U.S. “Speech Act” Signed Into Law

U.S. President Obama today signed into law the “Speech Act,” which is aimed at protecting U.S. writers from foreign libel judgments from jurisdictions that, in the opinion of a U.S. court, do not adequately protect freedom of speech. Such foreign judgments will not be enforceable in the United States — where, presumably, the writer’s and publisher’s assets are located. The legislation was prompted, as the BBC report says, by a libel suit against American writer Rachel Ehrenfeld who was sued in England, a notorious destination for libel tourism, because of a book on the funding of terrorism.

I believe that the text of the law can be found here; if this is not the final version of the legislation, I’d be happy to learn that from your comments.

Canadian libel judgments would, of course, be considered foreign judgments. Would our libel law differ so much from U.S. law that enforcement of our judgments would be seen as failing to “protect the right to free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution”?

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Comments

  1. Simon, I think the version to which you linked is the first reading version of H.R. 1304, a predecessor bill to the current one. H.R. 2765, in its final version as passed by both House and Senate, can be found here or here.

  2. Thanks, Alex. I really need to brush up on my U.S. legislation-finding skills.

  3. While the US bill is unncessary (since the same result can be and regularly is achieved by its courts in any event on public policy grounds) and hypocritical (because US courts regularly purport to affect foreign jurisdictions, take very long-arm jurisdiction and impose US values on foreigners), it does admit that plaintiffs can win libel cases under US law, and it says that if the plaintiff in the foreign proceeding would have won in the US, enforcement of the foreign judgment is OK in the US.

    I am not aware that US residents have used Canadian courts to bring defamation actions against US defendants. The two cases that come to mind involved plaintiffs from elsewhere (Barbados, Africa – immigrated to Ontario) suing US defendants here. The former won, the latter lost. But neither involved attempts to enforce the Ontario judgment in the US.

  4. US residents suing US defendants, here? Well …. Conrad Black v Breeden et al. [g] The Ont CA’s decision on whether the action gets to proceed here will be released this Friday.