Tongue-in-Cheek: How Internet Defamation Laws of the United States & China Are Shaping Global Internet Speech

By Hostettler, Nicole | The Journal of High Technology Law, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Tongue-in-Cheek: How Internet Defamation Laws of the United States & China Are Shaping Global Internet Speech


Hostettler, Nicole, The Journal of High Technology Law


Cite as 9 J. HIGH TECH. L. 66 (2009)

I. Introduction

In the summer of 2007, a scandal broke out in the United States. Toys sold by American corporation Mattel were found to contain hazardous amounts of lead paint. (1) Mattel issued an enormous recall and blamed toy manufacturers in China for the lead paint found in the toys. (2) As the story unfolded, the Internet buzzed with newscasters, outraged bloggers, and concerned parents all talking about the dangers of the Chinese-made toys. (3) That fall, the Chinese province of Guangdong--where the toys had been manufactured--finally had enough. (4) The local government stated that it would back its domestic toy-makers if they decided to bring a lawsuit against Mattel. (5) The toymakers brought defamation suits on the basis that lead levels were not the reason for the recall and the Chinese corporations' reputations--referred to in China as face--had been destroyed in the international community through the Internet. (6)

In the United States, court decisions concerning Internet speech reflect American ideals of freedom of expression. (7) In China, however, the right to free speech has not been so culturally engrained or legally protected. (8) Chinese moral beliefs on the right to respect and dignity and ideas about how a government should be perceived by its people weigh heavily against the concept of the free flow of ideas. (9) Naturally, the laws governing the Internet speech in China and America reflect their respective cultural values. Unfortunately, the different cultures and laws of these two nations conflict. Now it is their destiny to collide on the Internet.

This Note examines and compares the laws governing Internet defamation in America and China. First, modern Internet usage is explored in order to understand why this issue is of increasing importance. Second, this Note examines the history and culture of each society in order to understand why these two nations developed so differently and why each is justified in its views. Third, this Note examines the laws as they currently stand in each nation. Finally, this Note explores how the two opposing viewpoints of two economic superpowers will shape Internet speech across the globe.

II. Context

A. Global Growth and Internet Usage

China is quickly emerging as a major player on the global stage. (10) On November 11, 2001, after years of debate and negotiations, China officially became a member of the World Trade Organization ("WTO"). (11) China has been industrializing to meet modern global standards and its economy continues to grow at a fast pace. (12) In 2006, China's Gross Domestic Product ("GDP") grew the fastest it has in eleven years. (13) Cheap labor has made China a favored destination for foreign direct investment ("FDI"). (14) As access to the Internet grows across the globe, it has become easier for small companies to expand, and reach out to markets, like China, that were once closed to them. (15)

The United States is one of the leading countries for Internet usage. (16) However, China has been rapidly catching up. (17) Since its introduction into mainstream China, Internet usage has grown steadily. (18) Between 1997 and 2000, Internet usage nearly doubled every six months. (19) At the start of 2004, China had seventy-eight million Internet users, which was 1,000 times more than the number of users just seven years earlier. (20) By 2006, the number of Internet users had grown 23.4% from the previous year. (21) As of June 2007, there were an estimated 167 million Internet users in China. (22) The United States has an estimated 221 million Internet users; China is second for global Internet population with plenty of room to expand considering only 10.5% of the current population has Internet access. (23)

B. American Free Speech

Americans have long cherished freedom of speech as a fundamental right. (24) America is a nation born from revolution; bold speech and a free press were the sparks that began its fire.

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