variety of reasons.
...2. The threats are quite incredible, demanding that we shut down the entire site of
Techdirt, due to a comment (or, potentially, comments) that the client did not like.
...5. Most importantly, this threat is coming from the UK, and the lawyers insist that they will take it to court in the UK. This
makes it rather timely and newsworthy for an entirely different reason. Just a few weeks ago we wrote about the new SPEECH Act that was passed into law to protect against libel tourism. As the Congressional record shows, the law was specifically designed
to protect US businesses from libel judgments that violate Section 230 -- and the bill's backers explicitly call out libel judgments made in the UK. In other words, the SPEECH Act explicitly protects us from exactly the sort of threat that these lawyers
and their client are making against us:
Given the newsworthy nature of an example of where the brand new law (thankfully) protects us, as well as the fact that we do not feel it
is decent or right for anyone to demand we shut down our entire site or be sued halfway around the world, because he does not appreciate a comment someone made about him, we are publishing the letter that was sent to us.
Thanks in part to the new law, we have no obligation to respond to Mr. Morris, his friend or the lawyers at Addlestone Keane, who (one would hope) will better advise their clients not to pursue such fruitless legal threats in the
President Barack Obama has signed the SPEECH Act into US law, a move designed to protect US writers and reporters from England's controversial defamation laws.
The Act, tabled by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, makes libel judgments against
American writers in foreign territories unenforceable if they are perceived to counter the First Amendment right to free speech.
The Libel Reform Campaign has expressed concern that our reputation is being damaged internationally due to our
restrictive, archaic and costly libel laws which cost 140 times the European equivalent.
The coalition government has said it will table a draft Bill to reform our libel laws in January 2011 after the campaign led by English PEN, Index on
Censorship and Sense About Science. The campaign has 52,000 signatories to its petition and all three main political parties committed in their general election manifestos to libel reform.
Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship said:
The US's response to our libel laws has already played a key role in advancing the campaign for reform in the UK. I'm hopeful that the government's draft bill will address the issue of libel tourism, which has a clear chilling effect on freedom of
speech, and make it harder for claimants from outside the EU to bully publishers, NGOs, bloggers and investigative journalists into silence.
Síle Lane, Public Liaison of Sense About Science said:
As other countries move to protect
their citizens from the chilling effect of our libel laws we urge bloggers, science writers, NGOs and small publications facing threats and bankruptcy to keep up the pressure on the Government to ensure that the proposed draft libel bill brings the
meaningful change that is so urgently needed.
The US senate has passed legislation to protect US journalists, writers and publishers from libel tourists — litigants who sue Americans in foreign jurisdictions which place a lower emphasis on free speech
The legislation was specifically
designed to negate the threat of English laws, amid claims that the UK has became an international libel tribunal. One case in particular incensed US politicians, that of New York based academic Rachel Ehrenfeld who was sued in London despite only 23
copies of her book, on the financing of terrorism, being sold in the UK.
The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Jeff Sessions has broad cross-party support. If passed, the proposal will prevent US courts from recognising
foreign libel rulings that are inconsistent with the First Amendment.
The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Bill will now go before the House of Representatives.
The United States House of Representatives
passed a Bill aimed at shielding US journalists, authors and publishers from libel tourists who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favourable ruling.
Lawmakers approved the measure, which now goes to President Barack
Obama to sign into law.
The bill had such widespread support from Democrats and Republicans that it was passed on a voice vote in Congress.
The legislation will prevent US federal courts from recognising or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment
and will bar foreign parties from targeting the American assets of an American author, journalist, or publisher as part of any damages.
Campaigners for more liberal libel law in Britain said they hoped the new law would influence the Government
as it prepares a draft reform bill for publication in January.
Padraig Reidy, a spokesman for the Index on Censorship, said: It's a vindication of our argument that English libel laws in their current state do not encourage or protect free
expression. The fact that Britain's best ally feels the need to protect itself from the English libel courts demonstrates the need for reform.
Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Congressman who drafted the bill, said it was vital that Americans' rights are never undermined by foreign judgments.
If you are a European resident and you cannot access the National Enquirer to read the breaking story about Obama's alleged affair with Vera Baker, try surfing with
www.hidemyass.com or any other anonymizer that works.
For various reasons, the National Enquirer is blocking European IPs. For example, in Britain, they block IPs because any
publication that publishes in the UK is potentially liable to be sued.
Regardless the reasoning behind the European IP ban, the message displayed by the National Enquirer is at least questionable. A Page unavailable/under construction message is confusing and misleading. Correct would be to read
the content of this website is not available in your area .
The state of California has banned libel tourism in an effort to resist the influence of British judges.
Its governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law which will allow its courts to refuse to enforce libel judgments handed down in London.
He acted following alarm in the U.S. that powerful individuals use British courts to silence criticism and prevent investigation of their activities around the world.
California legislators said their courts must have power to block libel
judgments from Britain which has become a jurisdictional Mecca for the rich and famous .
And in a verdict deeply embarrassing for the British government, they said the libel tourism law must be passed to pressure foreign jurisdictions
like Britain to change its laws to place greater protections on free speech .
The California law means that courts in all the most important U.S. cities now have laws to shield Americans from damages and gagging writs ordered in the High Court
New York and the state of Illinois have already passed libel tourism legislation and other states, including Florida, are in the process.
The California law gives its courts the right to refuse to enforce defamation judgements
made abroad unless it is shown that the foreign court had the same or better freedom of speech protection than is given by the US constitution.
Proposals for radical changes to UK libel laws aimed at updating them for the internet age have been published.
Online publishers currently face the prospect of fresh legal action every time an article is downloaded, even if many years have
passed since it first appeared. Newspapers and civil liberties campaigners complain the effect is to drastically limit freedom of speech.
Changes to the law could involve the abolishing of the 160-year-old multiple publication rule , which
allows for a new libel claim with every click, providing it is made within a year.
That could be replaced with a single publication rule, allowing only one court action against defamatory material, to prevent open ended liability.
A consultation paper published by the Ministry of Justice also suggests increasing the limitation period of claims to three years after discovery of the article. Publishers of online archives and blogs might also be given a defence of qualified
privilege against offending article after the year time limit had expired. They would face action only if they refused to publish a correction on the offending web page.
Media lawyers say the effect of the multiple publication rule has
been to make London the libel capital of the world with litigants claiming here against publications based all over the world on the basis of web-based literature.
A bill in the US to stop libel tourism has been passed by the House Judiciary Committee, the first step to becoming law.
Sponsors of the bill say it has been designed as a way to protect US journalists from libel suits in foreign courts
which do not have the same protections for free speech as the US constitution.
Libel tourism is a growing phenomenon, where people travel to the UK to sue for material which would be protected elsewhere.
Congressman Steve Cohen is one of
the sponsors of the bill, which aims to prohibit recognition and enforcement of foreign defamation judgments. According to Cohen, who is chairman of the Commercial and Administrative Law Sub-committee, UK libel laws are stifling free speech. He
said in a statement: Libel tourism threatens to undermine the principles of free speech because foreign courts often don't place as difficult a burden on plaintiffs in libel cases.
Press Gazette understands that the bill is expected to
come up for a vote in the full House of Representatives on Monday. No amendments will be allowed and the bill will require a two-thirds majority rather than a simple majority in order to be passed. The bill would then need to be approved in the Senate.
A US bill aimed at protecting American journalists, writers and publishers from libel tourism cases brought against them in foreign courts has been introduced into the United States Senate.
The Free Speech Protection Act is being
sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The bill is aimed at protecting journalists and publishers from
libel suits in foreign courts which do not have the same protections for free speech as the US constitution. The measure would give federal courts the power to bar the enforcement of foreign libel judgments if the material at issue would not constitute
libel under US law.
It is also aimed at actively deterring libel tourism cases brought in foreign courts by permitting American defendants to counter-sue under certain circumstances.
Companion legislation is expected to be
introduced into the House of Representatives.
Specter said: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression of ideas, opinions, and research, and freedom of exchange of information are all essential to the functioning of a
democracy, and the fight against terrorism.
There is a real danger that American writers and researchers will be afraid to address the crucial subject of terror funding and other important matters without these protections.
The UK has
become a popular venue for libel tourism defamation cases. Claimants from around the world have sought to take advantage of what are seen as England's claimant-friendly defamation law. English law, unlike that in the US, does not require a
claimant to prove falsity or actual malice.
Lawyers and judges have been accused by MPs of using Soviet-style English libel laws to help the rich and powerful to hide their secrets.
The Saudi financier Khalid bin Mahfouz was condemned as a libel tourist for persuading a
London judge to award damages against an American author over a book never sold in Britain.
Bridget Prentice, the Justice Minister, told MPs that the Government would announce a consultation on libel and the internet, and the high cost of
The Labour MP Denis MacShane, said in Westminster Hall: The practice of libel tourism, as it is known – the willingness of British courts to allow wealthy foreigners who do not live here to attack publications that have
no connection with Britain – is now an international scandal. It shames Britain and makes a mockery of the idea that Britain is a protector of core democratic freedoms.
The US Congress is proposing a law to stop English courts pursuing
American writers for fines over books freely available in the United States. The case arises from the Kafkaesque position of the writer Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose book, Funding Evil, examined the flow of money towards extremist organisations that preach
the ideology of hate associated with Wahhabism and other democracy-denying aspects of fundamentalist Islamic ideology, MacShane said.
Ms Ehrenfeld's book, published in America, not Britain, named a Saudi billionaire called Khalid bin
Mahfouz. Although the book was published in the United States, and was not on sale in any British bookshop, he found lawyers to sue in Britain. A British judge imposed a fine and costs on Ms Ehrenfeld, and said that her book should be destroyed, even
though she was not in the court. No American court would have entertained such overt censorship.
Thanks to Alan
Damages were awarded
against Rachel Ehrenfeld, who had refused to appear because British courts gave her less protection than the first amendment to the US constitution. Judgment was consequently given in default.
The author is now refusing to pay and American
congress people are pushing for a specific US law to prevent any attempt to enforce British libel judgments across the pond.
English PEN has joined forces with fellow freedom of speech organisation Index on Censorship to launch a public inquiry into the UK's libel legislation. The two groups are calling upon publishers, writers, editors, journalists and lawyers
to submit examples of restrictive UK laws being used and abused to stifle...and chill free expression of all kinds. They will host round-table discussions with the aim of leading to a major conference next spring.
One of the major
issues the two groups wish to look at is libel tourism, in which something published outside of the UK is still subject to the laws of the land if read in the country.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, a human rights lawyers, said: There is a difficult
balance to be struck between freedom of expression and the protection of the innocent from damaging falsehoods and invasion of legitimate privacy. In Britain, the pendulum has swung too far towards censorship. This comprehensive review of the law by two
highly respected organisations is therefore very welcome.
PEN and IoC said the inquiry coincided with increasing concern about the issue within the House of Commons, highlighting an investigation which has been launched by the Select
Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. An adjournment debate, which has received cross-party support, has also been secured for 17th December in Westminster Hall.