Hawaii House Bill 548—which would hold the publishers of travel guides liable if a reader was injured while engaging in activities or visiting locations they describe—died in the Senate committee on Judiciary and Labor when the deadline passed for the committee to act on it. The bill would have imposed a legal enforceable duty on the writers and publishers of travel information for books, websites and even advertisements to warn readers and tourists of dangerous conditions in the sites and areas they describe.

The bill was vigorously opposed by the Media Coalition, a trade association that defends First Amendment rights, citing a chilling effect on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Media Coalition executive director David Horowitz said, “Holding authors and publishers financially liable for the actions of readers and private landowners will have a substantial chilling effect on them. They would inevitably limit what they wrote or what images they included in their guide books or on guide website to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit.”

However, Horowitz also warned that Hawaii has a two-year legislative session, and H.B. 548 could return when the legislature reconvenes in 2012. Nevertheless, he pointed out that courts have repeatedly dismissed suits seeking damages against writers and distributors of content as the result of injuries claimed to be brought about because of that content.

“Speech is not a product like detergent or lawn darts,” Horowitz said. “The First Amendment protects writers, websites, and publishing houses from lawsuits that result from the actions of their readers.”