September 15, 2008

Exporting Rights [8:14 am]

A story that’s been written up many places, but a succinct presentation of another kind of “chilling effect:” ‘Libel Tourism’ - When Freedom of Speech Takes a Holiday

The lawsuit is a case of what legal experts are calling “libel tourism.” Ms. Ehrenfeld is an American, and “Funding Evil” was never published in Britain. But at least 23 copies of the book were sold online, opening the door for the lawsuit. When Ms. Ehrenfeld decided not to defend the suit in Britain, Mr. bin Mahfouz won a default judgment and is now free to sue to collect in the United States.

The upshot is a First Amendment loophole. In the Internet age, almost every American book can be bought in Britain. That means American authors are subject to being sued under British libel law, which in some cases puts the initial burden on the defendant to prove the truth of what she has written. British libel law is so tilted against writers that the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized it last month for discouraging discussion of important matters of public interest.

Why it’s not just called “jurisdiction shopping” is beyond me.

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