Celebs Flock Overseas ... to Sue Tabloids

Many Hollywood celebs are suing tabloids in N. Ireland and England.

ByABC News
February 26, 2009, 6:13 PM

Dec. 6, 2007 — -- Britney Spears is pregnant? Again? In Touch magazine says she is. But rival tabloid OK magazine says she isn't, and adds that the troubled pop star is weighing a libel lawsuit against In Touch.

So far Britney's been mum on all the allegations, but if she does choose to sue it's unlikely that an American court would judge the outcome. Instead, legal experts say she'd probably turn to cheaper, quicker foreign courts that have a history of ruling in favor of high-profile celebs.

In Touch boasts of exclusive information regarding Spears' maternal status. The proof? Text messages confirming the news from the alleged father to be: music producer, J.R. Rotem. OK's claims just the opposite, saying it has exclusive dish from Spears' "close pal" that she is "anything but expecting" a baby.

"A source very close to Britney has told OK that the pregnancy rumors are completely false and that a lawsuit from her side is under strong consideration," said the magazine's spokesperson Brian Strong.

But a spokesperson at In Touch said that's definitely not the case. "The rumor of a possible lawsuit was spread by OK magazine and there is no truth to it."

So what isthe truth? Big scoops sell magazines. And in a crowded field of titles, the demand for any information about celebrities makes for ruthless and sometimes unscrupulous competition.

But stars -- and their lawyers -- are striking back.

Neither Spears or her agent returned ABC News' calls or e-mails seeking comment on the alleged pregnancy or lawsuit, but if she does sue, experts say she may choose to do it far from U.S. shores.

"It's easier overseas, and cheaper than in the U.S, " said law professor David Capper of Belfast, Northern Ireland's Queen University. "[Libel is] very, very difficult to prove [in the U.S.]. You don't have to prove any such thing on this side of the Atlantic," said Capper.

Legal experts say that to win a libel suit in the United States, Britney must provide proof that the story is false and that the celebrity media was going after her with malice. Malice, said ABC News legal analyst Royal Oakes, "means an intent to lie or harm someone." It is also malice, he added, "if you didn't intentionally lie, but you knew what the consequences of publishing a falsehood would be."

In some overseas courts, such as those in Northern Ireland and England, proving libel is often not as rigorous.

Spears' Irish attorney, Paul Tweed, successfully sued the National Enquirer on behalf of the singer in 2006 for reporting the imminent demise of her marriage. The verdict forced the tabloid to print an apology and a retraction in their British and Irish editions. And in the age of the Internet, Spears and her handlers were able to easily disseminate news of the legal victory around the world.

Of course, Spears and then-husband, Kevin Federline, divorced before the year was out.