Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

● SAVE THE DATE: Global Webinar on The Freedom to Speak – September 14 and 21, 2023. The International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP) and Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression are hosting a two-part webinar to critically explore the emerging threats to freedom of expression. Presenters will share views, legal strategies, resources, and practical information on developing compelling arguments to defend freedom of expression and challenge laws that threaten it. Speakers are noted experts in the field and highlight how local advocates around the world may draw from international law and comparative experience to complement and enhance their advocacy. Register here for Part 1, Strategies to Confront Emerging Threats, which will take place on September 14 at 8 am UTC / 9 am EST / 2 pm WAT / 3 pm CAT / 4 pm EAT. Click here to register for Part 2, A Case Study Analysis, to be held on September 21 at 8 am UTC / 9 am EST / 2 pm WAT / 3 pm CAT / 4 pm EAT.

● Upcoming Event: Constitution Day 2023 – Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan. At the webinar organized by the Library of Congress in light of the upcoming Constitution Day, Samantha Barbas, University at Buffalo School of Law Professor, will speak about her book “Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan.” The book unpacks the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 decision in ways unexplored previously: Barbas draws on the archive records of the New York Times and civil rights leaders and “situates the case within the turbulent 1960s and the history of the press, alongside striking portraits of the lawyers, officials, judges, activists, editors, and journalists who brought and defended the case.” September 14, 2023, at 3 pm ET. Register here to attend.

● Upcoming Event: Report Launch – Freedom on the Net 2023. Join virtually for the release of Freedom House’s report titled, “Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence.” Freedom House experts will present the report’s findings, and a panel discussion will follow: the speakers will cover “global trends, country-specific developments, and best practices for how to protect internet freedom.” October 4, 2023, from 10:30 am until 12 pm ET. Register here to attend via Zoom. (The report will be available online on October 4 at 12:01 am ET.)

Decisions this Week

Digital Collectibles v. Galactus
Decision Date: April 26, 2023
The High Court of Delhi delivered a judgment in a case involving Digital Collectibles, a Singapore-based company operating under the brand “Rario,” and Galactus Funware Technology, trading as “Mobile Premier League” (MPL). The central issue revolved around the use of sportspersons’ names and images to create Digital Player Cards and whether this constituted a violation of the plaintiff’s right to publicity or fell within the defendants’ freedom of expression. The Court extensively analyzed both foreign and Indian jurisprudence on the right of publicity, highlighting that publicly accessible information about celebrities or sportspersons, including names and performance data, could not be exclusively licensed and was not subject to infringement claims. Additionally, the Court emphasized the protection of transformative and creative elements in artworks, concluding that the defendant’s use of such elements was within the purview of freedom of speech and expression. The Court also noted that the trading of Digital Player Cards was influenced by various factors, not solely dependent on player personas. Ultimately, the Court declined to grant an interim injunction against the defendants, upholding the primacy of freedom of speech and expression in this context.

FvD c.s. v. Google Ireland Ltd.
Decision Date: September 15, 2021
The Amsterdam District Court held that the plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), had not been breached by YouTube’s removal of a video of a speech given by Plaintiff 3 criticizing government’s measures against coronavirus in the House of Representatives. Forum voor Democratie (FvD), one of the plaintiffs and a political party, uploaded two videos on YouTube criticizing current policies to prevent Covid-19 infections, such as the use of face masks and social distancing, which were later removed by YouTube for violating its Terms of Service and Covid-19 policy. The decision was contested by the plaintiffs, who sued Google Ireland, the company that offers YouTube’s services in the European Economic Area. The plaintiffs argued that the removal of their video violated their right to freedom of expression as it makes it impossible to express criticism of government policy. The Court reasoned that as YouTube’s Covid-19 policy follows the guidelines of health organizations, and various governments, on Covid-19, YouTube acted in a way that is considered proper according to unwritten law in society. The Court pointed out that the plaintiffs had sufficient opportunities to spread their opinions and views via other channels and social media platforms, including YouTube—as their accounts were not banned. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the removal of the video by YouTube, based on their Covid-19 policy, could not be considered unacceptable or unlawful according to standards of reasonableness and fairness.

State v. Waqabaca & Ors
Decision Date: May 22, 2018
The High Court of Fiji, in a case concerning charges of sedition related to the publication of an article in the Nai Lalakai Newspaper, acquitted all accused individuals and The Fiji Times Limited. The prosecution argued that the article considered in its entirety had seditious intent, potentially inciting hostility between religious communities. The Court, however, found that it failed to conclusively prove this. The Court emphasized the importance of interpreting such cases liberally to safeguard constitutional freedoms and legitimate political discourse, stating that strong political convictions and impassioned words may not necessarily signify seditious intent. The accused individuals, including the author, editor, and publisher, were acquitted as the court found no evidence of their intention to promote ill will or hostility.

Teaching Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers

This section of the newsletter features teaching materials focused on global freedom of expression which are newly uploaded on Freedom of Expression Without Frontiers.

Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls
In a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Commission on the Status of Women issued these conclusions. They emphasize the importance of promoting human rights in the development, deployment, evaluation, and regulation of technologies, ensuring adequate safeguards to create an open, secure, stable, accessible, and affordable information and communications technology environment for all women and girls. The Commission acknowledges that technology can enhance women’s and girls’ rights, but it can also perpetuate gender stereotypes and negative social norms, perpetuating inequalities. It emphasizes the need to address structural barriers to achieving these rights. The Commission further calls for women’s equal participation in decision-making and leadership positions for gender equality, empowerment, and human rights. To reach those goals, new policies and programs are required to promote digital technology use and address potential negative impacts.

Post Scriptum

● Hungary: DDoS Cyber Attacks Pose Major New Threat to Media Freedom. The International Press Institute (IPI) published a warning statement about a new means of digital censorship – Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks – targeting independent media in Hungary. According to IPI, since April 2023, more than 40 Hungarian media outlets have been hit with DDoS attacks that left their websites inaccessible for hours at a time. The attacks have followed a pattern: most of the media targeted are independent outlets that criticize Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government. IPI notes, “To date, no media outlet supportive of the ruling Fidesz party has been targeted in the current wave of attacks.” Even though DDoS-imposed website crashes are not new, IPI emphasizes the scale of recent attacks against Hungarian media is unprecedented and stands as a significant threat to media freedom in Hungary – the country scoring low at media freedom assessments in the EU. Follow IPI’s ongoing documentation of DDoS attack cases.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.