back to article US law to neuter libel tourism

The US House of Representatives has passed a law which will render libel rulings from the English courts unenforceable there. The bill has already been passed by the Senate and will go to US President Barack Obama to be signed into law. US politicians, journalism representatives and free speech activists have long condemned …


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  1. Ru

    Congratulations are in order

    I suspect that no-one else took such measures before because the people who benefit most from the appalling libel laws in the UK are either the ones making the laws, or the ones who fund the political parties making the laws.

    I'd like to think this will kick the ponderous bulk of Her Maj's legal system in to sorting itself out, but I won't hold my breath.

    1. Stratman


      I think you'll find those who benefit most from our libel laws are m'learned friends.

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Thank god for terrorists!

    So a bunch of terrorists (sorry founding fathers) kicked the British out and now 240years later save the British public from the British courts!

    1. JimmyPage

      I think you'll find

      this is intended to save *US* citizens from British courts.

    2. DavCrav

      Just guessing...

      But this won't affect British citizens.

    3. Doug Glass

      We have a soft spot ...

      .., in our heads ,, uh hearts for the Britishers.

  3. Mage Silver badge

    UK Law

    I thought there was a case thrown out because the Judge said it had to be substantially published in UK, or read by people in UK or UK law didn't apply. Apparently they couldn't prove than more than a handful in UK had read it.

    or something...

  4. Red Bren

    Go House of Reps!!!

    Because there's nothing more annoying than a foreign country trying to foist its laws on you...

    Now leave Gary McKinnon alone!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd just like to say.....

    ...actually, maybe not just yet.

  6. Christoph

    Will this be reciprocal?

    Will the US stop trying to enforce their local laws on the whole world?

  7. Terry H

    Libel is in the eye of the beholder

    This reminds me of the case recently where ATT sued Verizon for airing commercials saying ATT's 3G service was nearly non-existent. In a rare fit of sanity, the court sided with Verizion saying that just because it was inconvenient and embarrassing did not make it libel (slander in this case).

    This was of course probably due more by Verizon's deep pockets rather than any deep seated commitment to right vs wrong. But it was still gratifying to see them get it right for once. Too often in the US the right to free speech is usurped by some wanker's right to not be offended.

    If I say you kill babies and grill them up on Sunday afternoon, then yeah, that's libel. If I say you're a shiftless waste of space, well... Not too many people who are not a shiftless waste of space would really get all up in arms about it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yawn ....

    .... string of Septic Creation Myths to appear below ...

  9. Efros

    Interesting turn of events.

    The US senate passes a law that a foreign court ruling cannot be enforced within the US. Wonder if they will follow through and stop trying to enforce their laws outside their jurisdiction.

  10. Tom 35

    foreign courts’ liberal exercise of personal jurisdiction over Americans

    US courts never try to exercise jurisdiction over foreigners right?

    And patent tourism in Texas is just fine.

    Going after Libel tourism is fine, but they should look at home too.

  11. John Savard

    Only Exception

    There is only one case where this welcome step might violate the norms of international law.

    If a news site is doing business in the UK; that is, it has a for-pay section, and it's taking the credit cards of UK residents, or perhaps even if it's accepting advertising from the UK - it will be hard to maintain that the UK should not have jurisdiction.

  12. ThomH

    What's the problem with British libel law?

    I appreciate that there's a reverse burden whereby the claimant need only establish that the statement was made and that (approximately) it lowers their standing in society, in which case the burden shifts to the defendant to establish the truth of the allegation on the balance of probabilities (ie, there's an atypical reverse burden according to which the claimant can very easily establish a presumption of guilt), but what do the other countries do? Or is it just to do with having to prove the substance of attributed quotes?

    1. Hud Dunlap

      British libel law vs. U.S.

      First, in the U.S. you have to prove actual damages. Secondly if you are public figure just forget it. Not only do you have to prove the statement was false, but you have to prove that was known to be false and that it was done with Malicious intent.

      I am curious how British libel law would have handled this flap now going on in the U.S.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Let's take a look.

      Let's assume the American 6th Amendment standard of "Innocent Until Proven Guilty". In a criminal libel case, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the proposed libel is both baseless and intended to demean. In a civil case, a judgment must default to the defendant unless the plaintiff can clearly show the statements are not based in fact and are intended to demean (the standard's not as tight as in a criminal case, but the plaintiff must still make a case).

      The bill here deals with both types. In criminal cases, the threat here is to indict the person and then extradite them to England or Wales to stand trial there (extradition is always a criminal matter). The law covers that by making libel that is not considered libel under US law an offense not eligible for extradition. Then it goes on to render civil libel judgments made against US citizens or US-based organizations by a non-US court unenforceable. This is because any foreign civil judgment against an American would have to eventually go through a US court. With this law, the US court will have to subject such judgments to the more-stringent test of US law.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: the problem with British libel law

      One problem is that most libels are not matters of substance. If I describe you as a pointless waste of spunk, you might be offended and it might conceivably lower your standing in society. At that point, you have the upper hand in court and I have to somehow "prove" my assertion. But how does one go about proving that somebody is a waste of spunk?

      Other libels might centre matters of intent. Thus, I might suggest that you are knowingly exploiting people's ignorance, whereas you might put up the defence that you actually believe your own nonsense. Regardless of how unlikely your claim might be, I'm going to have a hard time *proving* the inner workings of your mind in court.

      Libel cases should be restricted to matters of objective fact. Otherwise the defendant *can't* win.

  13. Bill Neal


    This is so amazingly ironic when compared to the news about Wikileaks.

  14. Havin_it

    What's the difference?

    Genuine question: what's the special sauce of English/Welsh libel law that makes it so much more appealing to plaintiffs?

    I'm intrigued by this because, given the abhorrent robber-barons driving the press in the UK, and the massive lies they seem to get away with on a regular basis, cf. massive frontpage completely fictitious smear on someone; only apparent restitution to victim being a retraction smaller than a postage-stamp on p.94 a fortnight later when the damage is done. Giving the Digger and co. any greater power to piss on the truth is an alarming prospect, so I'd welcome a contribution from a "source familiar with the matter" to explain what the disparity currently is.

    1. Mike Richards

      Special sauce

      Unlimited damages and a burden of proof on the defendant are the main ingredients. Oh and judges like Justice Eady.

  15. Sean Bailey

    Do I take it

    That the UK will be reciprocating....

  16. Blain Hamon

    US and UK snarkiness aside

    Does this also address the whole, 'Kill Zuckerberg' kick that Pakistan was on?

  17. Scott 1

    I was going to comment

    But legal counsel recommended against it due to libel suit concerns.

  18. Clive Harris

    As a victim of...

    As a victim of a frivolous libel suit, I'm all in favour of anything which weakens these stupid laws. The case never stood a chance, but it still cost me a lot of time, money and worry to defend myself.

    The case itself? Well, a job agency offered me a contract extension, which I turned down (for various reasons). They retaliated by phoning everyone I might want to work for, spreading rumours about me in an attempt to make me unemployable. When I found out and complained, they declared my complaint letter to be libellous and sent their lawyers after me. (Apparently, their phone calls were not libellous, because they were not written down).

    That was ten years ago, but I still have painful memories.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      an aside

      The phone calls may not have been libellous (not written), but they were certainly slanderous (i.e. verbal) - so you could have prosecuted on that basis.

      1. Clive Harris

        How do you prove slander?

        How could I prove it? Two people contacted me after receiving these calls, but neither wanted to get involved. In the end, the two solicitors (mine and the agency's) just exchanged a few nasty letters, ran up some big bills and then called it quits.

        I suppose, if I wanted to be nasty, I could name the agency, seeing as I'm now safely out of reach of UK libel laws, but it seems a bit pointless after all this time. Besides, I doubt if they're still in business, if that's how they treated their customers. I know my client company (who received one of their phone calls) stopped doing business with them after that.

  19. Hud Dunlap
    Black Helicopters

    since when?

    Since when did Non-U.S. courts have jurisdiction over U.S. citizens? U.S. courts only have jurisdiction out side the U.S. only if there are extradition treaties and said country extradites the person. Just do a quick search for Roman Polanski rape and get lots of information on the subject. It was crime committed in the U.S. and we still can't get him back to serve his sentence.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Because the offense takes place in the UK...

      ...against UK citizens and/or organizations. It's part of the crossfire the results when an American article gets international attention--someone across the pond could get offended, and under UK law (where the offended lives and the offense took place), that's enough to at least start a case.

  20. heyrick Silver badge

    This is fine... long as the Americans know what they can do with their DMCA.

  21. Ty Cobb
    Black Helicopters


    What makes you think all Americans are for DMCA? Quite a few of us here are against that onerous peice of legislation, and the many other laws that favor the corporate world.

    Black helicopter because they might just be watching.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      @ Ty Cobb

      Sadly, whether the average American on the street is/is not in favour of the DMCA is of little relevance as those people are unlikely to be the ones sending nice letters to hosts in other countries, especially when some ISPs in non-US countries have been reported as complying with DMCAs first and asking questions later...

      I do like, however, that Google will forward a copy of every takedown notice to

  22. Shocked Jock

    'British' Law?

    Sorry, but it doesn't exist: the law of England & Wales is the one that attracts libel tourism.

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