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Even small companies can face international lawsuits

If you run an online publication, you know that your content will be available worldwide. This can result in issues outside of the United States. This issues often affect big, lucrative companies; however, even small organizations should understand foreign legal threats and how to deal with them.

Examples of international legal issues

Below is a list of legal problems that you can run into with other countries. It is important to understand that these are just a few examples of the many issues you could run into.

  • The Standards For Libel Are Different In Other Countries: Many countries have different standards regarding defamation than the United States.
  • Falsity Assumed: In the United States, the subject of the statement must prove that the account is false if they are going to have any chance of winning a defamation claim. In England and Wales, things are different. Here, it is up to the person who made the claim to prove that it is true. Parliament may change this in the future, but currently, this is the law.
  • Criminal Defamation: In many countries around the world, defamation is a criminal offense, and is punishable by fines, imprisoned, or both. Some countries take it a step further with insult laws. Under these laws, it is illegal to insult the honor or dignity of public officials, symbols, or institutions of the state. As of 2010, there are 140 countries that have some type of criminal defamation provision.
  • Laws Prohibiting Hate Speech: One of the most significant freedoms Americans have is freedom of speech. This is not the case in many countries. For example, France, Germany, and Austria have laws that prohibit any type of Nazi propaganda and the display of Nazi symbols. There are many countries around the world that ban any speech that denies the Holocaust and any other historical genocides or crimes against humanity. Finally, several nations criminalize hate speech regarding race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion.
  • Different Notions Of Privacy: Most countries are not as lax regarding privacy as the United States. In the U.S., the paparazzi can follow celebrities just about anywhere to get photos. In other parts of the world, the laws are much more protective of a person's privacy. For example, when a British newspaper photographed Naomi Campbell leaving a drug treatment, they were found to have violated her right to privacy. 
  • Restrictions On Publications: Many nations have laws that restrict the publication of material that would be allowed in the U.S.
  • Copyright Laws: The United States is one of 164 countries in the world that have signed the international Berne Convention. By signing this, these countries agree to recognize copyrights from other countries that are also part of the agreement. In other words, even if the material is not copyrighted in the United States, a copyright in a foreign state can be upheld in a U.S. court. 

Responding to a foreign claim

If you post something online that violates another country's laws, there are a few ways that they will contact you regarding the complaint.

  • A cease-and-desist letter
  • An email
  • Filing a lawsuit
  • Sending a subpoena

If you receive a complaint, you shouldn't ignore it or hesitate. It is best to contact a lawyer immediately. The first thing that the lawyer would do is look at the jurisdiction. This refers to the power that the foreign country's court has to hear the case and have power over you. There are some countries where just posting it online where it can be seen in that foreign country is enough for the country to have jurisdiction. Your lawyer will also look into the complaint and work with the foreign country. If a judgment against you is ordered, it will remain dormant until you enter the country again. 

Choosing not to respond

If you don't have any assets, employees, and don't plan to visit that country, you can choose not to respond to the foreign claim. Before you decide not to reply, you should first speak with a lawyer.

If you have questions regarding laws in other countries, or if you have received a complaint, the professionals at Walker Morton can help. 

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