How the US SPEECH Act Will Affect Libel Tourism
By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 10/29/2010
In In Court
Earlier this fall, President Obama signed the SPEECH Act into law — a bill passed to combat the threat of libel tourism.
What libel tourism cases prompted the SPEECH Act, and how will these new laws prohibit further libel tourism?
What Is Libel Tourism?
Libel tourism refers to the practice of suing a writer for libel in a jurisdiction that is more likely to rule in favor of a plaintiff. Many people associate libel tourism with the United Kingdom, where libel laws tend to be “plaintiff-friendly.”
It is more difficult to file and win a libel suit in the United States. Plaintiffs must be ready to prove what was published was not only untrue, but also published recklessly or with malicious intent. Enforcement of the First Amendment leads to US courts often ruling in favor of the defendants in libel cases.
Many American celebrities and politicians have been known to take libel cases to the United Kingdom. But one of the most oft-cited examples of libel tourism are the actions of Khalid bin Mahfouz, a wealthy Saudi Arabian who lived in Ireland.
There were many allegations that Khalid bin Mahfouz gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida and even Osama bin Laden himself. Several different books and articles discussed the possibility of bin Mahfouz as a terrorist financier, but by the time he died in 2009, he had filed 40 different libel suits in England — and had won many of them, resulting in the recall and destruction of thousands of books and the issue of numerous apologies by publishing houses.
How Does the SPEECH Act Fight Libel Tourism?
Inspired by the legal battles of Khalid bin Mahfouz, the Free Speech Protection Act was introduced in Congress in 2008 and then again in 2009, but failed to pass.
The latest incarnation, the SPEECH Act — which stands for “Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage” — passed unanimously in the US Senate and House of Representatives earlier this year. President Barack Obama signed it into law on August 10, 2010.
The SPEECH Act requires that all foreign libel judgments must be compliant with the First Amendment, or they will not be enforceable in the United States.
Prior to the passing of the SPEECH Act, foreign libel judgments were valid in the United States, though in 2008, New York state passed the Libel Tourism Protection Act, which allowed New York courts to claim jurisdiction over libel suits filed against New York-based authors and publishing companies. After New York’s law was passed, California, Florida and Illinois passed similar acts discouraging libel tourism.
By discouraging libel tourism and ensuring that any foreign judgments are completely valid before they can be upheld in the United States, the SPEECH Act is a boon to writers and anyone else seeking the protection and rights of the First Amendment.