ENTERTAINMENT LITIGATION: PREVENTING “LIBEL TOURISM”

CONGRESS MAY ATTEMPT TO LIMIT LIBEL SUITS IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES

In my recent post about protecting your reputation, I alluded to the recent trend of filing defamation (libel) cases in the UK because of that country’s less restrictive burdens of proof. Lance Armstrong filed such a case over reports in the European press alleging that he used performance enhancing steroids during his incredible cycling career.

It’s one thing for a celeb like Armstrong to sue the European press in the UK over a story. The problem comes when libel defendants in the US, who may not have the resources to defend themselves, are sued in the UK.

Here comes the US Congress to the rescue.

SHOPPING FOR MORE FAVORABLE LIBEL LAWS

The fact that plaintiffs are routinely going to the UK to assert libel claims against defendants around the world has not gone unnoticed. The UK publication, The Economist, recently ran a story about “libel tourism” and openly questioned whether UK laws were too permissive. Smaller defendants, sued in the UK, are often unable to defend themselves against a wealthier plaintiff. The story recalls the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York author, who was sued in the UK by a litigious Saudi national, Khalid bin Mafouz, after she published a book entitled, “Funding Evil.” Ehrenfeld was unable to defend herself and suffered a default judgment against her.

LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS TO PROTECT US DEFENDANTS

New York and Illinois have reportedly enacted protections which allow their residents who are subject to a foreign libel judgment to have state courts to declare that judgment unenforceable when the jurisdiction issuing the judgment has lower protection for free speech. Last year, Senator Arlen Specter introduced a the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 in the US Senate establishing a federal claim and treble damages against anyone bringing a “foreign lawsuit . . . to suppress rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution. . . .”

The bill has not passed. But such a law would give individual defendants and small US media companies a fighting chance against foreign libel suits brought by well heeled plaintiffs.