Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Libel

I finished the book Atonement a few days ago and ran across an interesting information issue that I had discussed in my international information class in grad school. It is the issue of libel. I don't understand it in the U.S. as it's such a subjective issue. My example in class was, it's okay to run into your neighbor and say "I think the maintenance guy stole something out of my apartment," but you can't write it that same thing out and slip it in all of your neighbors' mailboxes. Or can you even say that casually without possible legal problems? Can you not say anything unless you can prove it's true? Where do you draw the line between gossip/free speech, and libel? How does the National Enquirer and Star magazine get away with their headlines (how many times have Brad and Angelina broken up?).

At least in the U.S. if you get sued, the other person has to prove you committed a crime. The issue is much crazier in Great Britain. If you're accused of libel, you have to prove you didn't do it. Proving something didn't happen is a lot more difficult to do than to prove it did. At the end of Atonement, the main character is going to publish the book the reader just read, but has to wait until all of the characters are dead. It made it seem like this is a law, and not just avoiding getting sued. And even if Europeans are probably less litigious than us, don't think that Brits aren't concerned with libel.

I find this difference in such a confusing issue absolutely fascinating.

2 comments:

Mary said...

Libel issues aside (interesting question though it may be), what did you think of "Atonement??" I absolutely loved it, but I know so many people who were only lukewarm about it! I thought the book was much better than the movie, too.

supernumerarypa said...

I loved it. The first half was slow, I think Dave heard me yelling "have sex already!" But halfway through I started getting a lot more interested and the last chapter was excellent. He does some very deep character analyses. I particularly liked the one where the mother sees right through Fiona, how she likes being the victim and how she leads others to destroy themselves without seeming to be involved. That really was at the heart of the book. The movie doesn't have that, and so you don't understand why she ends up marrying the rapist.

I think I would have liked it more if I hadn't seen the movie first. It's a book where the suspense would have heightened the thrill. But I still give it 4 out of 5 stars on Shelfari.