Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comment on "libel tourism"

The Consumer Law & Policy Blog posted today a long comment on the issue of libel tourism. The first and last paragraphs are reproduced below. For the full story, go here. "A currently developing situation represents a new low for “libel tourism” – the practice of bringing libel claims against United States defendants in foreign courts where the First Amendment and other provisions of US law that protect free speech are not recognized. The plaintiff's objective is to suppress speech by obtaining a judgment abroad and then claiming that international principles of comity require that the judgment be recognized – subject to a possible defense that enforcing the judgment would violate public policy – or at least to intimidate other speakers that might be tempted to engage in similar criticism. . . . . The challenge of libel tourism has begun to receive a legislative response, ensuring protection from abusive foreign litigation against speech without having to rely on case-by-case recognition of the significant public policies protecting free speech. In the past year, statutes have been enacted in New York, CPLR 5204(b)(8), and Illinois, 735 ILCS 5/12 621(b)(7) declaring that foreign defamation judgments from jurisdictions that do not uphold American free speech values are unenforceable as against public policy. The House of Representatives also passed such a bill last year, although the Senate took no action on similar legislation proposed by Senators Specter and Lieberman. As Congress begins to consider such bills in the coming year, it should include protection for the immunity of the hosts of allegedly defamatory web sites, because interests abroad that are hostile to free speech can easily suppress opinions they do not like without ever suing the actual speakers, simply by intimidating the companies that host that speech online."

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