Workshop on ‘The Internet: Between cultural value and economic good. An uncharted legal terrain or do we need a differentiated concept of regulation?’

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), purchase the German MEDIADEM team and the Law Faculty of the Bielefeld University organised a workshop on ‘The Internet: Between cultural value and economic good. An uncharted legal terrain or do we need a differentiated concept of regulation?’. The event took place on 22-23 September 2011 in the premises of the FES in Berlin. The objective of the workshop was to shed some light on the different cultural and economic prepositions and interests of the actors that shape the regulatory regime for the Internet, stomach ranging from online media-related questions to more general considerations of media policy.

Whilst the cultural value of the Internet cannot be questioned, the same can be said about the economic value of Internet services. The daily communication of Internet users via email, Twitter, and Facebook, the knowledge-building that is taking place in Wikipedia and the political and societal influence of the Internet in the Arab countries but also in our Western societies illustrate the manifold cultural aspects of the Internet. The annual turnover of Internet access providers and online music stores account for the Internet’s economic aspects among others. These cultural and economic functions determine the applicable fundamental rights prescribing and confining the remit of the lawmaker. Departing from these observations, 15 experts with different academic and professional backgrounds discussed currently debated issues.

During the two-day workshop it became clear that the Internet constitutes a highly dynamic and ever-changing network of users, platform providers, and technical infrastructures, which create many different communicative forums. This new, ‘potential’ public complements the traditional public of mass communications like press or television. While public mass communication once took place through the press, television, and radio with journalists as intermediaries, any individually-produced video on the issues once reserved to traditional media can now gain publicity.

The large number of different actors in the Internet and its global outreach renders the process of regulation complex and calls for a differentiated approach. For instance, national actors, especially state actors of broadcasting legislation, have to take the ideas and views of Internet’s active users more into account than before. Additionally, Internet regulation involves national, European, and international political actors and, thus, a broad spectrum of different legal traditions and decision-making processes.

Besides these broader issues, some of the debates on Internet regulation were presented and discussed in more detail during the workshop. Among the topics dealt with were: intellectual property law, public service broadcasting and EU state aid control, ancillary copyright law for publishers, the independence of regulatory bodies, civic journalism, data protection, the protection of privacy as well as censorship and block lists of websites. Clearly, it is still open which way Internet regulation will go, which cultural or economic aspects will be given precedence, and what balance will be found for the partly conflicting interests and the deriving objectives. In the case of Germany, the Basic Law established some framework conditions regarding communication, access to knowledge, protection of youth, and protection of intellectual property. Freedom of information and opinion, for example, enjoys a pronounced and privileged position in the Basic Law. Concurrently, safeguards exist for intellectual property, although the lawmaker has in this regard a broader margin of discretion.

The papers presented and the vivid discussions that followed were illustrative of the different viewpoints on the complicated and complex issue of Internet regulation.

The (translated) agenda of the workshop is available here.