Publish and be pulped

<p>Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi-born Irish passport holder, and one of the richest men in the world, is no stranger to the UK libel courts.<br />
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Since 2002, banker bin Mahfouz has used his considerable financial clout to garner apologies and damages through the courts from a variety of organisations, from tiny leftist political publisher Pluto to the Mail on Sunday, one of the UK's biggest newspapers.<br />
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Recently, bin Mahfouz's attention has been turned to respected academic publisher <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/43137-cup-pays-damages-to-saudi-sheikh... University Press</a>.<br />
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Bin Mahfouz's wrath was provoked by the CUP book <em>Alms for Jihad </em>by Robert O Collins and J Millard Burr, a wide-ranging study of the use of Islamic charities in siphoning funding to al-Qaeda. Bin Mahfouz alleged that the book linked him, financially and through family, to Osama bin Laden, a claim which he has previously forced others to retract in the UK courts.<br />
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The authors firmly deny bin Mahfouz's specific claims, and addressed them in a lengthy letter put together, they say, at the request of CUP. Nevertheless, On 30th July, CUP issued an outright apology. CUP declared that it would pulp all unsold copies of the book, and requested that library copies be removed from their collections, or include an errata sheet. They also agreed to donate a sum (variously described as 'small' and 'significant') to Mahfouz's elected charity, Unicef. <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs//43397-why-cup-acted-responsibly.html... on The Bookseller's website</a>, CUP's Kevin Taylor said that &quot;within the English jurisdiction and under English libel laws we simply did not have a defensible case&quot;.<br />
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The authors themselves refused to take part in the apology. Robert O Collins told Index: &quot;Our defense was simply a facade on the part of CUP who had decided they could not possibly win under British libel law and sought to settle as quickly as possible at any cost and get on with the business of publishing books. Which they did. We of course refused to be a party to their settlement. CUP lawyers had spent a month in March 2005 vetting our book.&quot;<br />
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It would most likely have been impossible for them to win the case, such is the nature of UK libel law, which would have obliged them to counter every single one of bin Mahfouz's claims about the book, unlike US law, where it would have been up to bin Mahfouz to counter the book's claims.<br />
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This is the third book-pulping Mahfouz can take credit for &ndash; having previously seen off Profile Books' <em>Unknown Soldiers</em> and Pluto's <em>Reaping the Whirlwind</em>.<br />
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Media lawyer Mark Stephens, of Finers Stephens Innocent, believes that personal wealth can give plaintiffs a huge advantage in the UK courts: &quot;The courts are predicated on the basis that each party has the wherewithal to bring to the court all the relevant evidence, and be represented by lawyers of equal ability. Vindication through contested trial is, in my view, a value that underpins the British libel system.&quot; He went on to say that as nobody has parity of arms with bin Mahfouz, &quot;the allegations about him have never been contested in trial. There have always been settlements or default judgments&quot;.<br />
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Laurence Harris of Kendall Freeman [which represents bin Mahfouz] says that bin Mahfouz resorts to the UK courts because &quot;he and his family travel to the UK, have friends here, own properties and do business here and consequently have significant reputations in the UK. Our client and his family adopted a policy of seeking to protect their reputations in the UK in 2002 when a major UK newspaper made similar defamatory allegations and our client brought proceedings, which were initially defended by the newspaper but ultimately settled by an apology and payment of damages. Since then, our client and his family have continued consistently to protect their reputations in the UK in respect of publications which appear in the UK and which make such allegations.&quot;<br />
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Such is the fear of bin Mahfouz that even US-based Amazon is not selling <em>Alms for Jihad</em>, instead, somewhat disingenuously, offering a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/B000LMPOTO/ref=cm_cr_d... review for the knock-down price of 9.95</a> USD. Unsuspecting punters, ordering what they thought was the book itself, were understandably upset to receive a small Word file. As one pointed out, not unreasonably: &quot;I haven't even read the d--- review they gave me - I've already read reviews of the book, which is why I wanted to buy it in the first place!&quot;<br />
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Meanwhile, copies of the actual book are said to be changing hands for upwards of 500 US dollars.<br />
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While he has so far been successful in the UK courts, bin Mahfouz may not find things so easy in the United States, where the First Amendment provides more protection for books such as <em>Alms for Jihad</em>. The American Library Association had already advised US libraries <a href="http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2007/august2007/... to comply</a> with CUP's request to remove copies from their shelves.<br />
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This may only be the beginning of bin Mahfouz's American problems: Dr Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of <em>Funding Evil: How Terrorism </em>is financed, was sued by bin Mahfouz in the UK in 2004. She chose not to contest the case, refusing to acknowledge the court's jurisdiction over a book which was being published in the US (only 23 copies ever made it to the UK). Consequently, the London court issued the first ever declaration of falsehood in a case that had not been contested by a judge and jury. Judge Eady ruled that Ehrenfeld should apologise to bin Mahfouz, pay damages and costs of 225,000 US dollars, and destroy the book. Instead, Ehrenfeld is planning to contest the case in a US court, on the basis that the &quot;English default judgement is unenforceable in the United States and repugnant to the First Amendment&quot;.<br />
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The New York Second Court of Appeals seems to think Ehrenfeld could have a point, and in June ruled that the case should be heard, possibly as early as autumn of this year.<br />
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Laurence Harris says that bin Mahfouz will argue the appeal through his US attorneys.<br />
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But Robert O Collins points out: &quot;Just as CUP did not have a snowball's chance in hell of winning a long and costly suit in the English courts, it is doubtful that the good sheikh will come after us or Dr Ehrenfeld in the US courts where we are protected by the First Amendment, historical precedent [and] the recent unanimous decision of the 2nd NY Court of appeals.&quot;</p>
<p><em>The full version of this comment can be read at <a href="http://www.indexcomment.org/index.php/site/comments/the_true_cost_of_lib...