Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

International Internet Law

Introduction

For many, the internet has become an essential part of our lives. While the law at one time distinguished between traditional legal issues and "cyber" issues, the law is evolving to encompass many computer topics, often times with unique policies. International internet law is a somewhat young area of the law, one which is in continual flux based on any number of events such as international conflicts, privacy and surveillance issues, cybercrime and cyberwarfare, and economic developments. While countries grapple with how best to regulate cyberlaw within their own borders, international internet law lacks comprehensive conventions and codes. But do not despair. While issues such as governance of the internet are unique and require specific discussion, researchers may look to traditional international legal topics for guidance on international internet law issues.

This guide is intended to help those unfamiliar with international cyberlaw discover general sources, and once a background has been established, indicate resources on more focused areas of international internet Law. The guide is not intended to teach substantive law, but the framework within which the law is disseminated. This guide will not deal with issues regarding U.S. internet law.

Note: Many, if not all, of the resources in this section will provide a good background of international internet law. Within this background discussion the issue of governing and regulating the internet will be considered.

Print Sources

Below are a few selected works, available in the  that provide good overviews of the issues concerning international internet law. This is not an exhaustive list and new materials are always being created to keep up with rapidly changing internet technologies. You are encouraged to look for updated materials through Clio (the Columbia University online catalog) and Pegasus (the Law Libray's specific catalog).

Regulatory Groups

Internet Governance Forum

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2006. Its UN mandate gives it convening power and the authority to serve as a neutral space for all actors on an equal footing. The IGF facilitates a common understanding of how to maximize internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise. Important resources include the past year's workshop proposals and reports and a handbook on global internet best practices.

Global Commission on Internet Governance

The Global Commission on Internet Governance is a two year working group conducting and supporting independent research on internet-related dimensions of global public policy. Key issues to be addressed by the commission include governance legitimacy and regulation, innovation, online rights and systemic risk. Due to sunset in 2016, the commission has created a number of detailed publications over its time and provides a wealth of information.

Internet Corporation for Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN)

A private organization that manages internet resources, ICANN is primarily known for coordinating the internet's Domain Name System (DNS). The organizations is run by a board of directors composed of 16 voting members and 5 liaison representatives. ICANN is a not-for-profit corporation organized under California law in 1998, and originally operated under a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). Following two years of talks between ICANN and the DOC, ICANN submitted a proposal to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in April, 2016 to end direct U.S. government oversight control and replace it with global multi-stakeholder oversight.

United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)

UNCITRAL promotes the progressive harmonization and unification of international trade law by preparing and promoting the use and adoption of legislative and non-legislative instruments in a number of key areas of commercial law. Those areas include dispute resolution, international contract practices, transport, insolvency, electronic commerce, international payments, secured transactions, procurement and sales of goods. Full texts of the model rules created by the Commission are available, as are legal guides on related subjects. The working group on Electronic Commerce has drafted documents concerning topics such as electronic payment methods and security, electronic signatures, data interchange, and transferable records.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

WIPO, which administers most of the major multi-lateral intellectual property conventions, provides access to the texts of treaties that it administers, as well as a large collection of national legislation and regional and other non-WIPO treaties. WIPO Lex provides a searchable and browsable collection of national IP legislation, WIPO-administered treaties, and bilateral and regional IP-law treaties.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

OECD's goal is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. Through the use of agreements, recommendations, data collection, and peer reviews, the OECD committees discuss policy regarding this information, the Council makes decisions, and then governments implement recommendations. As economies become more tied to the internet and electronic commerce, the OECD has noted the internet as service of importance. It has also recognized that the issue of future internet governance may address a wide array of economic and social challenges.

Agreements

On Viewing Cyberspace

The internet is a shared network of computers, spread across the globe. It is an international space that may not be subject to any sovereignty. Looking to previous instances of jurisdictional practices concerning similar, albeit physical, common spaces may guide developing regulations for this new cyber space. Three international spaces in particular educate future policies concerning the internet:

  1. Law of the sea The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
  2. Antarctic Treaty The treaty, sets aside Antarctica for peaceful purposes to be used as a scientific preserve. It establishes rules for exchanging information from scientific investigations and promotes cooperation between States. The treaty bans military activity on that continent and permits consultative states to conduct inspections
  3. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies This treaty cements the idea that spaces may be available to all members of the international community and cannot be appropriated.

Applicable to the Internet

A number of instruments have been adopted at the EU level to deal with the most crucial matters related to private international law (namely the Brussels and Rome Regulations).

Rome I and Rome II Regulation

Rome I is a regulation which governs the choice of law in the European Union. The European Parliament and the European Council adopted Regulation (EC) No 593/2008 of 17 June 2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations (Rome I Regulation). The adoption of Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II Regulation) has enabled the creation of a uniform set of conflict-of-law rules for non-contractual obligations in civil and commercial matters. It thus seeks to improve legal certainty and the predictability of the outcome of litigation.

Brussels Regulation on Jurisdiction (Brussels I)

The Brussels Convention is a set of rules regulating which courts have jurisdiction in legal disputes of a civil or commercial nature between individuals from different member states of the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It has detailed rules assigning jurisdiction for the dispute to be heard and governs the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgements in Civil and Commercial Matters (Lugano Convention) (HTML version here)

The Lugano Convention extends Brussels I to states that are not eligible for Brussels I participation. Its effects are materially the same as the 2001 Brussels Regulation and it governs issues of jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments between the European Union member states and the European Free Trade Association countries

Notable Cases

Dow Jones v. Gutnich

Any entity doing business on the internet may be subject to divergent jurisdictional rules in multiple sovereignties. In 2002 the High Court of Australia held that an Australian plaintiff could sue Dow Jones and another defendant for libel, based on evidence that several hundred people from Australia accessed the Dow Jones website. The court held that because harm happened in Australia, the plaintiff could sue there.