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California Acts to Stop Libel Tourism

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Afflicted with one hazard of globalization -- the spread of the swine flu epidemic -- California's state Senate took measures to protect its citizens from another less deadly, yet terrorizing hazard -- the chilling effects on their freedom of expression by foreign libel judgments.

California is the world capital of the entertainment industry, which provides major revenues to the state. To protect it, Senator Ellen Corbett (D), the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, initiated California's Anti-Libel Tourism Act (SB 320), which on April 28, 2009 unanimously passed in the State Senate.

Today, people who could never win a libel lawsuit in United States or California are suing in libel-friendly countries like the United Kingdom, where they obtain costly judgments against Americans. International treaties require U.S. courts to recognize and enforce these judgments. But SB 320, "would prohibit state courts from enforcing a defamation judgment obtained in a foreign jurisdiction, unless the court determines the defamation law applied in the case provided at least as much protection for freedom of expression as offered by the U.S. and California Constitutions."

Without this law, every creative enterprise produced in California, and every individual writer, director and producer in California, is now at risk of financial devastation at the hands of Libel Tourists.

In fact, all books, television and movie scripts, fiction and non-fiction, radio shows, web content and even video games, are exposed to this predatory legal action from abroad.

Libel Tourism is a pernicious and growing phenomenon often used by wealthy and corrupt terror financiers to exploit plaintiff-friendly foreign libel laws and jurisdictions to silence American authors, producers and publishers. Ever since the attacks on America of September 11, 2001, foreign libel laws have become a potent weapon used by the forces of tyranny who seek to undermine our freedom. California's Libel Tourism Act can stop this invasive silencing of free speech and restore our liberty.

American libel laws are very different from other countries' laws and strongly protect free speech. But in many countries, journalists can be jailed for criminal libel. Truth is often not a defense; publications can be confiscated; newspapers, film, television studios and broadcast stations can be shuttered; and writers and producers can be heavily fined and forced to publish adverse court orders, and repudiate as false what they know to be true. English laws, in particular, are so friendly to the plaintiff that the Times of London calls London "the libel capital of the world."

In 2003, Bonus Books, a small California based publisher published my third book, Funding Evil, How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. In the thoroughly documented book, I showed how among many others, Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz funded al Qaeda, Hamas and other radical Muslim organizations.

Mahfouz who does not live in England sued me in London for libel. But I live in New York, and my book was not published or marketed in England. Nonetheless, the English court accepted jurisdiction because twenty-three copies of Funding Evil arrived in England via Internet purchases.

What happened next did not occur in a dark backwater of totalitarian repression like Syria, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, but in England. Although Mahfouz's suit has never been tried on merit, the British Court granted Mahfouz a judgment by default, awarding him hundreds of thousands of dollars, and other sanctions, including destruction of all copies of my book.

In response, I sued Mahfouz in New York to declare his English judgment violated my rights under the First Amendment. That litigation led the New York Legislature last May to enact the "Libel Terrorism Protection Act" aka "Rachel's Law." Illinois followed suit last August and Florida's "Libel Protection Bill," Passed by Florida's Legislature on May 4. And the Free Speech Protection Act 2009, sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Specter and Schumer, and Rep. King and others, is pending in Congress. The bill is supported by most free speech organizations and major media outlets in the nation.

Without the Anti-Libel Tourism Act, every creative enterprise produced in California is at risk of financial destruction at the hands of foreign predators. Thus, the State Legislature must protect California's writers, producers and publishers to guarantee the "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" expression the First Amendment was designed to protect. The Senate passed the bill, and I urge California's Assembly to pass the Anti- Libel Tourism Act without delay, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign it into law.

Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It, is director of American Center for Democracy