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The Publishers Association reveals enforced censorship in books due to libel claims


The Publishers Association has conducted a survey on the impact of libel laws for the UK book industry.

The Publishers Association has today revealed evidence of the impact of the UK’s current libel laws on book publishers, ahead of the imminent publication of the draft Defamation Bill. The findings show that publishers have been forced to censor or modify particular works for fear of libel lawsuits that are too costly to defend.

The survey, conducted by The Publishers Association across its 115 members shows that every publisher who responded had been negatively affected by libel actions or threats of libel suits. Specific findings included:

-  all the publishers who responded have been forced to modify content or language ahead of publication;

-  almost half of the publishers spoken to have actually withdrawn publications as a result of threatened libel actions;

-  a third have refused work from authors for fear of libel suits;

-  a third have avoided publication of particular subjects;

-  60% have avoided producing books about specific people or companies who have previously sued for libel

The cost to publishers and authors is also devastating. Costs pertaining to legal advice, delays to publications, freezing sales and workforce libel training all affect publishers’ bottom lines and their ability to invest in new authors. The result is that fewer publishers will develop books, particularly autobiographies, biographies, learned journals and other manuscripts that may be in the public interest, as they will be unable and unwilling to afford the costs of defending against libel suits.

The draft Defamation Bill will focus on strengthening defence arguments and will place a more substantial onus on claimants to prove the harm done to them by the alleged libel. The Bill does not deal with the issue of the substantial costs incurred through libel suits. Reforms to litigation costs in defamation trials are instead being proposed in Lord Justice Jackson’s Review of Civil Litigation Costs, the consultation for which closed in February of this year.

Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association commented: “The publication of the draft Defamation Bill is extremely welcome. Our libel laws are in urgent need of reform and Government is at last taking steps to address this. The UK has a world-leading book industry, and it is wrong that its output should be indirectly controlled by libel legislation. It is alarming that the misapplication of libel suits is having a chilling effect on what is being published, and therefore on what is being read.”