Humor and Free Speech: A Comparative Analysis of Global Case Law

Artwork by Laura Catalina Ortiz

The paper Humor and Free Speech: A Comparative Analysis of Global Case Law, authored by Alberto Godioli and Jennifer Young (University of Groningen), is now available as part of the Special Collection series run by Columbia Global Freedom of Expression. 

Humor is a pervasive element of human communication and a fundamental ingredient of democratic life. Throughout history, it has been used as a vehicle to poke at the powerful, engage in socio-political commentary, or collectively negotiate social boundaries and norms. As a consequence, courts from all over the world have often stressed the importance of protecting humorous expression. At the same time, the elusive and subjective nature of humor poses specific challenges for free speech adjudication. This paper discusses international trends and recurring issues in humor-related jurisprudence, by analyzing 81 cases from across the globe. The cases are organized around five key – and sometimes intersecting – themes, namely (1) Satire, defamation and other individual dignitary harms; (2) Disparaging humor and hate speech; (3) Humor, violence and public unrest; (4) Parody, copyright and trademarks; (5) Humor and “public morals.” Building on the analyses provided in the GFoE database and on a growing body of interdisciplinary work on humor and the law, the paper also highlights the benefits of a closer dialogue between legal scholarship and practice on the one hand, and humanities-based humor research on the other.

The full text can be downloaded here.