Blown To Bits

UN Attacks UK Libel Laws

Friday, August 15th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

As widely reported in the British press (Guardian story, Telegraph story), a UN report considers British libel laws an infringement on basic human rights — the right of free expression. The problem is libel tourism, where a wealthy celebrity can sue for defamation in Britain on the basis of something published elsewhere. The laws in Britain place a much heavier burden on the defense in libel cases. This is a bits problem — any time someone in the UK views a web page, it’s considered “publication” in the UK, wherever the web server or actual content source may be. In Blown to Bits, we talk about this (and in particular the case of Australian businessman Joseph Gutnick, a resident of Australia, where the laws follow the British standard.

Unless checked, libel tourism is going to make U.S. publishers self-censor, trumping First Amendment guarantees. So far down the list of international issues for this political campaign it won’t even be noticed, but a potentially serious issue for the future.

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