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Preface: About This Textbook: Four Main Themes and How You Can Help

  1. Four Key Themes
    1. Internet Governance and the Limits of Law
    2. Intermediary Liability
    3. Laws that are Explicitly Designed to Regulate Online Content or User Behaviour
    4. Constraining Private Power and Protecting Individual Rights on the Internet
  2. The Link Between Policy and Legal Practice
  3. Why Open Textbooks?
    1. How to Contribute
    2. Guiding Principles
    3. More Information

Four Key Themes

Video Overview by Nic Suzor

This textbook, which is a resource in the unit LLB345: Regulating the Internet in the School of Law, Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), focuses on how societies can and should regulate the internet. It is not a survey of all the ways that law intersects with the internet (not ‘law and the internet’) – nearly all areas of law can have some application online. Instead, we focus on four key themes:

Internet Governance and the Limits of Law

The first theme focuses on the real effects that the law has and can have on the way that the internet is governed and the ways that people communicate online. We will pay particular attention to the unique challenges that emerging technologies pose for the enforcement of law online. Take, for instance, the regulation of offensive online content. The law has traditionally regulated content by targeting the handful of actors, including radio and television broadcasters and publishers, and making those societal actors abide by content standards and/or classification schemes. However, given that the internet is a decentralised, cross-jurisdictional space, traditional forms of regulation are less effective in the online environment. It is immensely difficult, if not near impossible, for regulators to adequately classify each piece of internet content and/or regulate every distributor. This challenge, among many others, requires us to think about how regulation can operate in the virtual world and what different strategies policy-makers could adopt to ensure that legal frameworks can be effective. We will study how the law can influence technology makers, intermediaries and others societal actors in new ways to regulate the kinds of material that are accessible on the internet.

Intermediary Liability

The second theme in this textbook examines exactly when an online intermediary has an obligation to protect the rights of an unrelated third party. As previously explained, regulating the online behaviours of individual users can be extremely difficult. One way that the law can scale with the size of the internet is to impose legal obligations on intermediaries. The term ‘intermediary’ encompasses a number of different online actors, including internet service provides (ISPs), like iiNet; search engines, like Google, which enable users to locate online content; and online platforms, like Facebook, which facilitate online communication between users. Policy and lawmakers often leverage pressure on intermediaries, which are the focal points of the internet, for for maximum regulatory effect. For example, over the last twenty years, copyright owners have successfully targeted the developers of P2P (peer-to-peer) software, the websites and search engines that index P2P content and ISPs to combat online copyright infringement. We will spend a significant amount of time examining intermediary liability for copyright infringement as well as defamation law, general legal principles and ‘safe harbour’ protections that limit the extent that intermediaries can be liable for claims by third parties.

Laws that are Explicitly Designed to Regulate Online Content or User Behaviour

The third theme focuses on regimes that have developed over the last two decades to regulate the online content or behaviour. We examine how contracts are formed online; what civil and criminal liability exists for unauthorised access to computer systems (computer crimes); how SPAM and private information is regulated and how a specific and other sui generis regimes, such as the regulation of the Domain Name System.

Constraining Private Power and Protecting Individual Rights on the Internet

The last theme in this textbook has two components. The first considers the ways that citizens can be protected from over-reach by the state, such as when online service providers are obliged to hand over data or block content, and what safeguards exist over these processes. The second examines the ways that citizens can be protected from over-reach by private entities: how values of good governance, freedom of speech, and freedom from abuse can be protected when, for a huge proportion of online activity, it is private corporations, and not the state, that really regulate how we interact online. We consider how private power can be constrained through competition law, network neutrality requirements, contract law, and other legal obligations imposed on private intermediaries. We also study emerging issues, like mass surveillance regimes and multinational take-down regimes, which have been put in place in attempts to regulate online behaviour. This theme highlights that internet law and regulation often involve a complex balancing act between different, and sometimes conflicting, interests.

Society is still struggling to come to terms with the changes brought about by new communication technologies. Internet law and regulation is extremely fluid and always rapidly developing. This means that lawyers working in emerging technology fields need to know not just the law as it currently exists, but the underlying policy justifications for those rules and why they can and/or should change. This unit will develop your capabilities in both areas. It is designed to be a useful unit for practitioners working in technology law, as well as people interested in working in public policy or advocacy roles.

Why Open Textbooks?

The textbook market is flawed. Students often pay too much, and do not have choice in the books they buy. In response to this, we are creating a set of open educational resources, which are free for the world to use.

Video Overview by Nic Suzor:Free and Open Textbooks: A Small Revolution

How to Contribute

We would love your help with writing this book!

Licence Grant: The main condition of participating is that you must agree to license any of your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence. This enables any person to copy, modify, and distribute this book (including commercially). Importantly, however, it will always be ‘open’: anyone who distributes material based on this book must do so under the same licence.

What can I do? We have provided an outline structure. Here’s a few ways you can participate. Feel free to do any of the following:

  • Take any dot point and expand it into a sentence or two in prose;
  • If you are a current student who normally writes notes for class, copy and paste your notes into places where you think it will be helfpul;
  • You can copy-edit the work of others: make it simpler, easier to understand;
  • Make sure that formatting is correct and the appropriate styles are used. Put examples and videos in breakout boxes; and/or
  • For any section where it would be useful, copy and paste material from another free and open source into our book. Remember, you may only copy and paste material that is in the Public Domain or licensed under one of CC BY or CC BY-SA. Some places you might like to start are:
    • Wikipedia (CC BY-SA)
    • (CC BY)
    • (CC BY SA)
    • (CC BY)

Guiding Principles

This book is designed to be:

  • Easy to Understand: We use simple, clear language;
  • Concise: We aim to keep this book short and to the point;
  • Practical: We provide examples and context to make this applicable; and
  • Rich: We integrate free videos, quizzes, and other materials into this book to make it a complete research for learning about internet law and regulation.

More Information

If you have any questions, please contact Nic Suzor.

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