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British author sues Amazon over user review

November 11, 2011 | 12:15 pm

AttemptedmurderofgodChris McGrath has sued Amazon and a customer who wrote a negative review of the book he was selling on the company's British website. The book, "The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know," was published under the pen name "Scrooby." 

The reviews in question were by Vaughan Jones, who wrote critically of "The Attempted Murder of God" on the book's Amazon Web page in the fall of 2010. Jones also wrote an article for the website of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. The Telegraph reports that McGrath has filed a libel suitnaming Jones, Richard Dawkins, the Dawkins Foundation and Amazon.

The reviews in question were removed from the respective websites after news of the dispute.

Jones, 28 and a father of three, is said to be unable to afford legal representation. The Independent writes that the case has come to the attention of people urging reform of the libel laws in England.

Libel reform campaigners have expressed concern that the hearing is another example of how Britain’s defamation laws disproportionately favour claimants, closing down debate particularly among individuals and organisations who cannot afford costly legal battles. The Government is currently in the process of reforming Britain’s libel laws which have been described as some of the most restrictive in the western world.

John Kampfner, the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, one of the founding partners of the Libel Reform Campaign, said: “That a family man from Nuneaton can face a potentially ruinous libel action for a book review on Amazon shows how archaic and expensive our libel law is. We’re pushing the government to commit to a bill in the next Queen’s speech so that these chilling laws are reformed to protect freedom of expression.”

In a hearing expected to conclude today, a British court will decide if the case will go forward.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

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