Monday, March 17, 2008

Slap Down

The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution added amendments to protect certain rights that had been trampled underfoot by the British. The very first amendment, in fact, promised freedom of speech, which was sorely missed in the former colonies.

All these years later and the British never did cop on to the glories of free speech. That's why author Rachel Ehrenfeld was sued abroad. She's a Yank. The complainant is an Arab. The issue is free speech and where can a man sue an author who's accustomed to free speech. Let's go to England.

Ms. Ehrenfeld wrote an expose on the financing of Islamofascist terrorism. The bag man for the House of Saud was named, and the billionaire banker Khalid bin Mahfouz took her to court. In England. So much easier to prosecute for libel there, wouldn't you know.

That's what they call a slap suit in the halls of American justice. The rich bully tries to scare the poor writer into submission by suing. He's got more money than he knows what to do with, and he knows that Ms. Ehrenfeld is practically skint.

Publishers are watching the case closely. The implication? American books won't get published in England, and Amazon can't sell them in England, because of the libel laws. As long as a writer of any nationality can be sued in an English court if the book is available in England, there'll be corporate lawyers deciding that it's too risky to speak freely.

A British court found in Mr. bin Mahfouz's favor, and Ms. Ehrenfeld is facing a $225,000 judgment. She can't dare go to London or she'll be arrested. The state of New York, where she resides, is trying to pass a law that will protect American writers from foreign (i.e. British) judgments, by declaring that rulings from "libel tourism" cases aren't worth the foreign paper they're printed on. And you thought that the War of 1812 settled things.

The constitutional lawyers in New York State are wrangling over the new bill, not sure if it will pass muster.

Surviving a slap suit takes a great deal of courage and some powerful friends at one's back. Will Amazon step up with an open wallet to protect their right to sell products to England?

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