Publishing News carries a report that Simon & Schuster's MD, Ian Chapman, has contacted 'key account buyers' to assure them that they would be indemnified against any legal action which might be taken over Margaret Crick's biography of Mary Archer. (See my post of 16 May.)
Hmm. Does this indemnity extend, do you think, to any bloggers who might -- just as a matter of public interest -- quote some of the juicier details in said biography? I think we should be told.
Moving the publication date of the Crick book back from 5 September to 12 May is a process which has, apparently, been carried out 'with military precision'. Chapman says that what started out as a 'low-key thing' now involves a point of principle, the principle being that of free speech.
Meanwhile it is worth remembering that England's libel laws are much more favourable, to those who don't like what is said about them in print, than are those of most other countries. In most parts of the world, an aggrieved party has to prove that what is said about them is a lie. In England, all an aggrieved party has to do is sue. It is then for the defenedant to prove that what he has written really is true. That can be very difficult if the source of the information is reluctant to appear in court, e.g. because he fears for his life.
This situation has given rise to a phenomenon known as 'libel tourism'. If, for instance, a book is published in the USA, and the subject of the book doesn't fancy his chances in the US courts, he can sue for libel in England instead, where he has a much bigger chance of success. This is true even though there may have been 10,000 copies of the book sold in the USA, and only 23 sold via Amazon.com to customers in the UK.
There are indeed some very important principles involved here, and, for reasons outlined in the above paragraphs, there are good reasons why writers in all parts of the world should keep an eye on who sues whom in the English courts.
For more on libel, see my post about Peter Carter-Ruck.