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Albany Bill Could Protect Authors
by Joseph Goldstein
A bill introduced this week in Albany would give new protection to New York authors and journalists against libel judgments from foreign courts and would make it easier for writers to use New York courts to challenge foreign judgments against them.
The bill was introduced in response to a British libel judgment against a New York-based researcher that ordered her to pay a libel award of 30,000 pounds to the family of a Saudi billionaire. The researcher, Rachel Ehrenfeld, had written a book, published in America, which accused the Saudi, Khalid bin Mahfouz, of funding organizations with alleged ties to terrorism. Mr. bin Mahfouz denies the allegation and has said he "abhors terrorism in all its forms."
The libel suits Mr. bin Mahfouz filed in London against Ms. Ehrenfeld and others who made similar accusations caused a stir in the publishing world, fueling concern that foreigners increasingly head to English courts to take advantage of a lower legal standard required to prove defamation. Critics call the practice "libel tourism" and say it undermines First Amendment protections.
"If you want to go to Singapore or England or Katmandu to get a libel judgment, that judgment will not be enforceable in New York," the Queens Democrat who introduced the legislation in the Assembly, Rory Lancman, said.
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