Beware draconian libel laws
AN ABOMINATION - that's how the Times' Thunderer column, in the shape of LFB's Heather Brooke, described Britain's libel laws on 14 May. Now she urges members to consider getting libel insurance through the union. Heather's piece mentioned action that parenting expert Gina Ford took against www.mumsnet.com - see the statement at ginafordinfo.com/announce-mumsnet-070509.html and Heather's updates on her own story at www.rtk.org
No sooner did Heather's complaint about "England's draconian libel laws" hit doormats than Gina Ford's lawyer complained to the Times and requested that Heather remove her blog postings. The Times removed the article from its website. Their lawyer stated: "It is standard practice in most cases where a solicitor threatens libel for us to take an article down... In this day and age leaving articles up after a complaint has been received receives very short shrift from the courts and inevitably increases the damages that might be payable."
The Times eventually decided to fight Heather's corner. While her adventure nicely illustrate her original point about the UK libel laws, it's another reason to look at taking out libel insurance through the NUJ - www.londonfreelance.org/fl/ 0703libe.html has the details.
Heather comments: "If the damages don't get the writer, then legal costs certainly will... The law is so heavily weighted against freedom of expression that all writers (even those hosting blogs) are being urged to buy libel insurance; the Freelance Office is inundated with inquiries about its new policy."
We should also keep a vigilant eye on those increasingly draconian indemnity clauses we are expected to sign in contracts, which state that we take all of the rap for any legal action that may result from our work, LFB Vice-Chair Phil Sutcliffe says. He recently came across such an indemnity clause in a digital music download service's contract for features and reviews, and noted that, while some freelances (and some commissioning editors) are "trying to get these contracts eased, it's amazing the numbers who've signed off on the liability clause, probably without looking at it."