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Legal Threat Demands Techdirt Shut Down 346

Posted by timothy
from the slapp-in-the-face dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Earlier this month, the US approved a new law to fight against so-called 'libel tourism,' the practice of suing US companies in foreign jurisdictions (quite frequently, the UK) which do not have the same level of free speech protections. The new law, the SPEECH Act, may now get put to the test, as lawyers for a guy named Jeffrey Morris in the UK, who was upset about some comments on a 2004 blog post on Techdirt, have demanded the entire site shut down due to those unidentified comments."
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Legal Threat Demands Techdirt Shut Down

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  • Re:So much for... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:04PM (#33384258)

    people crying that free speech here isn't as free as that in Europe. It's not true! It's legal in the U.S. to be racist, homophobic, a Holocaust denier, to be for or against abortion, or any other issue. Hell, it's legal to film sex and sell it here! In Europe, there are a lot of places it's not legal to be any of those things. While they're hateful positions that we can silence by not giving any attention to, the fact you can speak anything without fear is our greatest treasure, in my opinion. In several places in Europe, you go to jail for denying the Holocaust. You go to jail for preaching against homosexuals from your pulpit.

    I'm sure I'll be modded down for saying it, but it needs to be said. Free speech is damn free in this country, and I'm glad we're going to even further lengths to protect it!

    Our libel laws in the UK are one thing I truly detest and wish I could have what you Americans do. There's not much else I prefer in all honesty, but you guys got freedom of speech down cold.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:06PM (#33384278)
    I don't think it's so much that speech isn't free here, just that the right needs to be carefully watched and hell raised over any transgressions whatsoever to avoid speech falling into categories like 'approved' and 'unapproved.' Also, as for filming sex, that's more of a legal gray area what with federal obscenity laws and all. Western Europe is by and large much more relaxed regarding things like sex. A flash of Janet Jackson's tit (nipple covered, even,) during a 'family event' in which overgrown steroid users repeatedly pummel each other into the ground caused a national controversy. Google max hardcore (some of the links will be nsfw) for an idea of just what's going on.
  • Re:So much for... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@NoSPAM.notforhire.org> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:07PM (#33384292)

    There's not much else I prefer in all honesty, but you guys got freedom of speech down cold.

    Well, long as it's not more than four words from a lyric out of a RIAA owned song.

  • Jeff Morris (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:08PM (#33384302) Journal

    Is a fucking asshole.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by butterflysrage (1066514) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:11PM (#33384364)

    or try and bring home some Japanese manga with any girly bits in them on anyone who isnt obviously 110 years old.

  • Not true (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:13PM (#33384396)

    the fact you can speak anything without fear is our greatest treasure, in my opinion

    Good luck talking about terrorism, bombs, Islam, or airplanes.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ADRA (37398) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:13PM (#33384398)

    But Oh my god, don't show nudity on public TV! That's just obscene!

  • by blackraven14250 (902843) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:16PM (#33384428)

    Why can the US enforce it's own very restrictive copyright laws and extradite people from oh, I don't know, Australia for example, to face criminal copyright infringement charges; only to turn around and then prevent its citizens (real or corporate) to be shielded from other countries' laws?

    Because the leaders of Australia went "Oh, go ahead, here he is! We'll even send a police escort with him, and pay for the plane tickets!"

  • Re:So much for... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:18PM (#33384450) Homepage
    You'll never convince a European of that; the vast majority seem utterly convinced they are experts on American culture (and what's wrong with it).
  • Re:Why care? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:29PM (#33384576) Homepage Journal

    Since the UK is an important trading partner as well as military and diplomatic ally, it's my guess that the US has all kinds of agreements with them which generally allow civil cases to proceed across the Atlantic, and that types of cases which aren't reasonable under US law have to be specifically excluded from those agreements. This is just a guess; does anyone know for sure?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:34PM (#33384638)

    How do you propose we consolidate laws that ban certain religions or make women 2nd class citizens?

    Different culture leads to different laws. I don't want to be bound by Chinese law - do you?

  • but you will be met by a wall of ignorance, hysteria, fear, hyperbole, and propaganda

    which is fine. life is raw. i would prefer ugly truths to placid lies, which the laws in other countries apparently prefer

    the alternative: forbidding people to talk about controversy, is that superior? i don't think so

    as the top poster said, i am quite enamored with the usa's right to free speech

    but what i don't like currently in the usa though is this melding of opinion and "news" organization, such as with fox news. currently in the usa we are drowning under a flood of misinformation and lies

    in other words, i think it is ok to have any opinion you want. but what i don't think is ok is to tell people lies and present it to people as facts, which is what "news" organizations like fox do

    what i would like to see is a law somewhere along the lines of "enjoy your free speech, just don't present yourself as an authority on something when you clearly are not an authority, just a bought and paid for huckster"

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MBGMorden (803437) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:39PM (#33384716)

    In parts of Nevada where prostitution is legal, I'd wager that the (admittedly flimsy) distinction doesn't need to be made at all.

  • Re:Pot meet kettle (Score:3, Insightful)

    by santax (1541065) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:44PM (#33384792)
    Btw, it's called in your own paper as the Obama effect... Do that same 'research'(poll lol) again. This time without the USA please. That is not research, it's a freaking poll.
  • Re:So much for... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cgenman (325138) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:46PM (#33384826) Homepage

    It's even legal in the US to be Jeffrey Morris, though he will now go down in the internet archives as a complete prat whom you should never do business with.

  • by dpilot (134227) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:48PM (#33384862) Homepage Journal

    One of the fundamental requirements for a free market is an informed consumer with choices.

    One could interpret matters like this as suppliers trying to keep their dirty laundry quiet, trying to keep consumers in the dark, keep them from making fully informed choices. Obviously if available information is clearly incorrect that needs to be fixed, but it's also not clear that that's the case here.

    Most people have been looking at this from a freedom-of-speech point of view, and that's valid. But there are other problems with it as well, and the free market implications are one of those.

  • by paiute (550198) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:48PM (#33384864)

    "It is entirely possible that the lawyers were unaware of the SPEECH Act, but it does seem like a law firm making legal threats in a foreign country should be expected to have researched the legal barriers to making such a claim before using billable hours to make threats they cannot back up."

    The law firm doesn't care if their threats are stupid:

    Client: I want to sue!
    Attorney: Well, you don't have grounds and probably can't win.
    Client: I don't care! I want to sue!
    Attorney: Okay. (Now with a clear conscience, turns on the clock.)

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:50PM (#33384896)

    Because not all of mankind lives in a global society. The rich and mobile do, but the majority of humans don't have that luxury.

    Nations still exist because the majority of the peoples that live in nations want their nations to continue, they don't want to live in a global society. That is true even in the rich and mobile nations.

    Who in the EU wants social laws and punishments to be leveled from EU norms to strike a balance with Saudi Arabia, Iran or the People's Republic of China?

    Hell, ask Canadians in British Columbia what they think about joining Washington and/or Oregon and they are scared to death of it.

  • it's ok for europeans to hate americans. its ok for anyone to hate the usa for any aspect of our history or national character they find repugnant. you're completely welcome, be my guest, it's a free world (or rather, it should be a free world)

    but what i dislike is when americans are held accountable for crimes and weaknesses that basically every human being is guilty of. or when the atrocities of the american government are given special analysis for high holy indignation, while much worse atrocities of the same form from other governments are completely ignored, minimized, or excused, including from their own government. not that a crime committed by another government excuses the crimes of the american government. but it doesn't excuse critics of the usa to focus their high holy indignation on the usa alone, when whatever ugly game in question is played by everyone

    your criticism must be intellectually honest, or your criticism isn't valid

    i repeat: there is plenty about the usa to hate. but what about the usa do you hate? if your answer is that you hate the usa for what everyone does, then that merely means you are propagandized and out of touch with the reality of the world you live in

    the full force of your criticism should be based on principles, and principles alone. you will find then that the targets for your criticism flwo freely all over the world, and not along the lines of geopolitical tribal entities. but if your criticisms adhere too strongly to geopolitical boundaries, where what your country does is excused, but what their country does is not, then your own attitude is part of the problem, perhaps even more that that of americans or the usa

    and, btw, my words here apply equally to americans who view the usa as untouchable and squeaky clean, and some other place or country the root of all evil: the inverse of irrationally hating the usa: irrationally loving the usa, is equally wrong

  • Re:Pot meet kettle (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rijnzael (1294596) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:55PM (#33384966)
    You're right, asking people how they feel about the US in a representative manner is a fundamentally flawed way of establishing a country-by-country perception of the US. And we should totally exclude those things which make people view the US more favorably. Gosh, what was I thinking. /s
  • it never was. i'm sorry that YOU at one time thought it was

    but don't hold it against me that your idealism about the usa was shattered, as i never had such idealism

    if some asshole once said to you "america is the best! believe in it!" i'm sorry you got sold a bill of goods. right now, there are assholes in every country: china is the best! russia is the best! india is the best! etc., selling the same crappy merchandise. why don't you believe what they say? why don't you hold it against them that they have tribal chest thumping ultranationalists? there's tribal chest thumping ultranationalist for every nationality. why do you only hold the usa guilty for a crime every nation commits?

    you should be mad at yourself for ever believing such nonsense in the first place, you should be mad at your own gullibility

    you're nothing but an ex-fanboy, you've fallen out of love with my country. fine. i didn't ask you to love my country, that's your own fault

    likewise, that you hate my country is your own fault too

    the only valid way for you to feel about my country is completely neutral. if you feel anything else, you're the one with a problem in how you view the world you live in

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:25PM (#33385458) Homepage
    Tough shit. You claim you're the best country god gave this world...then we're going to hold you to your own standards.

    Nothing wrong with holding us up to higher standards, unfortunately a lot of Europeans seem to use that as an excuse to abdicate responsibility for anything themselves. Also, while the US fairly deserves a lot of criticism, a lot of it coming from Europe tends to be incredibly ignorant, which was my point, which you seemed to miss.
  • by x2A (858210) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:38PM (#33385666)

    Actually if you type Tom Cruise into Google and see what suggestions come up (yes, that's a valid measurement of reputation!) you get things like 'films', 'movies', and 'height', so his overriding reputation seems to be "short actor".

    More people in the world know that he's a short actor than know that he's a mental tax evading retard who won't come out of the closet, even though that does appear to be written all over his face.

  • was necessary because of the same sort of trbial chest-thumping you find to be a delightful little joke right now. so i guess you didn't learn anything from the suffering your grandparents or great-grandparents went through in the '40s. your jokes are their shame

    if you want to find a historical parallel to you current attitude towards the usa, try the attitude of germans towards french, or french towards british, or british towards spanish, etc., shortly before any one of the hundreds of mindless nationalistic tribal wars your continent seems to pretty good at generating

    frankly, your attitude is the problem

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:08PM (#33386070)

    Sounds a whole like like Great Britain before its empire fell apart, especially the part about thinking themselves superior to everyone else and meddling in their business.

    We hate that you push one-sided 'treaties' on us which shoves your copyright down our throats to protect your movie and record industry.

    Now this is your own dumb fault. If you don't agree to the treaty, then don't sign it. It's that simple. Blame your own leaders for the treaties.

    If you're selling something, and I offer you 1/100 of your posted price for it, and you accept my offer, who's being "cheated" here? Treaties are agreements between two countries. If you don't like the terms of the agreement, don't sign the treaty. Sure, the US is big and that gives it leverage for trade, but you don't NEED trade with the US to survive. Be self-sufficient, trade only with other like-minded countries, etc. Besides, what good is trade with the US anyway? We have nothing to trade with except pieces of paper (frequently called "IOUs"); we don't actually make anything useful any more, except some raw materials like coal.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot@pitabre ... org minus distro> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:10PM (#33386100) Homepage

    You have perfect freedom of speech. The government, you know, the guys with the laws? They won't do anything to stop you from saying whatever you want. In Europe, you have both governmental AND social pressure. US, it's only social pressure. It's also why we somewhat protect anonymous speech, so people can say what needs said without knee-jerk consequences.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lgw (121541) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:35PM (#33386440) Journal

    These all sound like pretty superficial differences to me. (The weather? Really?)

    Only someone who has never been to Houston/Orlando/Atlanta/Miami in August could dismiss the weather as superficial. The basic nature of social gatherings changes.

    The culture of "the South" is really quite different (and different from what the culture of 3 of the cities above). The language is (nearly) the same as the rest of the country, but the pace, the politeness, what is considered polite behavior in the first place, the commonly held values, etc., are different. It's more than the urban/rural difference in most places.

    Mostly, though, the cultural differences within the US are the urban/rural differences. Culture doesn't correlate well with red state/blue state", but is does with the population density of the county.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:37PM (#33387172) Homepage Journal

    I dislike the US trying to tell the UK what Constitution it should have, particularly as the US has actively condemned any interference by other nations in the US' legal system. (Including, I might add, efforts by the UN to prevent a Mexican being executed. Seems to me the death penalty is just a tad more severe than the UK's libel system -- even after factoring in listening to the lawyers.)

    I doubly resent this clamp-down because the US has profited greatly from countries like the UK exporting civil cases to the US where the US' laws would be better for the plaintiff. Indeed, the US actively encourages lawsuit tourism when it is the money-maker. I'm sorry, but double standards don't wash.

    If the US wants to impress anyone with this effort, then it must cut both ways. If they want other nations to respect US Constitutional rights, the the US has to respect its international obligations as well. That includes not letting the RIAA order "DeCSS Jon"-style stormtrooper action, not pressuring India to drop all action against American companies over Bhopal, not pressuring other nations to come up with bogus charges against people like the owner of Wikileaks, honoring the warrant against the 22 CIA agents in Italy for kidnap, etc. Further, if they want cases that are fundamentally American in nature to be heard in America, they must prohibit cases that are fundamentally the property of those nations to hear those cases.

    The reality is, we know damn well that the US won't ban foreign lawsuits and will continue to infringe on the sovereignty of other nations. As, indeed, will all other nations. It's not uniquely a US problem. However, just considering the US, it is insanity to have these kinds of one-way barriers. That infringes on freedom far more than the libel cases ever did, especially given the sheer magnitude of some of them. (Any one of the ones I noted are way worse than all of the libel cases exported from the US combined.)

  • Re:So much for... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:49PM (#33387308)

    They won't do anything to stop you from saying whatever you want.

    Except if there's money involved and potentially an over-the-top cost lawsuit. Or asymmetric contractual obligations. Or fraud. Or patents. Or copyright. Or "think of the children". Or terrorism. Or "national security". Or a verbal threat to the president. Or shouting "fire!" in a theatre. Or...

    Face it, the US obsession with so-called "free speech" is bizarre. The amount of free speech available in the US is pretty much the same as any modern western democracy. Yes, you can probably foam at the mouth about lots of things but only problem is, the glaring exception is that anytime anything important is involved, like money, that so-called freedom-of-speech goes out the window.

    Sorry, but being able to talk however you like about unimportant things isn't very important. Really. And in addition actions speak louder than words.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vegiVamp (518171) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:17AM (#33389746) Homepage
    Don't tase me, bro. Remember that guy's freedom of speech ?
  • by Xest (935314) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:49AM (#33389868)

    Yes, but sadly part the reason we have such a fucked up libel system though is because we have a press that's historically been allowed to get away with basically just outright lying about people in their publications and never having to post a retractment, hence why we got tough libel laws to counter that.

    I want the libel laws reformed as much as anyone, but they better come with stronger accountability for false press stories, so that we don't go back to a situation where papers can perform character assassinations freely or cheaply (i.e. for much less than it earns them in profit).

    On one hand you've got retarded libel laws, and on the other you've got papers like Murdoch's Daily Mail just gagging to be able to write stories about how Richard Dawkins raped 20 children in a drug fuelled satanic orgy that immigrants and muslim terrorists supported whilst all simultaneously saluting an effigy of Hitler. The scary thing is, knowing the Daily Mail that's probably not a far fetched story for them at all. See her for example:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-550109/Formula-One-boss-Max-Mosley-exposed-sadomasochist-Nazi-orgy-prostitutes.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-553408/Under-fathers-shadow-The-truth-disgraced-Max-Mosley-son-Nazi-sympathiser-Oswald.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1032803/Bizarre-sex-life-F1-boss-Max-Mosley-revealed-court-insists-Its-perfectly-harmless-private.html [dailymail.co.uk]

    How did it turn out? Well, the whole event actually had fuck all to do with "Nazis", that was entirely made up by Murdoch's papers (Daily Mail, News of the World etc.). The courts ruled in Mosley's favour.

    Whilst we don't want to muzzle the press, or prevent it writing controversal, but factual stories, we clearly do need massive penalties for papers like this, that just make extremely over the top shit up to try and grossly defame people. S&M may not be to many people's taste, but at the end of the day what he did was in his own time, in a private place, with his own money, with the consent of the people involved, and importantly- without any kind of fascist theme to it, it was that, that libelous part that had to be added to make it a story, and libel for the case of making a story is just wrong.

    Again, I really hate libel laws, and I'm cautious of the danger of any extra accountability for the press being used to muzzle them when they tell the truth. But clearly libel reform can't allow papers to get away with this shit even more easily than they do now either. The court system seems the right place to decide these cases, and libel seems the right tool to deal with them, so it's a tough problem to solve- you could just add extra penalties when the press are guilty of libel as opposed to private individuals, but then are web pages classed as press and so on? I don't know what the solution is, and I'm concerned the politicians don't either such that any changes to libel laws may cause other problems. This is something that needs to be thought through and done properly.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xest (935314) on Friday August 27, 2010 @04:29AM (#33390208)

    Try talking about how all cops are pigs and deserve to die when there are police around. Try talking about how you think it'd be justice for America's crimes in the middle east if a bomb blows up your plane at an airport. Try talking about how you think al qaeda are spot on in blowing up the twin towers in new york.

    In fact, try talking about a gag order issued by the FBI and give details about it:

    http://www.daniweb.com/news/story304255.html [daniweb.com]

    Presumably with your assumption of freedom and believe that people shouldn't be able to say what they wish, you're against a ban of teaching creationism in science class? Surely a teacher with strong religious believes, no matter how invalid should have the right to speak to their class about those beliefs if free speech is to sit above all else?

    Feel free to read from here down to the bottom of the article to get yourself plenty more examples that demonstrate that no, you don't always have free speech in the US:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_in_the_United_States#Types_of_restraints_on_speech [wikipedia.org]

    No, your freedom of speech in the US is as much a fantasy as it is in Europe. Sure certain European nations ban things the US doesn't, but there are other things where it works both ways- public talk sympathetic to the Nazi's might be banned in some European countries for example, but those countries don't infringe civil liberties with things like warrantless wiretaps. You seem to be suggesting there's no situation in which limits on freedom of speech can improve society, but in the context of one specific case for example do you really believe the interest of society is better served by the Phelps group being allowed to spout the stuff they do publicly more so than it being banned so that people such as grieving parents of deceased soldiers don't have to face it on funeral day?

    Ultimately the American viewpoint comes down to a deeply embedded paranoia of government, there's a fear that if they accept that some speech being banned does in fact improve society, there's a fear that it will lead to a slippery slope and be used negatively against legitimate speech, so the American solution is to simply pretend that you have and must keep free speech at all costs, all the whilst using less direct methods of stifling speech you don't like. In contrast, in Europe, we're just upfront about what is unwanted and unacceptable in a modern civilised society- but still just as cautious of the slippery slope problem, and it is precisely that caution that means despite having laws against hate speech in public and so forth, we're still not living in brutal dictatorships, and in many parts of Europe, are even more free than the average American citizen.

    The problem with American viewpoints like yours, is that you basically believe America's own bullshit- land of the free, a global symbol of respect for civil liberties and all that. Yet this is the country that's performed torture, extraordinary rendition, the country that has bans on abortions, that's grossly homophobic even at the state level, that allowed warrantless wiretapping and so forth. It's like the couple that appear fine as if they are the perfect couple in public, but where the husband beats her when they're at home in private, the public face Americans feel they must put on, is quite different to the reality of US laws and actions. You can keep telling yourselves America is all well and good and that it's citizens are completely free, but that wont stop the rest of the world being able to see that that really just isn't the case. That is what Europeans find so bizzare about Americans.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday August 27, 2010 @05:57AM (#33390532) Journal

    Also, and specifically, have a look at the Simon Singh case.

    I'm familiar with the reports of that case and frankly I don't see how changing the libel laws would help. The BCA could still sue him even if they needed to provide the evidence that he was wrong and hence he would still have an expensive legal fight.

    Additionally I can just as easily imagine the proposed changes being abused. Big corporation X prints lies to damage small startup Y. Now startup Y has to go through the expense of proving what X said is a lie in order to sue them.

    What's broken is the massive expense required to fight a court case not the actual law.

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday August 27, 2010 @06:01AM (#33390562) Journal

    truth is not necessarily a defence against libel - you can prove that what you said is true, and still be found liable.

    Not according to the Guardian [guardian.co.uk] and I quote:

    There are defences in law for libel. The publisher could prove the statement to be true...

  • Re:So much for... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday August 27, 2010 @06:07AM (#33390584) Journal

    Going to court to defend baseless accusations costs a lot of money...

    ...and how does changing the burden of proof change that? They can still sue you causing you to deal with the same costly court battle. If your point is to scare someone into shutting up using a costly legal battle then the only solutions are to either not allow them to sue at all or to make fighting a court case far cheaper. Shifting the burden of proof does not solve anything and will give the UK media license to be even more economical with the truth than they already are (so I'm not at all surprise that they favour the reform).

  • by ultranova (717540) on Friday August 27, 2010 @08:49AM (#33391892)

    This is why it desperately needs change, because it is just a weapon for the rich.

    Well, isn't that the whole point of law?

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