King Reintroduces Free Speech Protection Act

Press Release

By:  Pete King
Date: March 5, 2009
Location: Washington, DC


Protects U.S. Journalists from Libel Lawsuits, Defends First Amendment Rights

Today, Representative Peter King (R-Seaford) reintroduced the Free Speech Protection Act (H.R. 1304) to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans who are sued for defamation in foreign courts. With the rise of libel tourism, the fear of a lawsuit has become a deterrent for American authors, journalists, and publishers seeking to publish works on topics such as terrorism. King's bill provides protections that will deter foreigners from suing Americans.

"As Americans we are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech, and as a country it is our duty to defend that right," said King. "The Free Speech Protection Act upholds the Constitutional rights of our journalists and authors who seek to report the truth, and grants them protection from foreigners seeking to exploit them under the guise of defamation."

Recently there has been a rise in "libel tourism," where foreigners take advantage of plaintiff-friendly foreign court systems, such as in the United Kingdom, in order to sue Americans for defamation. When sued in foreign courts, it has been difficult for Americans to counter-sue, as they could not establish standing in U.S. courts. Without the ability to retaliate, there is nothing to discourage the practice of libel tourism.

The Free Speech Protection Act does the following to protect Americans and deter foreign libel lawsuits:

• Allows U.S. persons to bring a federal cause of action against any person bringing a foreign libel suit if the writing does not constitute defamation under U.S. law;

• Bars enforcement of foreign libel judgments and provides other appropriate injunctive relief by U.S. Courts if a cause of action is established;

• Awards damages to the U.S. person who brought the action in the amount of the foreign judgment, the costs related to the foreign lawsuit, and the harm caused due to the decreased opportunities to publish, conduct research, or generate funding;

• Awards treble damages if the person bringing the foreign lawsuit intentionally engaged in a scheme to suppress First Amendment rights;

• Allows for expedited discovery if the court determines that the speech at issue in the foreign defamation action is protected by the First Amendment.

"Our journalists provide us with insight on issues that affect all Americans, such as war and terrorism," said King. "We cannot allow their voices to be silenced by those who prefer to keep secret the inner details of these issues. American authors and journalists should be able to practice their First Amendment right without the fear of a lawsuit."

While the goal of the bill is to protect Americans from the exploitation of libel tourism, it does not intend to limit legitimate cases of defamation. Nothing in the bill limits the rights of foreign litigants who bring forward good faith defamation actions against journalists and others who have purposely and maliciously published false information.

In 2008, New York State passed a similar bill entitled Rachel's Law. King's bill raises the issue on the federal level so that all American's rights can be protected. Senators Specter, Lieberman and Schumer have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.