Lawsuit Settled: Borderless Internet Still A Legal Mess

from the wonderful dept

A few years ago, someone in Australia complained that an article in Barron’s magazine portrayed him in a negative light, so he sued Barron’s parent company, Dow Jones, under Australian defamation laws. Dow Jones fought back, noting that the article was intended for an American audience, and that it had been hosted on a New Jersey-based server — meaning that they shouldn’t fall under Australian jurisdiction. In 2002 the Australian Supreme Court disagreed, saying that because someone in Australia could read the story, Australian laws applied. Now comes the news that after fighting the case in Australia for the past few years, Dow Jones has settled the case, issued an apology, and paid up a small amount to the person in question. The problem, however, is that the precedent still stands. Australians can now sue under local laws for things online that simply were not intended for that audience at all. If other nations adopt this policy, then we suddenly have a least common denominator of laws when it comes to the internet. The most stringent law automatically applies around the world — which is obviously quite problematic.

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Comments on “Lawsuit Settled: Borderless Internet Still A Legal Mess”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah but

OK, so they rule against you in Australia.

How the hell do they enforce that? I ran this by my lawyer friend, and he laughed it off. The worse they could do was seize any assets in Australia. And if you had none… Big deal, maybe you couldn’t fly to Australia, they’d arrest you for non-payment of any court fines.

Rick Colosimo (user link) says:

Re: Re: Yeah but -- BUT the answer is still yeah!

Dow Jones almost assuredly has a substantial amount of assets in Australia. Sure, your “lawyer friend” is right on a practical level for the average person. But DJ owns the Wall Street Journal, and any payments from AU companies that distribute or print the WSJ could be attached as payment of the judgment. DJ also owns a slew of other properties that almost certainly have similarly attach-able assets.
The more interesting response to this sort of problem is the idea that companies will in fact respond the way people do, by not going to such a place (i.e., if you have parking tickets in NH from a trip, never pay them and don’t go back there). This would lead to a more complicated set of interactions between companies that would each be smaller, nation- or region-based versions of the existing multinational. The contractual relationships among the companies would have to be structured so that the payments due to Company A can’t be readily attached as Company B attempts to pay. Of course, the non-globalization folks will complain that this is just a scheme to allow companies not to pay, and regular folks sitting on juries will sometimes agree, and activist judges will ignore precedents and traditional limits on jurisdiction, and it will all go to hell in a hand basket anyhow.
BTW, this is completely different from the idea of prosecuting US-sited gamblers using non-US sited gambling sites (which is only a very small step from traditional exercise of jurisdiction) or even from prosecuting US citizens/residents for engaging in child prostitution outside the US, even in locales where such things are legal. The first example, gambling, rests on the idea that all governments have complete jurisdiction over anyone found inside their borders (cf. so-called “Seal Team Six” jurisdiction over terrorists found magically taped to lampposts in the US after “disappearing” from non-extraditing countries). The second example, prostitution, rests on the idea that governments have complete jurisdiction over their citizens, anywhere in the world (cf. committing treason against the US while blowing up things in another country).
For those who care, IAAL.


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