A two-day High Court case was the culmination of an action brought nearly two years ago against Housmans Bookshop in London by a right wing anti-gay litigant who had been referred to as a plagiarist in one sentence in a 136-page pamphlet stocked in the shop. He chose to only sue the shop, not the author or the publisher of the pamphlet, because of his distaste of material made available in radical bookshops. Although the jury only awarded him £14 damages he was also ordered to pay most of the shop’s legal costs: however there is no expectation that he has the resources to do so.
This was the first time a bookshop had tried to use the
innocent dissemination defence, introduced in the 1996 Defamation Act. Following this test case it seems that if anyone suggests to a newsagent, shop or library that a publication they stock is defamatory and they fail to remove it then they open themselves up to libel writs.
This case against Housmans is one of the first of several, dating back to 1996 and also involves the SWP’s bookshop, Bookmarks. Legally defending these attacks on radical bookshops is an expensive business. The Bookshop Libel Fund is calling for urgent financial support for the shops to cover their legal costs, and to campaign for a change in the law to stop bookshops being targeted in this way.
Donations should be made payable to
Bookshop Libel Fund and sent to
Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX or to Bookmarks Bookshop, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE.