US Studies Centre senior lecturer on the US Constitution Harry Melkonian has written the book Defamation, Libel Tourism and the SPEECH Act of 2010: The First Amendment Colliding with the Common Law published by Cambria Press, New York.
Melkonian considers how American media interests have expressed profound dismay over the phenomenon of libel tourism whereby American authors and media companies have been successfully sued for defamation in foreign courts where there is little if any connection between the venue and the parties. Media interests view these proceedings as forum shopping of the worst sort because essential American First Amendment rights are being compromised. In response to this concern, federal legislation commonly known as the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of Our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act) became law in August 2010.
The SPEECH Act promises to disturb the traditional American practice of extending comity or recognition to foreign judgments except where those judgments are repugnant to American concepts of justice. Foreign defamation judgments are routinely denied recognition under existing law and there would seem to be no reason for specific legislation dealing with defamation. However, in the absence of this legislation, recent developments in the English common law may open a window for greater international cooperation regarding defamation judgments. This book looks at defamation law from the viewpoint of freedom of speech theory as well as doctrinal law and demonstrates that the common law, while presenting a truer match with essential theory, frequently fails in practical application while Supreme Court interpretations of the First Amendment, while less sound theoretically, typically yield more satisfying results. Nevertheless, there are also ongoing changes in both bodies of law and the similarities will soon outweigh differences and recognition of foreign defamation judgments should no longer be routinely rejected.
American media interests are quite rightly concerned about defamation actions being commenced against them in countries where freedom of speech is not as well developed or as protected as it is by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Of late, London has been the forum of convenience for lawsuits which have become known as Libel Tourism litigation because of the flimsy connection of the publication to the venue. As a consequence, media interests have been lobbying for protective legislation and on August 10, 2010, the federal SPEECH Act became law.
This book discusses the ostensible reasons for this legislation and examines the law in light of traditional principles of extending recognition to foreign judgments as an essential aspect of comity among nations. In order to properly evaluate the SPEECH Act and its likely implications, this study critically examines the ongoing degradation of First Amendment speech protections in the US and the developing English common law defamation privileges and reaches some startling conclusions.
In this first critical study of the SPEECH Act, Harry Melkonian not only examines the specifics and likely application of this legislation as well as the underlying phenomenon of Libel Tourism but also provides a radically new perspective on the incipient convergence of US First Amendment and English common law freedom of speech and defamation principles. Uniquely, the book approaches the concept of convergence from the viewpoint of both doctrinal law and free speech theory and amalgamates the results through application of the traditional law of comity among nations.
Defamation, Libel Tourism and the SPEECH Act of 2010 is an essential book for everyone involved with international legal aspects of the media including publishers, broadcasters, as well as legal professionals and academics.