Washington, DC, June 3, 2008: A program to be held at the American Library Association's 2008 Annual Conference will take a long, hard look at the use of foreign libel laws as a weapon to intimidate and silence American journalists and authors. The program, The Biggest Threat to Free Speech You May Never Have Heard Of!, is scheduled for Monday, June 30 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Room 204A at the Anaheim (CA) Convention Center.
Under the joint sponsorship of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Freedom to Read Committee of the Association of American Publishers, the program will feature Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the New York-based author whose battle to have a British libel judgment against her declared unenforceable in the U.S. inspired New York's newly enacted "Libel Terrorism Protection Act," and J. Millard Burr, co-author of Alms for Jihad, which was pulped by its British publisher under threat of a libel suit by the same Saudi billionaire who went after Dr. Ehrenfeld. First Amendment attorney Jonathan Bloom (Weil Gotshal & Manges, LLP) will serve as moderator.
In 2004, soon after her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed—And How to Stop It, was published in the United States, Dr. Ehrenfeld was sued in a British court by Khalid bin Mahfouz. The fact that the book was never published in Great Britain, that a mere 23 copies were sold there via the Internet, that neither bin Mahfouz nor Dr. Ehrenfeld reside there, and that she refused to participate in the proceedings did not stop a British judge from ruling against her by default, imposing substantial monetary damages and ordering a public apology and the destruction of all unsold copies of her book. She has refused to comply and her fight inspired New York to pass a law prohibiting courts in the state from recognizing a foreign libel judgment that does not conform to our constitutional protections for free speech. Similar federal legislation is now pending in Congress.
J. Millard Burr, a retired State Department official, and his co-author the late Robert O. Collins, both Americans, were not sued by bin Mahfouz, but his threat of a libel suit against Cambridge University Press caused the British-based publisher to agree to pay monetary damages, to destroy all unsold copies of the book, and to ask libraries worldwide to remove it from their shelves. Noting that unless there was an order from a U.S. court the British settlement was unenforceable here, ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom recommended that U.S. libraries keep the book available to enable their users "to learn about the controversy first hand."
About the Association of American Publishers
The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP's approximately 300 members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and non-profit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. AAP members publish hardcover and paperback books in every field, educational materials for the elementary, secondary, post-secondary and professional markets, scholarly journals, computer software and electronic products and services. The Association represents an industry whose very existence depends upon the free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.