How English Defamation Suits Cool US Free Speech

Which court governs *your* speech?Floyd Abrams published an Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal describing how plaintiffs seeking to suppress protected speech in the US are gaining libel judgements in England.

Rachel Ehrenfeld’s book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Funded and How to Stop It, had sold only 23 copies in England. But that was enough for a UK court to exercise jurisdiction and find that she had injured the reputation of a Saudi banker who had brought his case in the English courts. Note the absence of a UK citizen as a party in the case.

Remarkably, US state courts were not equipped with adequate legislation to provide a declaratory judgment in the Ehrenfeld case to rule that the English judgment was not enforceable here. Fortunately, New York moved quickly to implement such a law early this month.

Now a parallel federal law has been introduced by Senators Specter and Lieberman.

While the illustration of this point happens to be a print case, jurisdiction for future cases could certainly be based on Internet distribution. And that could give UK courts, and plaintiffs from around the world, a far broader basis for future suits.

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