House Hears Testimony On International Free Speech Issue

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

House Hears Testimony On International Free Speech Issue

ACLU Welcomes Hearing On Libel Tourism

WASHINGTON - The
ACLU called on Congress today to take steps to prevent foreign
countries from restricting the free speech rights of Americans inside
the U.S. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and
Administrative Law heard testimony from a panel of experts on a
phenomenon called “libel tourism.”

 
Libel
tourism occurs when a foreign plaintiff sues an American author or
publisher in a country where free speech protections do not match those
afforded under the First Amendment. A party seeking libel damages may
bring a claim in any jurisdiction where the allegedly libelous
communication was published and then enforce the judgment inside the
U.S. With the ease of electronic communications, publications by
American authors are now routinely seen outside the U.S. A bill
introduced by the subcommittee’s chairman, Congressman Steve Cohen
(D-TN), was passed during the last session but was not voted on by the
Senate.  Related bills were offered in the 110th Congress by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY), but did not advance.
 
“Americans
should not lose their free speech rights simply because it’s now easier
for foreign audiences to access materials published in the U.S.,” said
Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel.
“Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of American democracy and while
that right may stop at our shores, the restrictions that exist in
foreign lands should not be allowed to chill the speech rights of
Americans at home.”
 
The
United Kingdom presents a stark example since its laws require an
author confronted by a libel claim to prove the truth of published
matters, whereas in the U.S., the subject of the publication must prove
its falsity. The most egregious British libel tourism cases involve
publications with only incidental circulation in the U.K., plaintiffs
and defendants with only minimal connection there, and plaintiffs with
little or no connection to the United States. Author Rachel Ehrenfeld,
a witness at today’s hearing, was sued in the U.K. by a Saudi
businessman who claimed the book she wrote about terrorism financing
defamed him. She now faces enforcement of a British judgment inside the
U.S. despite the fact that his claim would have been marginal, if not
frivolous, under U.S. law.
 
“Our
free speech rights should not be so easily eroded,” said
Macleod-Ball. “If nothing else, the international standards of free
speech should be the benchmark in these circumstances. Those standards
are both fair and effective and will withstand the claims of
opportunistic plaintiffs.”
 
To read the ACLU’s statement for the record on libel tourism, go to:
http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/38726lgl20090212.html
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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