International Internet Laws – Part I

International internet laws are important to understand in the context of internet transactions. Also, the issue of a foreign court’s jurisdiction over the parties comes up on a regular basis. The international laws include treaties, directives, rules, and regulations. For example, the Hague Conference on Private International Laws has adopted a convention that governs jurisdiction and judgment enforcement among its members. As such, the parties will have the opportunity to select the venue, governing law, and jurisdiction for dispute resolution before executing agreements. This way, a predesignated court would have authority over the parties and could render a final and enforceable judgment. This convention allows the parties to enforce the judgment in the proper jurisdiction. It also applies to non-consumer browse-wrap and click-wrap agreements.

International internet laws can be complicated especially if there are multiple parties involved from different jurisdictions. For example, if the plaintiff is in France, and one defendant is in Germany, and the other is in the United States, a foreign court with proper authority over the case may not grant the protections afforded to the defendants by the United States laws. The court usually evaluates where the violation took place and who was affected by it. It will also evaluate whether the defendant’s actions were intentionally directed towards the plaintiff. In some cases, the courts have been inclined to apply United States laws to foreign litigants based on the facts and evidence. Therefore, it will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

A foreign court will likely have jurisdiction if the online commercial transactions – i.e., e-commerce transactions – had a substantial effect in their country. This is called the Effects Doctrine which holds that a foreign court should have jurisdiction where the effects are felt and damages take place despite the defendant’s citizenship or nationality. This principle has been useful in online harassment and defamation cases.

How do the laws apply to online harassment and defamation?

Online harassment and defamation can take place on the internet through various channels. For example, the defendant can target the plaintiff by publishing the false, disparaging, or defamatory comments on social media websites. The online comments can be published in an effort to annoy, intimidate, threaten, bully, or stalk the victim for no legitimate purpose. A foreign court can force an American company to defend itself in the foreign nation if the plaintiff was targeted and damaged in the foreign nation. So, American companies should be aware of the risk of being sued in foreign nations by, for example, accepting paid subscriptions from foreign citizens. In short, international comity principles should be informative in these cases. International comity principles allow foreign judgments to be conclusive and enforceable in the United States federal courts. The federal courts have held that a foreign judgment that is rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction by properly evaluating the facts and evidence is enforceable.

The courts usually assess the level of connection to the jurisdiction to determine whether they should exercise jurisdiction. They evaluate the level of damages the plaintiff has sustained as a result of the online harassment or defamation. Moreover, they look at whether the defendant has a physical presence in that jurisdiction which would make the exercise of jurisdiction fair and reasonable. Therefore, it is recommended to speak with legal counsel who understands the rules and regulations.

It’s important to know your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to international internet laws and a foreign court’s jurisdiction. Please contact our law firm to speak with an international internet attorney at your earliest convenience.