(This is very important, and must be shared and sent to your friends.)

 The undersigned organizations express their strong support for
the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977). Libel suits filed in
foreign countries pose a grave danger to the free speech rights of
American authors, journalists, publishers, and readers. S. 2977 provides
authors with the weapons they need to protect their right to express
themselves freely and ensures that the libel laws of countries that
provide less protection for free speech will not undermine American laws
or chill protected speech.

 Increasingly in recent years, individuals who challenge the
accuracy of published materials have attempted to strike back at their
authors by filing lawsuits in foreign countries, most commonly England.
U.S. law requires the party alleging libel to prove that the statements
objected to are actually false. To avoid this burden, libel plaintiffs
have engaged in forum shopping – filing lawsuits in countries with
either different burdens of proof or different definitions of libel. The
most notorious recent example of this libel tourism is the lawsuit filed
by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, who sued Dr. Rachel
Ehrenfeld, an American expert on terrorism, over statements in her book,
Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.  Despite the
fact that the book was never published in England and that a mere 23
copies had been sold there by online booksellers, Bin Mafouz brought
suit in an English court.  Under British law, the burden of proof in the
first instance is on the defendant to prove the truth of any allegedly
libelous statement.  Faced with enormous legal costs to satisfy this
requirement, Ehrenfeld refused to defend the suit. The English court
entered a default judgment, enjoined further distribution of the book in
the United Kingdom and awarded substantial damages and legal fees.
 Bin Mafouz’s English lawsuit had the predictable effect of
chilling Ehrenfeld’s free speech rights and effectively silencing anyone
else who might consider publishing similar statements. It sent the
message that he is willing and able to challenge any investigation of
his family’s, and the Saudi royal family’s alleged ties to the funding
of terrorism. He has refused to disclaim an intention to attempt to
enforce the judgment in the United States, further reinforcing its
chilling effect.
 
 New York has passed a law that broadens the jurisdiction of New
York courts over such cases to ensure that foreign libel judgments may
not be enforced unless they meet New York and U.S. constitutional
standards.  S. 2977 is modeled on the New York law.  It provides that
foreign libel judgments can be enjoined in the United States if the
speech is not libelous under U.S. law.  S. 2977 also authorizes authors
to countersue the plaintiffs in the foreign cases if their purpose was
to circumvent First Amendment protections.

 We believe that passage of the Free Speech Protection Act is
essential to protect the right of American authors to investigate and
reveal wrongdoing anywhere in the world and to ensure that weaker
protections for free speech elsewhere do not undermine First Amendment
freedoms at home.

Christopher Finan, president
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
275 Seventh Ave., Rm. 1504
New York, NY 10001
telephone (212) 587-4025, ext. 15
cellphone (917) 509-0340
fax (212) 587-2436
www.abffe.com
http://chrisfinan.vox.com (blog)

 

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