David R. Johnson and David Post. "Law and Borders-- the Rise of Law in Cyberspace." Stanford Law Review 48 (May 1996): 1367-1402.
David Johnson and David Post discuss the early difficulties (1996) in conceptualizing law in cyberspace. Borders in cyberspace are defined legally in terms of “screens and passwords that separate the tangible from the virtual world,” rather than physical and territorial boundaries that have traditionally defined legal doctrines. The authors hypothesize that without accustomed territorial boundaries, cyber law will develop independent of the usual local government regulation and authority and require a new type of thinking. To support this thesis, Johnson and Post reference the terms of service agreements offered by contemporary online service providers America Online and CompuServe as a type of law that would be enforceable, regardless of whether the agreeing user logged in from the United States, France, or Belgium.
Specifically, Johnson and Post discuss the emergence of and difficulty in constructing Copyright Law in cyberspace. Quoting law professor and copyright expert Jane Ginsburg, Johnson and Post explain the troubling task of deciphering copyright laws given an infinite number of countries. Ginsberg asks, “Without physical territoriality can legal territoriality persist?” (1834). In this context, Johnson and Post describe an explanation of the purpose of copyright law as the creation of a demand for works that can be sold and serve the public’s desire for knowledge (1384). The internet has created a mechanism to publish and view news easier and quicker than ever before in history. While regulating the dissemination of these works is complex, the crucial part of this process is to foster “a relationship” (1385). Most notably, Johnson and Post, assert the “ubiquity” of “copying” in cyberspace creating new notions of Intellectual Property. Every time you access a file online, your computer creates a local copy and this has important consequences for the concept of the “first sale’ doctrine” and fair use in copyright law (1386). Ultimately, these authors contend that new laws and conceptions of law must be developed to tackle the issues that will arise in cyberspace. Most relevant of the notions that Johnson and Post assert is how the use of caching of Google News constitutes a fair use, because users do it automatically.
The notion, however, that copyright laws as they now stand can not address the Internet does not stand up to scrutiny. Rather, it is the copyright owners that need to better assess the benefits of new technologies and the technology companies that need to better create new products while respecting existing copyright law. The law appears more than capable of addressing the issues even if the results might be different in different countries. There exist ways for technology providers to alter their systems to meet the differing legal requirements of differing countries.
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Despite the predictions that the Internet would be tool of consensus for the world’s countries, applicable law continue to vary from nation to nation, luckily without impeding the growth of the Internet. Internet traffic, specifically ecommerce and media continue to thrive despite the application of local laws (148). Content providers have adapted to the wants and needs of local users across a variety of cultures and continents (149). There is no concept of universal free speech on the internet – what one country may consider as blasphemy might be the most treasured item of another country (150).
More relevantly, Goldsmith and Wu discuss how a court ruling in one country can be enforced in and intersect with the laws of another country. Using the example of Gutnick v. Dow Jones, in which business man Joseph Gutnick sued Baron’s online magazine, a subsidiary of Dow Jones, for defamation in an Australian court, the authors demonstrate that local law can coexist with the international scope of the Internet. While Gutnick won its defamation lawsuit against Dow Jones in Australia, it did not stop Dow Jones from continuing to have an Internet presence. The decision is not unlike any other decision that impacts a “multinational” business (157). Large corporations that have financial interests across the world like Dow Jones, Google and Yahoo! must be ready to defend their online content and business against the laws of any jurisdiction.
The Internet is not free of regulation just because it does not have the physical tentacles that other aspects of multinational companies do. For example, by operating Google.be and Google.fr, Google has a financial interest and presence in Belgium and France. They must be prepared to either pull their content out of those countries or comply with the laws of these jurisdictions, even if it undermines principles of American law. It is simply the cost of doing business. Smaller companies who have an Internet presence that may reach these same countries but who have no financial assets there will be in a different situation. They will need only to comply with the law of the country where their assets and physical presence can be found. Thus, the copyright law that applies on the Internet is not likely to be uniform but is more likely to reflect the public policies and interests of the local jurisdiction deciding the copyright question.