New Law Shields Online Media from Foreign Judgments

WASHINGTON: With passage of the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, or the SPEECH Act, media companies will be protected against U.S. enforcement of foreign libel judgments when such judgments would conflict with First Amendment protections.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The House passed its version of the SPEECH Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), in mid June. It currently is awaiting President Obama’s signature.

The SPEECH Act is designed to protect against so-called “libel tourism” where a suit is brought against a media company in a foreign jurisdiction where libel law is more sympathetic to plantives than in the United States. Such cases may still be brought, and judgments entered against the U.S. publisher, but, if the decision runs afoul of protected First Amendment speech, it cannot be enforced U.S. courts.

Online media has made such cases easier to bring as Internet-delivered content can freely cross transnational boundaries, making something published in New York, for example, actionable in London.

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP outlines the details of the new law.