When Speech Is Heard Around the World: Internet Content Regulation in the United States and Germany

June
1999
John F. McGuire

The exponential growth of Internet use around the world has prompted many governments to implement regulation of undesirable online content. This Note examines attempts by the United States and Germany to regulate Internet content within their borders and analyzes the different and sometimes conflicting legal constraints that operate in both countries. Though western democracies with similar constitutional protection of free speech, the United States, with a focus on pornography, and Germany, with a focus on extremist political speech, disagree on what sorts of content should be regulated on the Internet. These divergent interests of two similar nations display the need for a decentralized system of regulation that is flexible enough to achieve domestic regulatory goals while avoiding rigid, governmentally dictated content control. This Note argues that a market-driven regulatory system combining an Internet ratings regime with screening software may provide the best method to achieve two goals: (1) internalization of domestic legal constraints in an Internet regulatory regime; and (2) preemption of more drastic legislative regulation that may be politically expedient in the United States, Germany, or elsewhere.

This article appears in the June 1999 Issue: Volume 74, Number 3