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CAA Supports Free Speech Protection Act of 2008

posted by Christopher Howard — Sep 30, 2008

On September 25, 2008, Paul Jaskot and Linda Downs, respectively CAA’s president and executive director, sent the following letter to the US Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary in support of S. 2977, the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008:

The Hon. Arlen Specter, Sponsor
The Hon. Patrick Leahy, Chairman
Members of the Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
433 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

S. 2977: The Free Speech Protection Act of 2008

We write in support of the proposed Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977). We are a professional organization of over 16,000 members that represents the interests of scholars, authors, artists, libraries, museums, and other individuals and institutions who work in the arts in the United States. We publish three scholarly journals, and support the publication of books and other scholarship through grant programs, an influential annual conference, a website, and other activities. As publishers, and as the representative of authors, artists, and scholars, we urge the Senate to approve S. 2977 expeditiously in this congressional session.

The United States is a beacon of free and open discourse. We produce some of the most widely respected and valued scholarship in the world, as well as some of the most influential art. Other countries and individuals worldwide look to us to set the highest standard for the free exchange of ideas, and our Constitution and Bill of Rights give us the ability to meet that standard.

Now, as publishing becomes ever more globalized, our freedom to publish under United States law is threatened. Libel suits filed in foreign countries pose a grave danger to the free speech rights of American authors, journalists, publishers, and readers. S. 2977 provides authors and publishers with urgently needed protections. This is an excellent bill, and its broad bipartisan support shows that Americans are united in our respect for and reliance on our cherished independence. We must not allow the libel laws of other countries to undermine American laws or chill protected speech.

We concur with the American Association of University Professors, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Association of American Publishers, Association of American University Presses, the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN American Center, and others, who wrote to you on September 10, 2008, stating: “Increasingly in recent years, individuals who challenge the accuracy of published materials have attempted to strike back at their authors by filing lawsuits in foreign countries, most commonly England. U.S. law requires the party alleging libel to prove that the statements objected to are actually false. To avoid this burden, libel plaintiffs have engaged in forum shopping—filing lawsuits in countries with either different burdens of proof or different definitions of libel or both.”

S. 2977 is modeled on the recent New York state law that broadens the jurisdiction of New York courts to ensure that foreign libel judgments not be enforced unless they meet New York and U.S. constitutional standards. S. 2977 adds further force to this excellent law by authorizing authors to countersue foreign plaintiffs in a U.S. court for damages of up to three times the amount of the foreign judgment if the foreign plaintiff acted to suppress the speech of the U.S. person.

Passage of S. 2977, the Free Speech Protection Act, is essential to ensure that weaker protections for free speech in other countries do not undermine our fundamental First Amendment freedoms.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Jaskot, CAA President and Professor of Art and Art History, DePaul University; and Linda Downs, Executive Director

Filed under: Advocacy, Legal Issues