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The Role of Law in the Governance of the Internet

19 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2002  

Christoph Engel

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2002


The Internet epitomizes globalisation. There are not many international treaties on Internet issues so far. For the time being, governance of the Internet by law will thus basically have to be governance by national law. Most cyber scholars are therefore in the business of exploring alternative governance tools. The typical approach is hybrid, combining state with non-state inputs, and using soft forms of governance, not command and control regulation. Against this background, this papers makes two related points. The preoccupation of the legal discourse with globalisation is partly misleading. The Internet has more and even more profound challenges to governance by law: the libertarian beliefs of many Internet activists; the egalitarian culture of Netizens; the ultra high speed of evolution; and the almost complete decontextualisation of Internet communication. Despite these many and profound challenges, Internet governance by law is not pointless. Separately, the law is able to parry each of these challenges, albeit to a varying degree. The law comes in more troubled waters, if these challenges compound. But even then, there is room left for the law. Policy makers should thus not rule the law out a limine. They should properly weigh the many advantages governance by law has over alternative institutions.

Keywords: Internet regulation, cyberlaw, governance by law, command and control regulation, globalization, governing the egalitarians, governing decontextualized behaviour

JEL Classification: H73, K20, K33

Suggested Citation

Engel, Christoph, The Role of Law in the Governance of the Internet (2002). MPI Collective Goods Preprint No. 2002/13. Available at SSRN: or

Christoph Engel (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
+049 228 914160 (Phone)
+049 228 9141655 (Fax)


University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics

Postfach 2220
D-53012 Bonn

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

c/o Prof. Dr. Schneider
Osnabruck, D-49069

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