The American Library Association (ALA) endorsed Senate bill S. 2977, the “Free Speech Protection Act of 2008” and urged its passage as soon as possible in order to protect authors, publishers and others in the United States from libel lawsuits filed in foreign countries. The bill was introduced following several notable defamation lawsuits filed in Great Britain and elsewhere against authors and publishers in the United States.
Lynne Bradley, Director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations said that “ALA is concerned that foreign libel lawsuits threaten U.S. authors and publishers and our freedoms of speech and the press. Through its chilling effect, such ‘venue shopping’ also denies the American people the right to read and to access information — another inherent First Amendment right essential to our democratic form of government.”
This “shopping around” for foreign court venues has been termed “libel tourism” following cases such as that of Rachel Ehrenfeld. At a recent ALA Annual Conference, Ehrenfeld described her experiences being sued in Great Britain by a wealthy Saudi Arabian. A U.S. Department of Defense employee and terrorism expert, Ehrenfeld published her book Financing Evil, in the United States. Though only 23 copies of the book were sold in the United Kingdom, the British court ruled that all copies must be destroyed and ordered Ehrenfeld to pay thousands of dollars in damages. Great Britain has been seen as a likely venue for libel tourism because of its notoriously lower standards for libel.
“Libel tourism should be called ‘libel terrorism’,” added Mrs. Bradley. “Such legal maneuvers are an attempt to thwart the First Amendment rights of Americans when critics don’t like what our authors have to say — or the rights we have under our First Amendment.”
ALA expressed its appreciation to Senators Arlen Specter (PA.-R) and Joseph Lieberman (CT.-I), who introduced S. 2977, and cosponsor Senator Charles Schumer, (NY-D). The Association will be encouraging its over 66,000 members and other First Amendment supporters to lobby senators during the summer recess to pass this bill in September. It will also push for similar legislation in the House of Representatives so that a bill could be passed and signed by the President this year.
Read the endorsement letter sent to the Committee on the Judiciary.