Boxing promoter King sets web libel precedent

A Court of Appeal judgment involving the boxing promoter Don King has underlined the fact that journalists can be sued anywhere in the world if their work appears on the internet.

The ruling has cleared King to sue the boxing promoter, Judd Burstein, over statements which appeared on the website, boxingtalk.com, vehemently denied by King, which suggested he was anti-semitic.

He has been cleared to sue in England even though both the parties are based in the US, as is the website.

Two law lords decided that the article had been read in England and that “a sort of libel is committed where publication takes place”. They also said “a text on the internet is published at the place it is downloaded”.

King is thought to have opted to sue in the UK because in the US free speech laws protect many statements about public figures which would be libellous in this country.

Lawyer Michael Evans, from Faegre Benson Hobson Audley, said the ruling is a significant one, not just in terms of libel tourism to UK courts – but for any journalist writing on the internet.

He said: “It’s significant because it is the first English court finding of the principle that there’s a defamation in England even if the website is in the US, the bulk of readers are in the US and all parties are outside England.

“Any journalist getting published on a website has to bear in mind that he could be judged by the defamation laws in another jurisdiction. This is an English precedent that might set a precedent for other jurisdictions. It also means other famous people in the US may choose to go to the same court as Don King.”

Evans added that even if King wins his case, UK courts can only make binding judgments on assets held in this country.

By Dominic Ponsford

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