Boundless Space: Jurisdictional Challenges of the Internet

Technology and Governance

The interconnected and globalized nature of the Internet has challenged traditional norms concerning extra-territorial enforcement of laws and the application of domestic laws within the realm of cyberspace.  While in the real space, geographic borders create a clear delineation between different jurisdictions and the authority of national governments, the internet has emerged as a borderless space where different states are competing to apply their domestic laws to virtual users. 

Since the early 1990’s, the Judiciary has examined the legality of extending the laws from one jurisdiction to an internet user residing in another jurisdiction.  Two notable examples exemplify the challenges of extra-territorial enforcement of national law and the internet: LICRA v. Yahoo! and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp v. iCraveTV.

In 2000, Yahoo maintained an internet auction page, which contained Nazi paraphernalia, and was accessible to French citizens.  Mark Knobel, an anti-Nazi activist sued Yahoo, alleging the goods are illegal in France.  According to Knobel “Yahoo’s auctions, violated a French law banning trafficking in Nazi goods in France, in the United States [these auctions] might not be illegal, but as soon as you cross the French border, it’s absolutely illegal” (Goldsmith and Wu, 18).  It was thought that the open architecture of the internet would make it difficult for France to enforce any judgment.  To “keep out the Nazi pages France would need to shut down every single Internet access point within its borders— seemingly an impossible task” (Goldsmith and Wu, 18).  However, the French courts disagreed and entered a judgment against Yahoo, requiring the removal of Nazi paraphernalia available for purchase to French citizens. 

Knobel successfully asserted “that France had the sovereign right to defend itself from the sale of illegal Nazi merchandise from the United States, and questioned why Yahoo should be exempt from French law” (Goldsmith and Wu, 19).  While the ruling created massive protest from United States citizens, Yahoo was still required to comply. In 2001, Yahoo pulled all Nazi material from its online auction site.  Although the Yahoo case created widespread criticism, the iCraveTV case also reinforced the notion of extra-territorial expansion of laws but did not create a public spectacle.

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In early 2000, iCraveTV, a television streaming service based in Canada, caught the attention of U.S. authorities. Under “Canadian law, iCraveTV believed it didn’t need permission to stream broadcast television across the Internet lines, however, the United States did not afford the same rights, where intellectual property laws heavily regulate rebroadcasting” (Lessig, 310). Following a lawsuit filed in US courts, iCrave initially implemented a self-reporting feature, where users were required simply note if they resided within Canada, where the service would be legal. However, Americans could still access the site, forcing iCrave to filer user access based on the geo-location of the visitors IP address. While geo-location represented a possible solution to the issue, U.S. Courts still rejected it as remedy. Although “iCraveTV promised that, using some of the IP technologies described it could block 98% of American visitors, the Courts countered that even one U.S. visitor was a violation” (Lessig, 310). The immense legal pressure ultimately led to iCrave’s failure. While extra-territorial application of laws existed prior to the internet such as extradition agreements and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the openness of the Internet presents a unique challenge for the expansion of real space laws into cyberspace.

Notes

Goldsmith, Jack, and Tim Wu. Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of Borderless World. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Lessig, Lawrence. Code. Basic Books, 2006.

About the Author

Matthew Zuccaro is currently the CEO of Digital Strategy Associates LLC, where he developed a boutique web design firm into a multi-faceted provider of IT and digital marketing solutions. A highly driven entrepreneur, Matt founded his first business while in high school and used the proceeds to self-finance his college tuition. As a seasoned IT professional, Matt has extensive experience in supporting Apple, Cisco, and Windows. A graduate of Montclair State University, Matt holds a BA (Summa Cum Laude) in History and Political Science. Outside of the office, Matt is passionate about traveling as well as volunteering within his local community.

About Digital Strategy Associates LLC

At Digital Strategy Associates LLC, our mission is simple: to simplify IT so our clients can focus on what they do best. Digital Strategy Associates (DSA) is a multi-discipline information technology and digital marketing agency headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey. DSA provides a comprehensive suite of creative and technical solutions including web design, web hosting, graphic design, managed IT services, consulting, and training. For more information, visit digitalstrategyllc.com.

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