Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


Stephen Bates


Many commentators have decried the phenomenon of "libel tourism," where a plaintiff brings a libel suit in a country that affords minimal protection to free expression, even though the defendant and the publication at issue have little connection to the country. In particular, London has often been called the libel capital of the worldfirst, because British libel law strongly favors plaintiffs; and second, because a British court will accept jurisdiction over a libel suit if only a few copies of the publication have circulated there. In 2010, the United States responded to the threat of libel tourism by enacting the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage), which bars American courts from enforcing foreign libel judgments that fall short of First Amendment standards.

This article argues that a new danger confronts American authors and publishers: "privacy tourism." Like libel tourists, privacy tourists can file suit in Britain against Americans over publications that have barely circulated there. Like British libel law, British privacy law is notoriously plaintiff-friendly. For example, relying in part on precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, British courts have found defendants liable for invasion of privacy for photographing celebrities in public places. However, in an American court, a plaintiff would have no chance of prevailing in such a case. The article recommends that Congress safeguard First Amendment freedoms by extending the SPEECH Act to cover privacy, thereby preempting the menace of privacy tourism.