FryUp: World Wide Web: Summertime

Top Stories: - It's the World Wide Web - Summertime, and the livin' is easy

Top Stories:

- It's the World Wide Web

- Summertime, and the livin' is easy

- It's the World Wide Web

It goes like this: once upon a time the internet was pretty much a US-only game. US Department of Defence (my spell checker won't let me spell it the other way), US universities, US money, US technology.

That was, like, back in the 60s man. Things have moved on.

Now we've got e-commerce (well, some of us have e-commerce), email, spam, worms, broadband, wireless. A PC in every home isn't just a possibility or a cool marketing idea, it's old news, because a quiet English chap thought it might be nice to use the internet for his excellent idea of linking things together. He called it the World Wide Web because, well, there would be no borders to speak of.

Fast-forward a few decades to the new century and we find ourselves in a peculiar situation. US companies in the past few weeks sending letters to foreign companies demanding they "cease and desist" certain activities because they breach US law. US companies wailing and gnashing their teeth because non-US courts say they have to obey the law in these non-US parts of the world.

It's the World Wide Web, not the US Wide Web and it's about time the Americans - and the rest of us - realised that.

Several things have happened in the last year to make me ponder this question of jurisdiction. The latest is the defamation case brought by an Australian man against the US publishing firm Dow Jones.

After reading all I could and interviewing several lawyers about it, I wrote that I thought it was a good thing that this chap was allowed to sue in Australia even though Dow Jones claimed it published the story in the US. Why? Because if you want to operate in a country you have to abide by that country's laws. Dow Jones has offices in Australia, it publishes stories in Australia (and the rest of the world for that matter, thanks to the WWW and not the USWW), and if it wants to do so it had better learn about the Australian legal situation.

Look at it like this: if I want to import toys from a third-world country and sell them in New Zealand, I have to abide by New Zealand laws. The toys need to meet all the various requirements of the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act as well as health and safety standards. If one of my toys injures or kills someone then I would be prosecuted under New Zealand law.

Why should it be any different if my toys are sold in New Zealand via a website instead of a shop? It doesn't matter that the toys are produced in another country or that I might live in some other part of the world.

The question of actually bringing me to justice (should I be in Australia or the UK or Somalia) is another matter, but the prosecution should take place in New Zealand, not the country where the toys are made or the country where I live because that's where the injury occurred.

Since I wrote about it I've received several startled emails from colleagues saying they think I'm wrong on this one. These are people I usually agree with so the emails have come as a bit of a surprise.

In the Herald Dennis Dutton, famous for his Arts & Letters Daily website, said he believes the precedent set by this case should be ignored in New Zealand because it will only limit the freedom of the press and lead to US publishers not publishing in Australia.

I have to disagree. Surely if I want my work to be available in Australia I have to abide by Australian laws? Why should US laws take precedence in this matter? Is it simply a matter of expediency because most major publishing houses around the world are US-based and are making threatening noises about blocking stories from being seen in Australia?

That kind of behaviour already happens. Time magazine puts out an Australasian issue, as does New Scientist. The BBC website can be viewed either in UK or international formats and I can see other sites adopting the same approach. I like the BBC's take on the matter: presumably I could be presented with a disclaimer saying "should you wish to view the UK version the UK laws will take precedent should any dispute arise". I'd be happy to agree to that.

But what's definitely not on is cease and desist letters sent to local ISPs from US companies threatening legal action under US law, which I'm pretty sure hasn't been extended to New Zealand or Australia just yet.

What it does point to is a need to either harmonise laws around the world or to improve relations between legal systems to the point where a US court would enforce an order imposed in Australia or New Zealand or wherever.

Even as I write this I'm reading about the possible extinction of the banana, a story taken from New Scientist by the UK Independent and retold to the Herald a week before my next issue of New Scientist arrives carrying the original story. Publishing just isn't what it used to be.

It's time US publishers realised the rest of the world isn't merely an add-on to the US; it's a market in its own right. In fact it's dozens of markets in their own right each, with their own rules and requirements, and it's high time we realised just what it means when we type in the initials for World Wide Web.

Internet publishers caught in legal web - NZ Herald

Cease and desist letters common for NZ ISPs - IDGNet

FDA threatens Kiwi chemists - IDGNet

A blast from the past - April 2000 - the US-based Food and Drug Administration threatened a New Zealand chemist for selling pharmacy drugs online.

- Summertime and the livin' is easy

The fish may have been jumping, but I was too busy lying in my hammock to be bothered with things piscine.

It was a long year and a tough one, I have to say. IT companies and telcos reeled drunkenly across the stage of life, spilling shredded accounts (and accountants for that matter) and generally being miserable. Hope you've coped and are as pleased as I am to see the back of it all.

But is it the back? It's always hard to tell with such things - the Asian economic crisis seemed to merge with the dot-com bubble bursting that led to the US economy stalling and the telecommunications market collapsing. Advertising is that much tougher and we've seen websites and print publications fall by the wayside.

So here's to a new year - same as last year. Only not, if you know what I mean.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about BBC Worldwide AustralasiaDepartment of DefenceDow Jones

Show Comments