Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I didn't say it and if I did I didn't mean it!

Here's an unsettling fact of life: According to an article in The Economist, there's been a rash of libel suits in the English courts. Why should those of us outside England care? Because you can be publishing in England, and subject to English libel laws, without even knowing it.

This isn't a strictly English thing. The article points out a case where a celebrity embarrassed by articles in one of the English tabloids (and what celebrity hasn't been?) sued in France in an unsuccessful bid to take advantage of its tighter privacy laws. However, England's libel standard, that it's up to the defendant to justify a "defamatory" statement, and the cost of defending a case there ($200,000 if you win, much more if you lose) have made it particularly attractive.

What do you have to do to be considered to have published in England? Not much, it seems. In one case, a book published in America happened to have sold a handful of copies in England. In another case, a foreign-language website hosted outside the UK* was sued by a Ukrainian citizen.

As far as I can make out, the criterion is that someone in England has read what you wrote, not that you did anything in particular to try to make that happen, or that said person was in any way offended by what you wrote or even believed it.

According to the usage statistics, this blog is (occasionally) read in England so first, thanks for that and second, if I somehow said something that defamed someone, anywhere, ever, I really didn't mean it and I'm very very sorry. Honest, guv!

* at least, that looks like Cyrillic to me and the domain is registered via a German company; you be the judge

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