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Going Clear Blocked By UK Libel Laws
February 1, 2013 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Why can't we read the Scientology book Going Clear in the UK?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, I was hoping this was going to be a story about UK illiteracy.

The Canadian Amazon ships to the US. I bet they would ship to the UK too if you asked nicely.

A friend of mine told me he was going to go see the prequel to "Battlefield Earth." It was a month before I realized he meant "The Master." I'm slow sometimes.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:43 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because they've blocked The Pirate Bay.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:47 PM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Co$ has been known to sue people in the UK courts because of the libel laws there. (That's why there's a line, "I'll sue you in England!" in that one South Park episode.)
posted by Catblack at 6:49 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how does Rupert Murdoch thrive there? Isn't his whole empire built on tabloid journalism? I use tabloid here as we use it in the US (crap gossip) and not as an indicator of dimensions.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:04 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So how does Rupert Murdoch thrive there?

Question marks.
posted by slater at 7:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


Um, you can read it in the UK. It's just not being published there. Luckily, there are other countries.

The going rate on ebay.co.uk for imported copies seems to be about £20.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2013


Looks like we're all clear on this end! HAW! HAW! HAW!
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 7:53 PM on February 1, 2013


You can be sued in British court even if your book is not intentionally published, marketed or distributed there. This NYT story has some details. Meanwhile the hotly-debated Defamation Bill now working its way through Parliament appears to have provisions that would disallow or at least discourage UK courts from hearing these cases if the UK is "not the most appropriate jurisdiction".
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:59 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In this Fresh Air interview Lawrence Wright says explicitly that UK libel laws prevented Going Clear from being published there, and in fact he has been asked to testify before Parliament and urge reform.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:51 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, I've been reading the book and am almost done with it, and it is excellent. It's not quite as good as Wright's last book, The Looming Tower, which quite honestly is one of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. That one was about Al Qaida, so now Wright has arguably profiled the two scariest organizations in the world.

You may think you know how bad Scientology is, but you don't. It's just page after page of the most horrific abuse directed at the members of the church. To just pick one example out of many, many more, he writes about a Swiss Scientologist named Valeska Paris, whose stepfather committed suicide (he was a millionaire who had lost all his money to the church) and whose mother went on Swiss TV to denounce Scientology. Valeska was isolated by the church, and then later sent on to the Scientology cruiseship Freewinds. She was told she was going there for two weeks, but she wound up being held on it for twelve years against her will (she was 18 years old, by the way). Twelve years. This is far from the most horrifying story the book tells.

It is a stain on the reputation of American law enforcement that this church exists and its leaders aren't serving decades-long sentences in jail.
posted by gkhan at 8:54 PM on February 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


Would it be possible for me to sue for libel on behalf of the body thetans?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:00 PM on February 1, 2013


Meanwhile the hotly-debated Defamation Bill now working its way through Parliament appears to have provisions that would disallow or at least discourage UK courts from hearing these cases if the UK is "not the most appropriate jurisdiction".

A weak way to weaken a terrible law. From the NYT article:
Mahfouz, the former owner of the biggest bank in the Middle East, the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, claimed through his British lawyers that the 23 copies of [Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It] that were bought in Britain through the Internet damaged his reputation. That claim was accepted by a judge of the High Court, David Eady.

The court was acting according to the archaic English libel law that predates not only the Internet, but also the light bulb. It chills free speech through the award of disproportionate damages, a lack of viable defenses and the application of the law to cases with only the slightest links to Britain, even when neither party lives there, a practice that has led to what is known as “libel tourism.”
England: come for the fish and chips, stay for the ability to sue the pants off of anyone who looks at you sideways! Even the UN thinks the archaic law is terrible. 'The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also warned Britain to stop the practice of libel tourism, which, it said, affected “freedom of expression worldwide on matters of valid public interest.” '

Heck, the US is almost FIFTY YEARS ahead of the UK in this: In the United States, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) established an “actual malice” standard that the press has to meet to avoid action for defamation when reporting on public figures.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I gotta say, that's a poorly-worded headline. It makes it sound like it's an official Scientology Book rather than an espose about Scientology.
posted by chimaera at 10:00 PM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


A weak way to weaken a terrible law.

I wouldn't think of suggesting otherwise. I was only addressing the point of Libel Tourism, the part governing whether a case could be brought even if the book is not published or deliberately made available in the UK. Other provisions such as 'fair comment' and 'public interest' protections are also part of the debate, but I wasn't going to attempt to fully characterize the debate and the proposed bill in a Metafilter comment. If you want that, here's one place to start.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:04 PM on February 1, 2013


I participate on a primarily British message board, and regularly have private conversations with those that are afraid to speak out against businesses publicly because of the libel laws there. "It's not like America" they tell me. It seems downright bizarre.

Another time on a totally different website, a Brit threatened to sue me because I told someone else in confidence that I was uncomfortable that said Brit hit on me when he was visiting the US and he knew I was married. Some how the message made it into the hands of said Brit. People talk about the us being sue happy, but the libel thing is just weird.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:42 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Though I have to say that American Internet commenters (in some forums) are very quick to tell you that you are breaking US law if you criticise a book or a film. They often say 'You aren't allowed to say that' because of free speech amendment or some such garbage. It's clearly quite wrong, but it seems to be a widespread belief.

Rather than argue with them I say 'I am not American so I am free say anything I like'. LOL

So - I guess my takeaway from this is that people of a country telling you their law prevents you from speaking may well be completely wrong.
posted by communicator at 1:33 AM on February 2, 2013


(Standard disclaimer: I'm an (English) lawyer, but this is casual comment rather than legal advice. You have to pay me to get that.)

a Brit threatened to sue me [for libel]

Unless he is sitting on a large pile of money, that's an empty threat. Libel actions in England must be commenced in the High Court, which means you are looking at five-figure legal bills even to get things going. And you can't get legal aid for it. (Actually, these days you can hardly get legal aid for any sort of civil lawsuit, but defamation claims have long been excluded.)

Also, presumably you are in the US, in which case even if you ignored the claim and this person got a default judgment against you, it would be hard to enforce thanks to the SPEECH Act. Even if this predated that, it is not cheap and often not easy to persuade a court in one country to enforce a civil damages award made in another.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:41 AM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unless he is sitting on a large pile of money, that's an empty threat.

I used to think that as well -- and then I received an email from Laurence Godfrey.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:32 AM on February 2, 2013


Though I have to say that American Internet commenters (in some forums) are very quick to tell you that you are breaking US law if you criticise a book or a film. They often say 'You aren't allowed to say that' because of free speech amendment or some such garbage. It's clearly quite wrong, but it seems to be a widespread belief.

What? What forums are these where alleged Americans interpret the First Amendment to mean the exact opposite of what it says?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:59 AM on February 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Unless he is sitting on a large pile of money, that's an empty threat.

He was. Trust fund kid, or whatever they call it there (his parents funded his lifestyle which was quite extravagant .) Of course he was also a pathological liar, so I never knew what was true and what was fiction. But at the time I remember being quite freaked out, especially at the time as I was flat broke. That was 10 years ago and these days I wouldn't even think twice about it because stupid people say stupid things. But I often wonder if that whole thing wasn't a symptom of the culture there because of the libel laws.

communicator, I've never heard of my compatriots being afraid to speak their mind because of a misinterpretation of the 1st amendment. If anything, it's usually interpreted wrong the other way. Many people don't realize it doesn't apply, say, in the workplace and they can't say whatever they damn well please without work place repercussion or even that saying something outside the workplace could get them fired.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:29 AM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Though I have to say that American Internet commenters (in some forums) are very quick to tell you that you are breaking US law if you criticise a book or a film.

Trademark dillution?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:31 AM on February 2, 2013


Last I heard, the book wasn't being published in Canada either. We don't use an actual malice standard, but we do have a great deal of protections for "responsible journalism." Our courts are pretty good at dealing with frivolous defamation suits.

To some degree I can't help wondering if this is half legal advice, half publicity stunt.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:37 AM on February 2, 2013


Yeah, Amazon Canada did have the book listed at the beginning of the year but not too long after it was pulled from the website. I ordered a copy from US Amazon for a friend in the UK; I live 45 minutes from the border and have a mail drop so I saved myself about 30 extra dollars in shipping charges.
posted by Kitteh at 5:48 AM on February 2, 2013


Though I have to say that American Internet commenters (in some forums) are very quick to tell you that you are breaking US law if you criticise a book or a film.

I think you have the wrong country. Americans love to say how something sucks. We find fault in everything. I guess I am going to need a few links to buy this one.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:36 AM on February 2, 2013


David Attenborough: As you can see, these two noble nationalities are now both claiming for themselves and projecting onto the other the same sets of characteristics. Very soon, the first World War 2 comment will be made, and the bloodbath will begin.
posted by forgetful snow at 9:46 AM on February 2, 2013


Come on you must have seen it! I don't mean well-informed people but ignorant types. it's almost an Internet cliche.

Me (intemperately) 'I hate this article/film/book. I think it's misogynist/ pro-torture/ loony libertarian'
US person: 'That's censorship! You can be arrested! You can't infringe my free speech/ the free speech of the author!'
Me: Lols

And the other one I used to see a lot during the Bush presidency.

Me (still behaving badly on the Internet): 'Bush is a fool and I can't stand him (etc.)'
US person: 'You have insulted the head of state! US marines will come to your house and drag you away!'
Me: Well, my head of state is The Queen
US person: Well, you wouldn't insult the queen would you, you'd be arrested and locked in the Tower of London
me: I can say what I like, stuff the monarchy, down with Prince Charles etc.'
posted by communicator at 9:59 AM on February 2, 2013


I have got to laugh at cjorgensen's comment that Americans would never seek to limit criticism of their cultural products. That's a pretty bold claim. I have seen some pretty angry responses to criticism of one's favourite films or books in metafilter. Though obviously here we don't these days get so much of the 'Your feminazi criticism of PlayBoy is a violation of free speech'. But come on, I can't believe you are utterly unaware of the trope.

I don't know whether people want a whole load of links to right wing americans saying that criticising their views is 'censorship' or 'totalitarianism' or 'unconstitutional'.

but here's something along those lines from the American Spectator, saying that people who criticise Chick-Fil-A for being homophobic are totalitarian heirs to Hitler and Robespierre.

http://spectator.org/archives/2012/08/07/gay-totalitarianism/1
posted by communicator at 10:17 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What? What forums are these where alleged Americans interpret the First Amendment to mean the exact opposite of what it says?

Anytime you say something shouldn't have been published or broadcast or whatever, you can bet on someone saying "The First Amendment! Free speech!" when, of course, you can generally decline to publish or broadcast something (the only exception I can think of are campaign ads). Americans (and I am one) regularly assert the First Amendment somehow makes their idiotic statements immune from criticism.
posted by hoyland at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2013


Silly Guardian. We can read it, it's on Amazon UK. It's not exactly expensive either.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:59 PM on February 2, 2013


Americans (and I am one) regularly assert the First Amendment somehow makes their idiotic statements immune from criticism.

Yes, but the comment I responded to seemed to be making the opposite argument. "Though I have to say that American Internet commenters (in some forums) are very quick to tell you that you are breaking US law if you criticise a book or a film. They often say 'You aren't allowed to say that' because of free speech amendment or some such garbage." I have never encountered this behavior, where film or book criticism is said to be a First Amendment violation*. Have you?

*None of communicator's examples demonstrate that behavior, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:46 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have seen some angry Americans threaten libel suits in angry e-mails when they see criticism of their work. I think it's more an attempt at intimidation than a serious belief such a suit would accomplish anything. (Or a lawyer would even take it on)

The 1st Ammendment confusion is about thinking your post can't be deleted on a private forum usually.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:06 PM on February 3, 2013


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