Alfano, Skelos Libel Terrorism Legislation Signed Into Law
By Opinion | by Assemblyman Tom Alfano
Friday, June 6th, 2008 @ 5:14AM
Assemblyman Tom Alfano and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced that their legislation protecting American authors from “Libel Terrorism” was signed into law by Governor Paterson. As authored by Senator Skelos, Assemblyman Alfano and Assemblyman Rory Lancman, the legislation provides greater protection to New York writers and journalists against libel judgments in countries whose laws are inconsistent with the freedom of speech granted by the United States Constitution.
Senator Skelos said, “The truth is a critically important component of the War on Terror. American authors, like Dr. Ehrenfeld, who expose terrorist networks and their financiers should not be subject to intimidation and lawsuits in foreign courts designed to circumvent our First Amendment rights.” Assemblyman Alfano added, “The fact that an accomplished author can essentially be terrorized by bankrollers of terrorism, Holocaust deniers and those intent on barring freedom of speech is completely outrageous. The weapons they use are the courts where they sue authors to stop them from telling the truth. And, they take the proceeds to bankroll their operations. Freedom of speech is one of the very foundations our country was founded on and it will not be taken away. That’s why this bill is so important.”
The new law was prompted by the case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, a New York-based author who was sued for libel by an individual discussed in the author’s book about terrorism funding. That lawsuit was brought in England – where libel judgments are much easier to obtain than in the United States – even though only 23 copies of the book had been sold there. Currently, libel plaintiffs can bring suit against an author in a country where the author sold only a few books. Foreign libel laws frequently place significant and expensive burdens on authors to defend their work. The statute combats such “forum shopping” in two ways.
First, it bars New York courts from enforcing a foreign libel judgment unless the country where it was decided grants the same or better protection than US standards for freedom of speech.
Second, it expands an individual’s ability to have a court declare a foreign libel judgment invalid in New York. Without this statute, an author could be forced to live indefinitely under the pall of a libel judgment, deterring publishers from disseminating that author’s work.
Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said, “Terrorism and terrorist financing are matters of vital interest to all New Yorkers, in no small part because New York City remains a target of significance for international terrorists. New York authors must have the freedom to investigate, write and publish on terrorism and other matters of public importance, subject only to limitations that are consistent with the US Constitution. This legislation will help to ensure such freedom.” Roy Blount Jr., president of the Authors Guild, said, “A writer’s job, generally, is to get at the truth, not to tiptoe around and pull punches so somebody in a foreign country doesn’t take offense. Governor Paterson and New York’s legislature have done a good thing here, and readers and writers will be better off because of it. Other states and the federal government should take note.” John Wohlstetter, senior vice president of the American Jewish Congress, added, “The American Jewish Congress applauds Governor Paterson for signing the ‘Libel Terrorism’ bill that closes off a legal loophole that left New York writers and artists vulnerable to defamation judgments entered against them in foreign courts of law unsympathetic to freedom of speech. Other states should emulate New York’s determination not to allow foreign judgments to suppress American’s freedom to write and speak freely.”