Monday, July 14, 2008

Mr. President, sign this bill!

Senators Joseph Lieberman and Arlen Specter have submitted a bill for consideration by the Senate which would bar U.S. courts from enforcing foreign defamation/libel judgments based on the argument that enforcing these judgments would violate the writer's/author's free speech rights: New York State has already passed this bill and it was signed into law by Governor David Patterson, and several other states are getting ready to follow suit. The Senate in this country should give this bill "fast track" priority, and the President should sign it into law immediately. We cannot have a situation where foreign courts are passing judgments affecting U.S. citizens, especially where those courts have no jurisdiction over the Americans.

The impetus behind the law is a slew of lawsuits filed (mostly in the U.K.) by Muslim individuals or groups against American authors accusing them of defamation, with the specific case of Rachel Ehrenfeld being the most egregious. Ehrenfeld wrote a book in which she accused one particular Saudi of being connected to terrorism (a Saudi terrorist? Perish the thought!). Twenty-three copies of the book were sold online in the U.K., and this apparently was enough for a British judge to hold that the court had jurisdiction over Ehrenfeld. Worse yet, under British defamation law, the statements accused of being defamatory are presumed to be false, meaning that the burden of proof is on the defendant, not the plaintiff as is the case in the United States.

Let me give a more personal, specific example. My blog has received hits from countries all over the world (yes, I'm serious. Click on the map on the left hand side of the blog if you don't believe me). I've said some fairly disagreeable things about certain countries and individuals on the blog. Without the passage of this bill, I could theoretically be hauled into court in some foreign jurisdiction and charged with defamation. That's just wrong.............

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