'Libel tourism is a threat to all web publishers, and something we'll se a lot more of in times to come'
'It's the dark side of internet and globalisation that nobody likes to talk about, said David Carr, a London-based lawyer who's assisted several bloggers with libel issues, when I asked him about the peculiar case of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing who's sued Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet for libel in London (for this and this article, in Norwegian).
Earlier in the day, I'd had a chat with Bent Falbert, the editor-in-chief of Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet, who was growing ever more pessimistic about his attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement with Kaupthing.
Not that Falbert didn't think the paper had a good case, but the costs of fighting a libel case in Britain is staggering. Falbert estimated it would cost four to five times as much as in Denmark. His paper stands accused of libelling Kaupthing in England when they translated several articles about the Icelandic economy to English and published them online.
Kaupthing's lawyers argue that this means the 'offence' - they claim the articles are highly libellous - took place in England. "It's frightening if you can be sued in any country in the world if you write in English, then we could just as well be sued in Australia," said Falbert. But that is exactly the case said Carr:
"According to law, a statement is libellous where it is read. This is the downside of the internet's globalisation of information that nobody likes to think about. When something appears on the web, it appears all over the world: you could potentially face libel suits all over the world.
"It could just as well be in Australia, where libel laws are even worse, or in France, where you have some very odd historic laws," he said, and predicted that this was something we would see happening more: "We're going to see people shopping for the legal systems most beneficial to them a lot more."
"UK libel law reverts the burden of proof, which is extremely useful if you want to threaten someone. UK libel law could easily be spread all over the world and become the world's libel law by default," said Carr, adding that just hiring a libel lawyer is very expensive, and something only the very rich can afford.
Jon Wessel-Aas, a lawyer for Norway's public broadcaster (NRK) told me that the current situation, where it's unclear which countries' laws applies to where, effectively serves to restrict freedom of speech. 'Libel tourism' is also a problem for broadcasters who's broadcasts can be picked up in other countries than where they broadcast.
I might add a few more notes on this later, time allowing