September 17, 2010
Comparative Libel Law: British and US
At a time when the United Kingdom was still a global empire and the United States a sapling nation, the “multiple publication rule” (“MPR”) was a core principle of defamation law for both countries. This common law rule, begun in the mid-nineteenth century, essentially permits plaintiffs to file lawsuits for one defamatory act in multiple jurisdictions, and under an endlessly renewable statute of limitations. The MPR is consistent with early defamation law, which dictated that each time a libelous article was brought to the attention of a third person, a new publication had occurred, and that each publication was a separate, fresh tort, actionable wherever it transpired. However, by the early 1940s, exploitation of the rule, together with technological breakthroughs like the high-speed printing press, convinced U.S. courts that the rule endangered the viability of the publishing industry by threatening it with overwhelming, endless litigation. The vast majority of U.S. courts eventually abandoned the rule, where the alleged libel involved traditional media, and, later, the Internet. Meanwhile, across the pond in the United Kingdom, the multiple publication rule is still in effect today - decades after the U.S. abandoned it. Yet, policymakers in London are reconsidering the soundness of the rule, in the wake of its recent online applications by libel plaintiffs against both U.K. and foreign citizens. To complement this effort, this article provides a comprehensive account of the U.S. courts’ more than 100 year entanglement with the MPR, along with a comparison of U.K. and U.S. common law, to bring greater clarity and direction to British discourse on a legal matter of international significance.
September 17, 2010 | Permalink
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