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President signs bill to restrict 'libel tourism'



President Obama on Tuesday, Aug. 10, signed into law H.R. 2765, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, or the "SPEECH Act." As the House Committee report summarizes, the law is supposed to discourage plaintiffs from going to foreign courts in which it is easier to sue authors for libel, Britain being the most common example:

H.R. 2765 is intended to dissuade potential defamation plaintiffs from circumventing First Amendment protections by filing suit in foreign jurisdictions that lack similar protections. Specifically, the bill amends title 28 of the United States Code to add provisions to prevent U.S. courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign defamation judgment when (1) such judgment is inconsistent with the First Amendment; (2) enforcement would be inconsistent with Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, providing immunity for interactive computer services from suits based on content hosted by such services; or (3) the foreign court's assertion of personal jurisdiction over the defamation defendant is inconsistent with the due process standards of the United States Constitution. H.R. 2765 also contains a fee-shifting provision that allows a court to award a reasonable attorney's fee to a party that successfully resists recognition or enforcement of a foreign defamation judgment based on one of the grounds enumerated in the bill.

Publisher's Weekly reports the background: "Libel tourism came to international prominence in 2005, when Saudi billionaire Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz sued New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld in a British Court over her book Funding Evil. Even though the book was not published in the U.K., 23 copies purchased via the Internet provided Mahfouz with enough grounds to sue Ehrenfeld in England, where libel judgments are easier to obtain. Ehrenfeld refused to participate in the proceedings, was ordered to pay £10,000 and legal costs. In response, New York and five other states passed their own libel tourism laws."

From The Guardian blog (U.K.), "Obama seals off US journalists and authors from Britain's libel laws." See also earlier POL post.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.