Friday, 6 May 2011

Publish and be damned!

Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has recently unveiled a draft bill to the libel laws in the UK. The changes aim to protect freedom of speech and make it tougher to bring overseas claims to English courts when the matter has little connection to the UK. Clarke said the bill would "ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence. The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society," he added. "In recent years, though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate and investigative journalism."

The government has also begun a consultation on issues not covered by the draft bill, including responsibility for publication on the internet.

A recent case has caused consternation because it wants to stop a writer publishing a book. Lawyers for the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien sent a cease and desist letter to author Steve Hillard claiming that his novel Mirkwood violates the Estate's right of publicity because he uses Tolkien as a character in his novel. (A US attorney considers writers and their fears: here and a comment on how things stand today here)

Amazon promotes Hillard's novel as: '...wildly original debut, Mirkwood, re-invents J.R.R. Tolkien as a man haunted by the very myths he rewove into his famous works. As much literary criticism as boisterous epic, this episodically-driven plot explores the blurred borderlands where ancient tales, lost heroines, and epic journeys are stalked by dim monsters that will not be still. In 1970, Professor Tolkien makes a little-known visit to America-and sets in motion elvish powers embodied in a cache of archaic documents. Destinies are altered, legends become real, and two heroines must race for their lives in vastly different worlds.'

I think I can see why the lawyers are protesting.

1 comment:

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