The House of Representatives recently passed legislation aimed at curbing the globe-trotting practice of libel tourism – bringing defamation and libel cases in countries where the burden of proof on the plaintiff is far lower than here in the U.S.
The most celebrated case involves Rachel Ehrenfeld and her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It. One of her subjects, Saudi Arabian businessman Khaled bin Mahfouz, sued Ehrenfeld in Britain for her claim that he is involved in terror financing. The book had no British publisher, but was available via Internet sale there as it would be anywhere.
Mahfouz, who does not live in England, won a judgment reportedly worth six figures against a book not published there.
The House bill essentially allows U.S courts to not recognize libel judgments from countries with a legal standard more lax than our own. The New York Times endorsed the bill as "an important blow for free expression." But even the Times thinks the bill doesn't go far enough.
In the New York Post today, Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island) describes some of the innovative ideas to thwart the practice in legislation he sponsored. Forget about recognizing judgments, King writes, the law needs to discourage people from filing the lawsuits in the first place:
"Specifically, we must allow authors, journalists and publishers who've been victimized by these overseas lawsuits the ability to countersue here in the United States. That will make potential litigants think twice before they try to exploit foreign libel laws against American authors and publishers."
Other provisions expedite the discovery process and allow for enhanced damages if the court finds the lawsuit was brought "in a scheme to suppress First Amendment rights." The bill does nothing to impede what King called "good-faith defamation actions to prevail against journalists and others who have failed to adhere to standards of professionalism by publishing false information maliciously or recklessly."