Update: On 11/10/2020 Governor Cuomo signed into law an “anti-SLAPP” bill. As Governor Cuomo stated: “For too long, powerful and wealthy interests have used frivolous lawsuits to harass and intimidate critics by burdening them with exorbitant legal fees and time-consuming legal processes. That ends now. I am proud to sign this legislation, which protects New Yorkers’ fundamental right to free speech without fear of harassment or bullying by those who happen to have more money than they do.”

Update 7/27/2020: The bill designed to update and strengthen New York State’s current anti-SLAPP statute passed the New York State Assembly on July 22 with resounding support (116-26), and passed the Senate on July 23. It has not yet been submitted to Governor Cuomo for signature, but we will let you know when the bill is signed.

On July 14, the Authors Guild, along with many publishers and other media organizations, signed a letter to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature urging them to pass a bill designed to update and strengthen New York State’s current anti-SLAPP statute. As the letter states, “SLAPP lawsuits are an intolerable form of private censorship. It is more critical than ever that New York, the media capital of the world, provide robust protection against meritless claims designed to chill speech.”

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation—or “SLAPP” suits—are baseless lawsuits intended to keep individuals from exercising their First Amendment rights to speak about and act on public issues. There has been a dramatic increase in litigation designed to chill constitutionally protected speech in recent years; within the past month alone, there have been two separate lawsuits brought to quash books critical of President Trump. Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to provide defendants with a mechanism to resolve lawsuits that implicate defendants’ First Amendment rights without incurring the kind of devastating legal fees that the plaintiffs of these baseless lawsuits can otherwise force defendants to incur. As the New York State Bar Association Committee on Media Law stated in its memo in support of the bill, “funds that would have gone to reporters, editors, and producers are instead spent in a defense of a lawsuit.”

New York’s current anti-SLAPP law is less protective of free speech than the laws of 30 other states and is in dire need of amendment to protect the state’s thousands of journalists and authors. The proposed legislation would expand the current statute to expressly cover cases about public communications “in connection with an issue of public interest” and “any other lawful conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition.” This expansion would give journalists and other authors heightened protection, which they greatly need in these litigious times. In addition, the bill states that “costs and attorneys fees shall be recovered” (the current bill only says they “may” be recovered) where there has been a finding that the action was “without a substantial basis in fact and law.” We will continue to speak out and advocate in favor of enhanced anti-SLAPP protection in New York, and will monitor this bill’s progress.