WASHINGTON, DC – Reps. Blake Farenthold (TX-27) and Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) introduced bipartisan legislation today to enhance free speech protections for consumers on the Internet. Chairman Darrell Issa (CA-49), Chairman Trent Franks (AZ-08), and Rep. Jared Polis (CO-02) are also original co-sponsors of the legislation.
The SPEAK FREE Act of 2015, will protect citizens from frivolous lawsuits that target their First Amendment Rights. Based on the Texas Citizens Participation Act, this bill will prevent bad actors from using a lawsuit to silence public opinion simply because they don’t agree with it. These lawsuits, known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), pose a threat not only to free speech, but to the modern information economy. Protecting our right to free speech drives economic opportunity by paving the way to new forums for expression, like YouTube, or by facilitating the rise and fall of products or services through competition and honest buyer feedback.
The SPEAK FREE Act will provide a federal backstop to state Anti-SLAPP laws by creating a process similar to that in Texas and California, where expensive court proceedings are delayed and claims can be dismissed if the defendant can show that a SLAPP suit cannot succeed on the merits.
“If you post an honest review on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or if you stand up and voice your opinion about any issue of concern for you or your community, you shouldn’t have to fear being silenced by someone with money to burn who is abusing our legal system, said Congressman Farenthold. “My SPEAK FREE Act would take the protections of the well-regarded Texas anti-SLAPP law and make them a floor for safeguarding free speech nationwide. This is about protecting the First Amendment – and it’s about protecting the modern information economy that thrives as our public discourse thrives. Most of us are familiar with the expression ‘I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ That attitude toward free speech is as important than ever in the information age, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to bolster free speech rights with this bill.”
“Frivolous lawsuits known as SLAPPs undermine a cornerstone of our democracy and the free and open Internet—free speech,” said Eshoo, who is the Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. “When an Internet user chooses to review a product or service online, they should not have to fear being sued by that company just because they offer a review that isn’t a glowing one. The SPEAK FREE Act ensures nationwide protections against SLAPPs without preempting strong state laws like California’s pioneering anti-SLAPP law. Most importantly, this legislation protects free speech for Americans on the Internet.”
“By threatening punitive action against consumers who use online services such as TripAdvisor or Yelp to leave anything other than glowing reviews, there are those who would stifle the same free exchange of opinions that has made the internet such a vital tool for communicating and conducting commerce,” said Congressman Issa. “The SPEAK FREE Act takes important steps to ensure the internet’s status as a critical economic engine remains intact. Consumers have a right to express their opinions without fear of punitive action.”
“Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental principles engrained in our nation’s founding, and the price of that freedom, like every other, is eternal vigilance,” said Congressman Trent Franks. “One of the most basic aspects of the Constitution is the freedom of speech, which we, as Members of Congress, are bound by a solemn oath to protect and preserve. Without the ability to engage in unregulated public discourse, our founders never would have been successful in their efforts to resist tyranny and establish this great Republic. To maintain that greatness, we must continue to protect free speech in the ever increasing arenas of public discourse, including the internet. Congressman Farenthold's SPEAK FREE Act is one way we can fulfill our oath and protect the most vital of our American liberties.”
“Countless Americans have found themselves on the receiving end of baseless lawsuits simply because they dare to speak their mind in an op-ed, a blog post, or an online forum,” said Congressman Polis. “The price of an individual’s decision to exercise his or her First Amendment rights should not be years of costly legal battles. The SPEAK FREE Act protects the openness of the Internet and every person’s right to free speech by helping Americans defend themselves against frivolous SLAPPs.”
Full Text of the SPEAK FREE Act can be viewed here