Thursday, September 11, 2008

Free Expression Threatened by "Libel Tourism"

From the American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression:
On Wednesday, September 10, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) joined 18 groups in issuing a statement urging members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the Freedom of Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977), legislation that provides that foreign libel judgments cannot be enforced in the U.S. if the speech is not actionable under U.S. law. The groups are concerned about the growing threat posed by libel suits that are filed in foreign countries in an effort to intimidate American writers and publishers.

As a recent example of libel tourism, ABFFE cited the lawsuit filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American expert on terrorism, over statements in her book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It (Bonus Books).

Although the book was never published in England and only 23 copies have been sold there via online booksellers, Bin Mafouz brought suit in an English court. Under British law, the burden of proof in the first instance is on the defendant to prove the truth of any allegedly libelous statement. Faced with the prospect of enormous legal costs to meet this burden, and objecting as a matter of principle to having to litigate in England without having published her work there, Ehrenfeld refused to defend the suit. The English court entered a default judgment, enjoined further distribution of the book in the U.K., and awarded substantial damages and legal fees.


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