Skip to content

Front About Search
  You are not logged in Link icon Log in Link icon Join
You are here: Home » Members » Giles Turnbull » Old WtW Stories » The myth of the borderless medium

Log in

The myth of the borderless medium

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/11/28

Convention has it that the internet cannot be governed by any nation's existing laws and statutes, because it is a borderless, global medium. Rubbish, says law professor Jack Goldsmith, that's a myth that's just been exploded by the Yahoo-Nazi memorabilia case.

Writing for the Financial Times, Prof Goldsmith argues that advances in technology mean that big sites - those with a global presence, which in practical terms is a relatively small number of companies - can afford to put in place systems that track traffic from specific locations, and apply appropriate rules depending on the law.

The ruling by the French court that forced Yahoo to take action was a good thing, he says, because it "found a reasonable middle ground".

For the big companies that rulings like this affect, the cost of applying geographical filtering will be trivial in the long run, he says.

He concludes:

Five years ago the internet appeared to be a corporation's dream: a medium that facilitated unlimited and inexpensive access to consumers without any regulatory restrictions. The French decision marks the beginning of the end of that dream. When corporate activity causes cross-border harm, nations can, and will, assert their regulatory authority.

Another issue remains, however, which Prof Goldsmith does not address. He makes a distinction between big and small web businesses, those with global reach and without.

Will courts the world over accept the same definitions? If, for example, someone wanted to take WriteTheWeb to court for some reason, would we be found to be an international operation because we have writers based in the UK and America?

You can be sure that WriteTheWeb would not be able to afford the legal fees of any such action. The problem with Prof Goldmsith's argument is that it draws an arbitrary line in the sand. People could cross it without even realising.