Gov. David Paterson has until the end of today to decide whether or not he will sign a bill the New York state legislature passed – unanimously – that would give American citizens who are sued for libel abroad the right to obtain a declaration that their works are protected under American law. Let’s hope he does the right thing.
More about the case of that started it all from the Wall Street Journal:
England has become a choice venue for libel plaintiffs from around the world, including those who seek to intimidate critics whose works would be protected in the U.S. but might not in that country. That English libel law has increasingly been used to stifle speech about the subject of international terrorism raises the stakes still more.
The case against Rachel Ehrenfeld in England by Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz is illustrative. Her 2003 book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Funded and How to Stop It" dealt at length with one of the most significant (and difficult and dangerous to research) topics – the funding of terrorism. The conduct of Mr. Bin Mahfouz as a possible funder of terrorism was one of the subjects discussed in the book, which was published in New York.
Twenty-three copies of the book were sold in England. On that slim basis, Mr. Bin Mahfouz sued there, claiming that his reputation had been gravely harmed.
Ms. Ehrenfeld (on the advice of English counsel) refused to appear before the English courts, and a judgment against her was entered in the amount of $225,000. At any time, Mr. Bin Mahfouz could seek to enforce that judgment. Whether or not he does, the harm to Ms. Enhrenfeld’s reputation remains real.
Ironic that Bin Mahfouz’s reputation has been enhanced, at least among those he seeks to please, while Ms. Enhrenfeld’s has been damaged. The aggressor playing the victim is a pathetic trick but one that works too often.
This seems like a clear-cut case of the law being used for a purpose other than which it was intended. Unfortunately, England seems – from this side of the pond – to be unwilling to take action on this and other matters that Those Who We Dare Not Offend could use to foment unrest in the streets.
Appeasement, anyone? Seen this before?
The least David Paterson can – must, IMO – is to sign this bill and designate his state as one in which the free speech of its citizens is explicitly protected from the predations of over-rich censors abroad.