July 20, 2010

Good news from the US Senate!


Good day's work on the floor of the US Senate.

Good day's work on the floor of the US Senate.

Freedom-loving folks around the United States are celebrating the Senate’s passage yesterday of a bi-partisan bill to prevent “libel tourism,” a growing problem that has had a definite chilling effect on free speech.

The Association of American Publishers‘ press release on the bill’s passage, available here, states:

[T]he U.S. book publishing industry cheered today’s Senate passage of bi-partisan legislation that will protect American authors and publishers from foreign libel judgments that undermine First Amendment free speech rights.

The SPEECH Act, which passed the Senate this afternoon by unanimous consent, prohibits federal courts from recognizing or enforcing foreign libel judgments that do not pass First Amendment muster. The legislation also allows American authors and publishers to go into court and seek a declaration that such a foreign judgment is not enforceable in the U.S., and to do so even if no attempt has been made to enforce the foreign judgment.

The AAP’s statement went on to explain libel tourism and its dangers:

The exploitation of plaintiff-friendly foreign libel laws as a weapon to silence American authors and prevent them from speaking out on issues of public concern began attracting public attention after U.S. author Rachel Ehrenfeld was successfully sued in England by a Saudi billionaire even though her book had never been published there. AAP supported Dr. Ehrenfeld in her legal efforts to have the judgment thrown out by a U.S. court, and played a key role in lobbying for federal legislation. Similar legislation passed the House last year

“We’re very pleased with the Senate’s action,” said Judith Platt, AAP’s director of Freedom to Read. “As we told Congress, these foreign libel judgments not only deprive American authors and publishers of their right to speak, they deprive our citizenry of their right to be informed. The legislation passed today will significantly reduce that chilling effect.”

Just when you thought the Senate couldn’t agree on anything, they do something like this. Nice work!

Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.