The SPEECH Act: speaking softly?

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Amid the turmoil brought by rapid changes in the book industry, American authors and publishers have a little good news.

They have recently been granted some protection from at least one threat, "libel tourism." Libel tourism is the practice of filing libel lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions that are more plaintiff-friendly than the United States. Many countries, notably the United Kingdom, provide the media with less protection for the freedoms of speech and press than the U.S.

But how much new protection have American media really gained?

On Aug. 10, 2010, Congress passed the awkwardly named SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Heritage) on a unanimous vote. President Barack Obama signed it. The SPEECH Act may be characterized as a reaction to the internationalization of journalism – a congressional effort to protect American authors and publishers from the silencing effects of libel tourism. Designed to "promote the vigorous dialogue necessary to shape public policy," the act seeks to eliminate the chilling effect on writers and publishers who "but for the fear of a foreign lawsuit" would otherwise have written or published a critical work of serious public interest.

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