Home > SPJ News > SPJ Helps Establish Global Freedom of Expression Rights on the Internet

SPJ News
Latest SPJ News | RSS

SPJ Helps Establish Global Freedom of Expression Rights on the Internet


ATTENTION: News editors, Business editors, Photo editors, Assignment desks

Ian Marquand
, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman,
406/542-4449 or ian@kpax.com
Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment legal counsel, 202/861-1660
or bbrown@baker-hostetler.com

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists and other organizations have helped secure global free expression rights on the Internet in a precedent-setting court case.

A federal judge in California upheld the rights of Yahoo! earlier this week in a case that could have limited the openness of the Internet worldwide. Yahoo! went to court over a restrictive French court ruling that ordered the Internet company to limit the display and sale of Nazi memorabilia and images on Yahoo!-hosted sites in the United States. While the displays are illegal in France, the First Amendment protects such expression in America.

Yahoo! argued that the judgment issued against it in France – based on French law – could not be enforced against it in the United States. The federal court agreed.

“This ruling is a reminder that the First Amendment protects the rights of people whose views or actions are unpopular or even anathema,” said Ian Marquand, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman and special projects coordinator for KPAX-TV in Missoula, Mont. “The ruling also highlights the role of the Internet, especially in the United States, as perhaps the ultimate bastion of free expression.

“The French court’s attempt to shut down certain offensive sites on Yahoo! might have been well-intentioned, but it was misdirected,” Marquand continued. “I also would remind the French that if hateful conduct is the enemy, it’s easier to keep an eye on it if it’s in plain sight.”

The Society joined a friend-of-the-court brief written by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) because SPJ’s mission includes protecting freedom of expression worldwide. In this case, SPJ hoped to set a precedent for an open Internet around the globe, an issue that can have far-reaching implications for the news media as online news sites continue to flourish.

“This case – while seemingly far removed from the world of journalism – was an important one for SPJ to support, and this result is a good one indeed,” said Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment legal counsel of Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C. “Shutting down these ‘back-door’ ways to curtail First Amendment rights is essential in the age of Internet publishing.”

Other organizations signing the friend-of-the-court legal brief written by CDT were: American Civil Liberties Union; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; Association of American Publishers; Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility; Digital Freedom Network; The DKT Liberty Project; The Electronic Frontier Foundation; Feminists for Free Expression; The First Amendment Project; The Freedom to Read Foundation; Human Rights Watch; Human Rights in China; Lin Hai, believed to be the first person to be jailed by the Chinese authorities for his Internet free speech activities; The Media Institute; National Coalition Against Censorship; People For the American Way Foundation; Publishers’ Marketing Association; and VIP Reference.

To learn more about this court case or to read the court’s judgment, log on to www.cdt.org

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


Sarah A. Shrode
Director of Communications
Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208-4045
fax: 317/920-4789

Join SPJ
Join SPJWhy join?