U.S. history: remind me of this early libel case

Dimly remembered from an American History class I took in college eons ago: A Colonial newspaper printed as fact, allegations agains the Crown. It was decided by the court that libel did not occur if the allegations were true. (I believe this was already established under English common law.) ISTR that the surname of the publisher of the newspaper began with the letter ‘Z’.

Can anyone help me out here?

John Peter Zenger case;
established truth as a defence in New York law, which then was followed in other jurisdictions.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Peter_Zenger

Thank you!

You’re welcome!

To nitpick slightly, the Zenger trial was an instance of jury nullification. The law before and after the trial was that truth was not a defense to libel. The rule was changed legislatively over a long period of time thereafter.

quite right - I skimmed the wiki article too quickly.

In England, truth is no defense against libel. As a result, American courts will not generally enforce British libel awards.

No, truth is a defense against libel in English courts. It might not have been in the 1740s, but it is now. American courts haven’t tended to enforce English libel awards because, first, in England, it’s the responsibility of the defendant to prove that the statements being sued over are true, whereas, the US, it’s the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove the statements being sued over are false and second, because, until recently, English defamation law had a very wide jurisdiction. So, for instance, in 2003, an American, Rebecca Ehrenfeld wrote a book called Funding Evil, which was published in the US, but not in the UK, which accused Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi businessman, of funding terrorist groups.

In spite of the fact that Ehrenfeld was an American and Mahfouz was a Saudi, and that the book was published by an American publishing house and not for sale in English bookstores, he sued her in an English court, because 23 copies were bought online by people living in England, and ABC News published an excerpt on their website, which could be read in England.

So then what happened?

Did the British court find for the Saudi plaintiff?

And if so, did the American courts (or other American institutions) decline to enforce or collect the judgment?

She didn’t defend herself, claiming the lawsuit was illegitimate, the English court fined her the equivalent of $225,000. She countersued in New York to stop enforcement, the New York Court ruled "Sorry, we don’t have jurisdiction, but if the legislature changes the law to give us jurisdiction, come back to court. Then the New York Legislature passed a bill, the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act”, giving New York Courts jurisdiction over foreign libel judgement against New York writers/publishers and saying New York courts should only enforce libel judgments that conform with New York law. Two years later, the US Congress passed a similar law. Then in 2013, Parliament passed a law, the “Defamation Act”, that said, among other things, that if you’re suing somebody for defamation who doesn’t live in Britain or the EU, English courts don’t have jurisdiction unless they’re satisfied that England was the best place to bring the lawsuit.

So, were this to happen today, the lawsuit against Ehrenfeld probably would be thrown out. Meanwhile, the judgement against her still stands, but the US courts won’t enforce it and Mahfouz hasn’t made any attempt to collect.

If it happened today, Ehrenfeld would be protected by the SPEECH Act, which explicitly prevents defamation judgments in foreign courts from being enforced here unless their defamation laws apply the same standards as American laws do as regards freedom of speech or an American court would have also found the person liable.

Text of the law:


    ``(a) First Amendment Considerations.--
            ``(1) In general.--Notwithstanding any other provision of 
        Federal or State law, a domestic court shall not recognize or 
        enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic 
        court determines that--
                    ``(A) the defamation law applied in the foreign 
                court's adjudication provided at least as much 
                protection for freedom of speech and press in that case 
                as would be provided by the first amendment to the 
                Constitution of the United States and by the 
                constitution and law of the State in which the domestic 
                court is located; or

[[Page 124 STAT. 2482]]

                    ``(B) even if the defamation law applied in the 
                foreign court's adjudication did not provide as much 
                protection for freedom of speech and press as the first 
                amendment to the Constitution of the United States and 
                the constitution and law of the State, the party 
                opposing recognition or enforcement of that foreign 
                judgment would have been found liable for defamation by 
                a domestic court applying the first amendment to the 
                Constitution of the United States and the constitution 
                and law of the State in which the domestic court is 
                located.
            ``(2) Burden of establishing application of defamation 
        laws.--The party seeking recognition or enforcement of the 
        foreign judgment shall bear the burden of making the showings 
        required under subparagraph (A) or (B).