New York's highest court has passed up an opportunity to protect American authors from the libel judgments of foreign courts. In a decision handed down yesterday, the Court of Appeals in Albany told a New York-based researcher that she could not use the courts here to challenge a British judgment ordering her to pay 30,000 British pounds — more than $60,000 — for defaming a Saudi billionaire.
The case was a test of how New York's courts will respond to concerns that the First Amendment rights of American authors are undermined by libel judgments imposed abroad, especially in Britain.
Libel law in Britain is far more plaintiff-friendly than libel law in America. This discrepancy has given rise to a practice that critics call "libel tourism." In recent years, American authors and journalists have found themselves sued by non-British nationals in British courts over articles and books published in America.
The researcher, Rachel Ehrenfeld, had asked a court in New York to declare the British judgment against her unenforceable under the First Amendment.
But the Court of Appeals said a New York court first needed jurisdiction over the Saudi financier who brought the case, Khalid bin Mahfouz, before it could take up Ms. Ehrenfeld's countersuit. The court found that Mr. Mahfouz had so few dealings involving New York that no local court had jurisdiction over a suit against him.