NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Legal Jurisdiction Over the Internet

April 29, 2003

Years of negotiations have failed to establish an international legal framework to protect the rights of buyers or sellers on the Internet and to prevent unauthorized copying of digitalized products. That failure is sinking e-commerce's early promise of borderless trade, say observers.

Delegates of more than 60 countries have been working on an e-commerce treaty that would make rulings of a court in one country enforceable in all of the countries that sign the treaty.

Until then, consumers can only rely on the following international rules -- either passed or pending -- that cover the Internet:

  • Two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, laid down in Geneva, adapted copyright rules for e-commerce.
  • The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which adapted U.S. legislation to the WIPO treaties.
  • 2000, gave online businesses assurance that they would have to comply with laws only where they are based, rather than face rules in 15 different countries.

Lastly, the Hague Convention on International Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters is a treaty that would assure people that if they win a judgment in one country, it will be recognized and enforced in other countries. A draft treaty in 1992 sought to set global standards for defamation, libel and copyright on the Internet.

Source: Matthew Newman, "So Many Countries, So Many Laws," Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB105112345297400200-search,00.html


Browse more articles on Government Issues