Symposium: A Cyberspace Perspective on Intellectual Property, Information Technology, and the Internet

Free Speech on the Information Superhighway: European Perspectives


Caroline Uyttendaele & Joseph Dumortier


VOL. XVI • Summer 1998 • NO. 4 (table of contents)

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16 John Marshall J. of Comp. & Info. Law 905


This article focuses on the need for free speech legislation on the information superhighway. Two issues are addressed in this article. First, whether additional measures are needed for protecting free speech on the Internet. Second, whether the existing restrictions on free speech are relevant.

The information superhighway in the United States is referred as a growing economic interest in information. In contract, the emphasis in Europe lies more on the "information society." In both instances, the government recognizes that the Internet has become a powerful medium of expression. Additionally, the Internet is a true testing ground for regulating the information superhighway.

The freedom of speech is defined differently for the United States and Europe. In the U.S. the concept of free speech requires the state to refrain from interference in individual expression. In Europe, the concept of free speech is based on the idea that the state should prevent, through active intervention, communications from being dominated by a particular concentration of power. Thus, European regulations foster control of free expression over the Internet.

A general framework for free speech restrictions in Europe is laid out in Article 10, ECHR, which contains the conditions for all free speech restrictions, regardless of the medium to which they are applied. According to the text, the government can restrict free speech when state interference is prescribed by law; these restrictions serve a legitimate purpose; and they must be necessary in a democratic society. Article 10, ECHR is applicable to all forms of media, including the information superhighway.

European legislators restricted free speech to guarantee diversity in the media. In order for European countries to safeguard diversity, the legislators looked to frequency scarcity and media concentrations. The concept of frequency scarcity was to avoid the monopolistic or oligopolistic control over the information superhighway. Additionally, European countries are striving to limit media moguls from dominating the Internet.

The author concludes that free speech is a protected form of democracy. However, the protection of democracy requires free speech to be limited in certain aspects. This is the reason why undemocratic speech is illegal and why diversity of the media content is explicitly safeguarded in Europe.

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