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US Senate Passes 'Libel Tourism' Bill 467

Posted by kdawson
from the words-you-never-heard-in-the-bible dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "AFP reports that the US Senate has passed (by a 'unanimous consent' voice vote) a bill that prevents US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. If the bill becomes law it will shield US journalists, authors, and publishers from 'libel tourists' who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favorable ruling. 'While we cannot legislate changes to foreign law that are chilling protected speech in our country, we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine American First Amendment or due process rights,' said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy. Backers of the bill have cited England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore as places where weak libel safeguards attract lawsuits that unfairly harm US journalists, writers, and publishers. The popular legislation is headed to the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve it. 'This bill is a needed first step to ensure that weak free-speech protections and abusive legal practices in foreign countries do not prevent Americans from fully exercising their constitutional right to speak and debate freely,' said Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on Leahy's committee."
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US Senate Passes 'Libel Tourism' Bill

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DWMorse (1816016) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:22AM (#32976144) Homepage

    Not that I encourage deliberately starting wildfires, but does this encompass protection if you draw Mohammed now?

    • by thijsh (910751)
      Man, I would love to see a libel lawsuit from Mohammed, considering the dude has been dead for 1378 years!
      And if *a* guy was to show up and state his case it would go slightly along the lines of: "He can't draw a satirical picture of me because I proclaimed a rule that he cant!". I think that no court would ever convict anyone for this... not even the most medieval Sharia court in the world (unless the dude before them is the counties dictator of the moment, but I digress...).
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Dont forget "material support" bites hard too.
      via the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) terms like "service,” “training,” “expert advice or assistance” or “personnel" might just be found in your written words.
      Just make sure your helping this generations freedom fighters and it will be fine.
  • So what was the last piece of legislation before this that actually was designed to protect an individuals rights? It has been too many years....
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Well, although I applaud this, I don't see how it's necessary; wouldn't any US judge say the same thing? The Constitution says we have free speech, and that should be it.

      Can someone here, preferably a lawyer or judge, explain?

      • by nomadic (141991)
        Well, although I applaud this, I don't see how it's necessary; wouldn't any US judge say the same thing? The Constitution says we have free speech, and that should be it.

        You're right, American courts already generally refuse to enforce libel judgments when they run afoul of fair speech, and I was a little puzzled myself at this news article. I guess the idea is to encode in actual statute what was already in common law.
    • Re:Wowsa (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:38AM (#32976300)

      Now all we need is for other countries to protect their citizens from similar patent tourism.

    • The Patriot Act. To protect us and the children.
  • by Dominic (3849) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:23AM (#32976152) Homepage

    Good on you, Americans. So, now can you stop complaining if we try to stop our courts enforcing *your* mad decisions, like Gary McKinnon?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      WTF is with the flamebait mod? I might or might not argue the Gary McKinnon question, but Dominic's point is on topic, valid, and does not appear to be designed to provoke an angry response. Please stop using mod points for "-1, Disagree".
    • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:56AM (#32976494) Journal

      Sorry, hacking into secure military sites - and not just for UFO information (seems more paranoia than anything else, even if a bit of a benign case).

      His case makes sense to me (as would be the case if a Brittan, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, whoever wanted a US citizen for a similar premise, I'd say 'send him/her over...'

      • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:13AM (#32976668) Journal

        For the sake of argument, let's say that we all agree that the crime occurred on US soil (and even that is by no means a unanimous opinion). The UK will only allow the extradition of they believe that he will receive a fair trial and (if found guilty) a reasonable punishment for the crimes he has been accused of.

        This is a man with some psychological problems who appears to have made a very very stupid decision by breaking in to some poorly secured US government computers. There was little actual harm done. The consensus seems to be that in the UK he would receive a slap on the wrist, maybe some psychiatric treatment, perhaps some limitations on his future access to computers. At the time he faced a maximum of six months in a UK prison.

        The US are calling him a terrorist, and lining him up for the distinct possibility of several decades, maybe even life, in a federal prison.

        Do you believe he would get off lightly if extradited to the US, or do you think he would be made an example of? If the former, why? If the latter, do you think it is still fair to extradite him?

      • by Xarius (691264)

        What if China or Korea or some other shady country asked for someone, would you still hand them over? Given the USAs track record in treating prisoners (and basic human rights violations) I'd be reluctant to give anyone up to them.

      • by Dominic (3849) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:18AM (#32976742) Homepage

        Well, *you* might say that, but your government wouldn't. The US doesn't let other countries judge its citizens nearly as easily. Take, for example, the refusal of the US to hand over Robert Seldon Lady, guilty of kidnap and torture (who was given 8 years in his absense). Or what about Captain Richard J. Ashby, who is one of four pilots responsible for the deaths of 20 people in Italy (and destroying the evidence)?

        These are far worse crimes, and the US refused to hand them over to other countries for trial. They were also black-and-white crimes, whereas what McKinnon did was not even serious enough for prison time here, where he 'committed' it. That's what gets people - the double standards.

        • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld.gmail@com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:52AM (#32977158) Homepage
          These are far worse crimes, and the US refused to hand them over to other countries for trial.

          Well, not really "other countries" plural, just one, Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.
          • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:02AM (#32978032) Journal

            Well, not really "other countries" plural, just one, Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

            As with the US, which, as the OJ Simpson trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Alinabi (464689)

            Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

            And that assessment is based on what, exactly? The fact that the court convicted an American based on overwhelming evidence of her guilt?

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by nomadic (141991)
              And that assessment is based on what, exactly? The fact that the court convicted an American based on overwhelming evidence of her guilt?

              Fabrication of evidence? Absence of evidence? Or in your country is it allowed for a prosecutor to state on the record that there was a "ritual killing" despite no evidence of such? After a troubled drifter who actually confessed to being at the crime scene, a confession that was supported by actual physical evidence, was already convicted? Where is the "overwhelmin
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by orzetto (545509)

            I've no idea what you are talking about in the Knox case. There was a trial, the atmosphere in the Italian media was not tense at all, no one assumed really anything about her being guilty or innocent. The case was complicated and there were plenty of bogeymen.

            She was found guilty of murder because she participated in it after being on drugs and having, probably, her judgement impaired.

            At the very least, it is beyond discussion that she knowingly accused an innocent man, token nigger Patrick Lumumba. Becaus

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Or Marc Emery, for that matter. It seems a little stupid to send a man to jail for 20+ years for doing something in his own country that would cost him a $250 fine.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      I know Slashdotters generally love McKinnon for sticking it to the Man, but the computer systems he tampered with were physically ON US soil, not in some fourth dimension of teh intarwebs.

      Of course, I'll take the trade if you make it legal for US crackers to remotely crack systems in your country. Information wants to be free. ;)

  • Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:25AM (#32976184) Journal
    Now that one can do investigation journalism in US, reverse-engineering in Finland, publish leaks in Sweden could we please recognize that preventing the publication of a file on internet is utterly silly ?

    There are several projects of a "bill of rights" for "the virtual place named internet". One will maybe stick. Information may not want to be anthropomorphized, but a lot of people surely want it to be free.
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Funny)

      by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:42AM (#32976350)

      Now that one can do investigation journalism in US, reverse-engineering in Finland, publish leaks in Sweden could we please recognize that preventing the publication of a file on internet is utterly silly ?

      As long as you don't get your countries mixed up, and create leaks in Holland, or attempt to reverse-engineer Swedish.

      • by nickovs (115935)

        As long as you don't get your countries mixed up, and ... attempt to reverse-engineer Swedish.

        And never, ever attempt to Reverse Polish [wikipedia.org] unless you have a whole stack in your defense fund!

    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:52AM (#32976448) Homepage Journal

      Now that one can do investigation journalism in US, reverse-engineering in Finland, publish leaks in Sweden could we please recognize that preventing the publication of a file on internet is utterly silly ?

      Nope. Servers live places. The people who do the uploading live places. The people who run the servers can be punished. The people who do the uploading can be punished. There's no legal basis for your theory that criminalizing the publication of a file on the internet (I assume that's what you meant since nobody is preventing the publication of anything, if I assume incorrectly please let me know WTF you were thinking) is "silly". First we'd need to throw away IP law entirely, which is pretty much the opposite of what is going on in the world today. A significant part of IP law is written into international conventions to which the USA and GB are both signatories.

  • Confused (Score:5, Funny)

    by AntEater (16627) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:34AM (#32976252) Homepage

    I'm trying to figure this one out. A bill that passed the senate that reinforces some portion of our individual liberties. I'm having trouble seeing where the corporate benefit is here. I didn't think anything made its way through any part of congress without some corporation getting something out of it. I must be missing something.

    • Re:Confused (Score:5, Informative)

      by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:39AM (#32976308) Journal

      A bill that passed the senate that reinforces some portion of our individual liberties. I'm having trouble seeing where the corporate benefit is here.

      I know you're being facetious, but most magazines, radio stations & tv stations are owned by corporations, they can't just have foreigners suing them for their dramatic, yet wildly inaccurate and poorly researched news stories.

      • A bill that passed the senate that reinforces some portion of our individual liberties. I'm having trouble seeing where the corporate benefit is here.

        I know you're being facetious, but most magazines, radio stations & tv stations are owned by corporations, they can't just have foreigners suing them for their dramatic, yet wildly inaccurate and poorly researched news stories.

        Actually, it's the other way around.

        Where this law came from is because of England. Basically, journalists would publish something about a dictator and regardless of how true it was or where it was published (they always found a way to sue in the UK), the dictator would sue and many times win (England's liable laws are idiotic) - costing the newspaper millions in the process and then they have to retract what they said.

        The Economist reports on this every once in a while.

        Actually, that'd be a trip of the Ec

        • Actually, it's the other way around.

          My reply was partly tongue-in-cheek, I think it's probably more accurate to say it's both ways.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Incumbency. The pols who voted this through are facing reelection in November. Nothing is as red, white, and blue as defending the Constitution.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ShOOf (201960)

      Ya my first reaction was to look at the date, nope not Apr 1.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:36AM (#32976286) Homepage

    Now that is news!

    And more seriously, this is definitely useful, because otherwise a foreign country could set up rules that heavily favors the plaintiff and abuse US citizens for, say, writing negatively about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Posh Spice.

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:41AM (#32976340) Homepage

    ... this won't help cases like Spamhaus being sued by spammers in the US for defamation and tortious interference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mounthood (993037)

      ... this won't help cases like Spamhaus being sued by spammers in the US for defamation and tortious interference.

      Well it's easy to point out unfair legal systems in other countries, but fixing your own.. not so easy.

  • This is an excellent move. Now, how about if the US stops trying to impose its laws on other countries? ACTA, anyone?
  • So I've got to ask: how many libel suits must be pending overseas against BP America/Monsanto/Dow Chemical/United Healthcare/Disney/et al to get Congress to get off their butts and act?
  • by dbkluck (731449) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:05AM (#32976586)
    While I of course applaud the aims of this particular legislation, I think Senator Sessions may not like the consequences of starting an international game of "we won't recognize your court judgments because of your 'abusive legal system.'" The US legal systems for IP and class action recovery are the poster-children for 'abusive', and at a time when so much of the US economy depends on IP lawsuits (to say nothing of some no-doubt imminent class action suits against a certain British oil company), being the first to start ignoring foreign court judgments on principle might prove ill-advised.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IBBoard (1128019)

      to say nothing of some no-doubt imminent class action suits against a certain British oil company

      There are potential law suits against a British oil company? I didn't realise we still had any. I know there are former British companies that are now multi-national conglomerates, and I know they're having issues that could lead to legal situations, but I didn't know there was another oil company in a similar situation.

      From my American informants, apparently only Fox is still making that mistake and most TV sta

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)

      I approve of any measure that enhances national sovereignty. The world is far too corrupt for the idea of world government by treaty to be anything but a way to screw people who obey those treaties, so the sooner nations reject the laws of others the better.

      "The US legal systems for IP and class action recovery are the poster-children for 'abusive',"

      International law itself is abuse, because it is internal government of nations by treaty with other nations while excluding voters. Such concessions should hav

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      I think Senator Sessions may not like the consequences of starting an international game of "we won't recognize your court judgments because of your 'abusive legal system.'"

      You have no perspective.

      The US already has one-way extradition treaties with numerous countries, including major ones. A situation which is decidedly more abusive than just choosing to ignore a few foreign court judgments. Considering this only applies to speech, it's not going to get anyone in much more of a huff than they already are

    • by Nimey (114278) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:47PM (#32980350) Homepage Journal

      I dunno. It might not be a bad thing for foreign legal systems to start ignoring us when we want to punish their citizens for things they did while not on US soil.

  • Would that mean (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @02:08PM (#32980744)
    Would that mean the US will also cease in trying to strong arm US law onto foreign, sovereign states?

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