[Libs-Or] Fwd: [alacoun] Letter sent to the Hill

Diedre Conkling diedre08 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 11 11:53:30 PDT 2008


I have been busy enough lately that I don't remember if this letter was
forwarded to this list.  If it was already then I apologize for the

Date: Mon, 8 Sep 2008 19:26:27 -0400
From: "Emily Sheketoff" <esheketoff at alawash.org>
To: "ALA Council" <alacoun at ala.org>
Cc: <alacol2 at ala.org>
Subject: [alacoun] Letter sent to the Hill

September 8, 2008

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman

United States Senate

Committee on the Judiciary

433 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC  20510

Dear Chairman Leahy,

The attached statement from seventeen different organizations
demonstrates our strong support for S. 2977, the "Free Speech Protection
Act of 2008."  Our organizations have been closely following the issue
of "libel tourism."  We concur with the findings in S. 2977 that outline
how foreign courts are attempting to strip First Amendment rights of
American authors, publishers, academics and others who publish, and
utter ideas, opinion, research and criticisms.

S. 2977 is an important piece of legislation that offers appropriate
United States legal venues for victims of such foreign litigation.  Our
organizations stand ready to work with you to assure passage of the
"Free Speech Protection Act of 2008."  It is important that we defend
our First Amendment freedoms from these threats.

Please contact Christopher Finan, President of the American Book Sellers
Foundation for Free Expression or myself for further information.

Sincerely yours,

Lynne E. Bradley, Director

Office of Government Relations

ALA Washington Office

Christopher Finan, President

American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression

275 Seventh Ave., Rm. 1504

New York, NY 10001

telephone (212) 587-4025, ext. 15

cellphone (917) 509-0340

fax (212) 587-2436 - www.abffe.com
ry%20Internet%20Files/OLK8/www.abffe.com>  - http://chrisfinan.vox.com
<http://chrisfinan.vox.com/>  (blog)


Cc:  For the Entire Judiciary Committee

Statement in Support of the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977)

           The undersigned organizations express their strong support
for the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977).  Libel suits filed
in foreign countries pose a grave danger to the free speech rights of
American authors, journalists, publishers, and readers. S. 2977 provides
authors with weapons to protect their right to express themselves freely
and helps ensure that the libel laws of countries that provide less
protection for free speech will not undermine American laws or chill
protected speech.

           Increasingly in recent years, individuals who challenge the
accuracy of published materials have attempted to strike back at their
authors by filing lawsuits in foreign countries, most commonly England.
U.S. law requires the party alleging libel to prove that the statements
objected to are actually false. To avoid this burden, libel plaintiffs
have engaged in forum shopping - filing lawsuits in countries with
either different burdens of proof or different definitions of libel or

The most notorious recent example of this libel tourism is the lawsuit
filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, who sued Dr. Rachel
Ehrenfeld, an American expert on terrorism, over statements in her book,
Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It.  Despite the
fact that the book was never published in England and that a mere 23
copies had been sold there by online booksellers, Bin Mafouz brought
suit in an English court.  Under British law, the burden of proof in the
first instance is on the defendant to prove the truth of any allegedly
libelous statement.  Faced with the prospect of enormous legal costs to
meet this burden, and objecting as a matter of principle to having to
litigate in England without having published her work there, Ehrenfeld
refused to defend the suit. The English court entered a default
judgment, enjoined further distribution of the book in the United
Kingdom, and awarded substantial damages and legal fees.

           Bin Mafouz's English lawsuit had the predictable effect of
chilling Ehrenfeld's free speech rights and effectively silencing anyone
who might consider publishing similar statements.  It sent the message
that he is willing and able to challenge any investigation of his
family's and the Saudi royal family's alleged ties to the funding of
terrorism. He has refused to disclaim an intention to attempt to enforce
the judgment in the United States, further reinforcing its chilling

           New York has passed a law that broadens the jurisdiction of
New York courts over such cases to ensure that foreign libel judgments
not be enforced unless they meet New York and U.S. constitutional
standards.  S. 2977 is modeled on the New York law.  It provides that
foreign libel judgments cannot be enforced in the United States if the
speech is not actionable under U.S. law.  S. 2977 also authorizes
authors to countersue the foreign plaintiffs in a U.S. court for damages
of up to three times the amount of the foreign judgment if the foreign
plaintiff acted to suppress the speech of the U.S. person.

           We believe that passage of the Free Speech Protection Act is
essential to protect the right of American authors to investigate and
reveal wrongdoing anywhere in the world and to ensure that weaker
protections for free speech elsewhere do not undermine First Amendment
freedoms at home.

American Association of University Professors
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
The Defending Dissent Foundation
DKT International
Entertainment Consumers Association
Freedom to Read Foundation
Independent Book Publishers Association
National Coalition Against Censorship
New York Center for Independent Publishing
PEN American Center
Reporters Without Borders
Woodhull Freedom Foundation


Diedre Conkling
diedre08 at gmail.com
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