Thursday, May 29, 2008

Libel Tourism: What You Can do to Protect America's Concept of Freedom of Speech

As I posted last week, a bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives which would protect American autors and publishers from being subjected to other countries's laws regarding freedom of speech.

The bill was prompted by a New York Times op-ed I wrote together with my colleagues Professor Michael Broyde of Emory's Law School.

The bill has won the strong support of the Association of American Publishers.

Spearheaded by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the legislation was co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine members of the Committee (Issa, Nadler, Berman, Coble, Lofgren, Jackson-Lee, Wexler, Johnson, and Gutierrez), along with Reps. Mark Udall (D-CO) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

If you believe in free speech as we have defined it here in America and are an American citizen, contact your representative and tell him/her to support H.R. 6146.

You can make a real difference.


Rev. Jim Sutter said...

If we are to expect tourists to follow American laws when they are here (or when they conduct business here), then shouldn't Americans be expected to follow the laws of countries they visit or in which they conduct business?

This is one of the reasons why so many people around the world hate Americans - they see us as being so arrogant that we believe we don't have to follow their laws, but everyone must follow our laws.

This Congressional bill is not the solution. American courts have already ruled on the issue, in at least two cases; in both, the courts have protected American's rights while also recognizing that "when in Rome..."

Deborah Lipstadt said...

"When in Rome..."

You have it all wrong. She wrote the book in the USA, had it published in the USA, and declined to have it published in the UK because she did not want to expose herself to UK libel laws.

The Saudi's UK lawyer ordered 2 dozen copies of the book over Amazon -- she had no control over the fact that it was sold on Amazon -- and had them shipped to the UK.

Bingo, she was then subjected to UK laws.

In contrast, I agreed to have my book published in the UK. Therefore I never questioned the right of the UK courts to have jurisdiction in my case.

So if you want to explain why so much of the world dislikes us... find an appropriate example...

Steve Cook said...

Rev. Sutter and Dr. Lipstadt, I believe you are both correct. The bill should be more precisely written to prevent such decisions having effect strictly against an author's/publisher's US interests.

Clearly, the British court overstepped its jurisdiction in the Ehrenfeld-bin Mahfouz case. Ms. Ehrenfeld's book was not published or sold in the UK; the British readers imported individually, essentially. Therefore, the book should not have been subject to British law. US publishers should not be liable, for example, if I were to take a copy of Mein Kampf to Germany, Poland or any of the other countries that ban it.

However, in Dr. Lipstadt's own case, David Irving was well within his rights to bring his suit in a British court, as ridiculous and distasteful as his claim may have been. Dr. Lipstadt's book was published and sold in the UK and, thereby, subject to British law. Had she lost the suit, though, judgement should have been limited to the UK interests of Dr. Lipstadt and/or her publisher.

An analogous situation is Microsoft's case in the EU. Doing business in the EU makes Microsoft subject to EU law, but those court decisions do not and should not (necessarily) affect its practices here in the US.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

"However, in Dr. Lipstadt's own case, David Irving was well within his rights to bring his suit in a British court, as ridiculous and distasteful as his claim may have been..."

And no one has ever argued otherwise.

This bill would in no way impact people who choose to have their books published in another country.

It would protect those who publish something within the confines of the US.

Rev. Sutter's claim that a bill such as this exemplifies why the rest of the world dislikes makes no sense. His assertion "when in Rome" equally so.

This bill is to protect those who choose not to go to Rome.

Steve Cook said...

Dear Dr. Lipstadt,

First of all, I did not intend to imply that you had argued that your book should not have been subject to British law. Having read both your account of the trial and that of D.D. Guttenplan, I am well aware that, while you may have lamented the way British libel law was written, you accepted its validity. The text you quoted was intended as part of a thorough rationale and point of view, as well as to support my larger point that these types of court decisions should only have effect within national borders, whether they be those of the US or those of 'Rome'.

Secondly, while Rev. Sutter was certainly to the extreme, I can see from whence he comes. The US has a not-entirely-undeserved reputation for acting unilaterally, flouting international law and stomping on other countries' sovereignty, particularly over the last 7-8 years. This bill has the potential to fit into that rubric, at least on face-value (admittedly an extremely poor method by which to judge something).

Having read the text of the bill, at least what is available online, I recognize a common-sense reading might illuminate its limitations; however, I have unfortunately long since lost confidence in our national ability to exercise common sense, including in the judicial and legislative systems. I would prefer the bill be more precisely written, whether in immunizing authors who, like Ms. Ehrenfeld, choose not "to go to Rome" or protecting the US interests of authors such as yourself, who did.

Despite these reservations, I will certainly encourage my Representative to vote for HR 6146.

Best wishes,

Steve Cook

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Thanks Steve for your comments.

I am not a lawyer but I hang out with enough of them to see if what you fear is indeed so.

Since Sentators Specter and Lieberman have introduced similar bills this may all be worked out in conference if both pass.

Thanks again.

Sharon said...

Consider it done. I just wrote my representative, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-WI.

Sharon Gibson

Lady Predator said...

I wonder how Mr Sutter will react when he is targeted for a similar lawsuit? His web page full of lies slander and defamation is viewable in the UK. Blogger are now losing lawsuits for the lies they post.