Defamation Online – Libel Tourism

In the United States freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws.

It is not surprising that in the United States the burden of proof for defamation is on the Claimant to prove that what was written or said was false. In the United Kingdom the burden of proof is on the Defendant to prove that what was said or written about the Claimant was true. The contrast in where the burden of proof lies between the two countries is just one of the ways in which you can see how different countries balance out freedom of speech and defamation. This difference has led to wealthy individuals forum shopping in different jurisdictions for the most Claimant friendly jurisdiction to bring an action for defamation a phenomenon called “libel tourism”.

The Internet has blown the realm of defamation wide open with instant access, this fact, coupled with broad principles of UK jurisdiction has helped London become the most popular tourist destination for online defamation claims. Ever since the old case of Duke of Brunswick v. Harmer in 1849 which established the multiple publication rule, UK courts have repeatedly held that even where the defendant’s publication is distributed mainly in another jurisdiction, as long as it is downloaded by a number of readers in the UK then that is enough to constitute a separate actionable publication in the UK.

It is also worth noting that even if the publication has been on the Internet for over a year. The publication starts running again from the next time it is downloaded.

In the UK there have been cases of articles only published in languages other than English that have been actionable.

However a word of caution, even if a Claimant is successful in bringing a claim in the UK for defamation relating predominantly in another jurisdiction, it is not clear whether such UK judgments would be enforceable in any other country, so it is worth checking that the defendants have sufficient assets in the UK to enforce judgment before bringing a claim.

This article was written by Peter Adediran his website is at