The crippling and prohibitive financial cost of defending a libel case is often highlighted, but the equally terrible cost in terms of time and stress is rarely mentioned.
I recently discussed this with Dr Peter Wilmshurst, the eminent cardiologist who is being sued for libel for commenting on the efficacy of a new heart device... Perhaps it was just as well that Peter was not aware of the full implications of what lay ahead of him, namely at least two years of anxiety, misery and the threat of bankruptcy. Almost all his spare time has been spent on the libel case. When finalising his defence, he took two weeks of annual leave to work on the documents. Moreover, dealing with ongoing legal issues has prevented him from carrying out his usual medical research, and a number of publications have been put on hold.England's libel laws are renowned across the world, with litigants taking cases to London on the flimsiest pretexts. Now foreign news organisations are starting to block access from Britain to their web sites to defend against this, raising the prospect of Britain facing Chinese-style isolation without even having to build its own national firewall:
You might feel that I am being alarmist, but major US newspapers, such as the Boston Globe and The New York Times, sent a memo last year to the House of Commons select committee on media, libel and privacy. They warned that they are considering stopping the sale of their publications in Britain due to the threat of libel. The benefits of selling newspapers here in terms of profit are outweighed by the potential losses in libel cases.
If publishers stopped selling hard copies in Britain, they would almost certainly also block their online content, because otherwise the threat of libel would remain.If this worries you, you may want to sign the petition for libel reform.
The libel laws have their fans, though; other than the usual litigants, the recording industry seems to have used them as the models for the new copyright expansion laws they're trying to get passed, which will make any sites capable of sending potentially copyrighted files in private a prohibitive liability to make available to UK users.
Please keep comments on topic and to the point. Inappropriate comments may be deleted.
Note that markup is stripped from comments; URLs will be automatically converted into links.