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Is France usurping Britain as the tourist destination of choice when it comes to suing for defamation?
Over the years, celebrities including Cameron Diaz, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez have flocked to UK courts to take advantage of plaintiff-friendly libel laws that make defendants prove the veracity of controversial statements. The reputation as the “capital of libel tourism” has irked some British politicians, who have spent considerable time talking about rewriting the nation’s libel laws. Perhaps there’s no need. Suing for defamation in the U.K. has grown expensive and slow, and the outcomes are hardly worth the effort. Many defendants don’t show up, and plaintiffs have a tough time collecting damages.
Perhaps that explains why we’re beginning to see France emerge as the forum of choice for foreigners battling alleged defamation.
This week, a court in Paris will decide a case of supposed criminal libel in a book review. Karin N. Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel and the author of “The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court” is suing Thomas Weigend, a law professor at the University of Cologne, who wrote a negative four paragraph review of her book, and Joseph Weiler, a law professor at the New York University, who published the review as editor of the website, Global Law Books.
Suing over a book review is, in itself, worthy of head-scratching, but the plaintiff also decided to file the lawsuit in a country that seemingly has no connection to, as the New York Times puts it, a “review written in English by a German professor of a book written in English by an author living in Israel.”
This isn’t the only case, though.
Last week, Prince Albert of Monaco sued in a Paris court an American who accused him of breaking International Olympic Committee rules by accepting lavish gifts from Russia before and after the IOC awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to the Russian city of Sochi. The defendant formerly worked for the prince.
This seems to be the beginning of a trend. Will we see celebrities troubled by something odious said about them in tabloids go to France to get justice?
Although the monetary upside is far less lucrative (reported to be a maximum fine of 12,000 pounds) for a libel conviction, the process is much quicker. Defendants have just three months to appear before a tribunal, and have just ten days from receiving a notice to file evidence in defense. It’s up to a defendant to prove a statement is true, like in England, instead of a plaintiff having to prove a statement is false, like in the United States.
Perhaps most importantly, these are criminal cases (although France also allows plaintiffs to seek up to 1 million pounds in civil actions). Losing defendants don’t get prison time, but they do get a criminal record and a court order that they must publish a prompt retraction.
Depending on what happens in some of these path-setting cases like the ones involving the sensitive book writer and the allegedly corrupt prince, don’t be shocked to see in the future, entertainment journalists becoming outlaws in the French nation.
Eriq Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter.
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