Emory Professors' Op-Ed Spurs Federal Legislation on 'Libel Tourismʼ'
U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) are expected to introduce today a bill to end "libel tourism," a phenomenon whereby plaintiffs seek judgments from foreign courts against American authors and publishers for making allegedly defamatory statements.
Two Emory University professors, Michael Broyde and Deborah Lipstadt, brought the problem of libel tourism to the attention of federal lawmakers in a co-written New York Times opinion piece (Oct. 11, 2007). Broyde, an expert in comparative and Jewish law, helped draft the federal bill. He and Lipstadt are drafting a follow-up opinion piece designed to support the bill's passage.
The bill would prohibit U.S. courts from recognizing or enforcing foreign defamation judgments that are inconsistent with the First Amendment.
The bill's authors contend that libel tourism "threatens to undermine our nation's core free speech principles, as embodied in the First Amendment. U.S. law places a higher burden on certain defamation plaintiffs in order to safeguard First Amendment-protected speech. Other countries, including those that generally share our legal tradition, provide no such protection…"
Broyde and Lipstadt wrote the op-ed in response to billionaire Saudi businessman Khalid bin Mahfouz's 2004 lawsuit against Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American author who wrote "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It." The 2003 book argues that bin Mahfouz has financed Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Bin Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld for libel in Britain, where libel laws place the burden of proof on defendants. She lost the case and was ordered to apologize, destroy all copies of the book and pay bin Mahfouz $230,000 in damages.
Lipstadt faced a similar legal battle when Holocaust denier David Irving sued her in Britain for her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," which asserted Irving had deliberately distorted Holocaust facts. Although Lipstadt won, her case lasted four years and cost more than $1 million in legal fees.
Broyde is a professor of law and a senior fellow in Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR), and Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and a CSLR associated faculty member.
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