Libel Lessons from Across the Pond - What British Courts Can Learn from the United States' Chilling Experience with the 'Multiple Publication Rule' in Traditional Media and the Internet
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
August 7, 2010
Journal of International Media and Entertainment Law, Vol. 3, No. 1, p. 121, 2010
At a time when the United Kingdom was still a global empire and the United States a sapling nation, the “multiple publication rule” (“MPR”) was a core principle of defamation law for both countries. This common law rule, begun in the mid-nineteenth century, permits plaintiffs to file lawsuits for one defamatory act in multiple jurisdictions, and under an endlessly renewable statute of limitations. The MPR is consistent with early defamation law which dictated that each time a libelous article was brought to the attention of a third person a new publication had occurred, and that each publication was a separate, fresh tort, actionable wherever it transpired. However, by the early 1940s exploitation of the rule, together with technological breakthroughs like the high-speed printing press, convinced U.S. courts that the rule endangered the viability of the publishing industry by threatening it with overwhelming, endless litigation. The vast majority of U.S. courts eventually abandoned the rule where the alleged libel involved traditional media and, later, the Internet. Meanwhile, across the pond in the United Kingdom, the multiple publication rule is still in effect today - decades after the U.S. abandoned it. Yet, policymakers in London are reconsidering the soundness of the rule, in the wake of its recent online applications by libel plaintiffs against both U.K. and foreign citizens. To complement this effort, this article provides a comprehensive account of the U.S. courts’ more than 100 year entanglement with the MPR, along with a comparison of U.K. and U.S. common law, to bring greater clarity and direction to British discourse on a legal matter of international significance.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 25
Keywords: Comparative Law, United Kingdom, United States, Libel Tourism, Libel Terrorism, Defamation, Libel, Multiple Publication Rule, Single Publication Rule, Publication, Reputation, Internet, Publishing, Media, Online, British
JEL Classification: K13, K33, K30Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 8, 2010 ; Last revised: May 27, 2014
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