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On Software Regulation

R. Polk Wagner

University of Pennsylvania Law School

U of Penn. Law School, Public Law Working Paper 57; U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper 04-17

This Article develops a novel analytic framework for the evaluation of regulatory policy in cyberspace, flowing from a reconceptualization of cyberlaw's central premise: software code as complementary to law rather than its substitute. This approach emphasizes the linkage between law and software; for every quantum of legal-regulatory impact, there is a corresponding equilibria of regulation-by-software. The absence of a legal right will stimulate a technological response - and such incentives will moderate with increased rights. Rather than code is law, this is code meets law.

The implications of this methodological shift are explored in the context of the emerging (and intensely controversial) cyberproperty right - defined as the right to exclude others from one's network resources. The debate over whether (and how, and why) concepts of property rights can be extended to bits stored on web servers, email systems and the like is both deeply intertwined with technology and fundamentally comparative in nature, bringing the importance of understanding the regulatory costs and benefits of software (as compared to law) into sharp relief.

The analysis that emerges suggests that, contrary to much of the relevant scholarly literature (and perhaps counterintuitively), the availability of technological mechanisms to replace legal rights likely strengthens, rather than weakens, the case for legal regulation in the form of property rights. At least in this context, a software-centric regulatory approach is dominated by regimes premised on property-backed contractual relationships.

Considering the regulatory environment of cyberspace from this perspective may have profound effects on the way we think about the form and function of law online. The nature of cyberspace as particularly sensitive to emerging concerns about the tyranny of software suggests that the online environment might be more suited for a broad property rights regime than has been recognized to date.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 64

Keywords: Regulation, cyberlaw, code, property, intellectual property, cyber property

JEL Classification: K00, K11

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Date posted: August 26, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Wagner, R. Polk, On Software Regulation. Southern California Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 457, 2005. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=582422

Contact Information

R. Polk Wagner (Contact Author)
University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )
3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
267-433-4431 (Phone)
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