Caught in the Seamless Web: Does the Internet’s Global Reach Justify Less Freedom of Speech?

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A federal appellate court will decide this yearwhether French anti‐​discrimination law canrestrict freedom of speech on U.S.-based websitesthat are accessible in France. A Paris courtruled in 2000 that the Yahoo! website violatedFrench law because its users offered for sale certainNazi artifacts. However, to force compliancewith the order, French plaintiffs must seekenforcement from a U.S. court. In response,Yahoo! sought a declaratory ruling and a federaldistrict court held that enforcing the Frenchorder would violate the First Amendment. Thematter is now on appeal.

The Yahoo! case presents the question ofwhether the Internet should be governed bymyriad local censorship laws from around theworld. U.S. courts have held uniformly that theInternet should receive the highest degree ofFirst Amendment protection. They have beeninfluenced profoundly by the medium’s globalreach and have invalidated most restrictions soas not to interrupt the “never‐​ending worldwideconversation” that the Internet makes possible.A contrary result in the Yahoo! case wouldembrace a very different philosophy — thatInternet speakers must “show their papers” ateach nation’s borders to ensure that their speechis acceptable to local authorities.

Other nations may treat their citizens as fragilechildren if they wish, or worse, as enemies ofthe state. But U.S. courts should not permit theseeds of foreign censorship to be planted on U.S.soil by finding that such restrictions are enforceablehere.

Robert Corn‐​Revere

Robert Corn‐​Revere, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, is a partner at Hogan & Hartson in Washington, D.C., where he practices First Amendment law. He wrote, along with Ann Brick of ACLU of Northern California, an amicus brief in Yahoo!, Inc. v. LaLigue contre le Racisme et l’Antisemitisme, Case No. 01 – 17424 (9th Cir.). This paper is based, in part, on that brief.