A colleague forwarded two articles to me in the last week about "libel tourism," one from The Economist and the other from The Wall Street Journal.
The outbreak of stories about libel tourism comes as state legislatures and Congress consider laws that would bar foreign libel judgments from being enforced in this country. This follows a series of cases in which American book, newspaper, magazine and Web site publishers have lost libel cases in England and Australia, which do not have the same safeguards for libel defendants that we do.
Sharon Osbourne won a settlement from a British newspaper for saying she made her rock star husband Ozzy work too hard. That kind of vague and, to me, relatively harmless accusation would be unlikely to provoke a successful lawsuit in the United States.
But I wonder if a law barring enforcement of foreign judgments is the answer. What about the possibility that foreign governments, perhaps feeling that we insulted them by suggesting they don't love free speech as much as we do, would retaliate by barring our citizens from collecting damages from their companies or citizens?
Perhaps the answer is a law that bars enforcement of judgments when the publisher does little business in the foreign country. In such cases, it would be clear that the case was pursued there only to avoid the First Amendment limitations on libel cases here.
Just to be safe until such a law passes, be careful what you say about Sharon Osbourne.