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Lawyers and Other Strangers

I am not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, but this article (Is AMD an American Company? on the AMD antitrust lawsuit against Intel caught my attention. The relevant antitrust law apparently does not give US courts jurisdiction over antitrust violations practiced in other parts of the world, so that local jurisdictions can apply their own laws.

Apparently Intel has successfully argued that because AMD does not manufacture chips in theUnited States (they are manufactured by an AMD subsidiary in Germany), and the majority of those chips are sold elsewhere, that US antitrust law does not apply to those activities. Instead, US law can only be applied to those chips that are imported for sale in the US, perhaps 30 percent of the total.

I am not so surprised at the ruling (which may end up being reversed on appeal, of course) as I am about the growing body of evidence that our traditional jurisdictional boundaries are breaking down. We have seemingly survived rulings that eBay cannot make Nazi items available for sale in Germany, and that Yahoo cannot present Nazi newsgroups in France. But this type of limitation based on physical jurisdiction is a one-off response to specific legal actions. It does not reconcile the fundamental differences between online and physical boundaries.

It was perhaps twenty-five years ago that, as a teen, I began hearing that the world was getting smaller, and it was essential to have skills and experiences that spanned cultures. In fact, the world did not really get smaller until it became just as easy and inexpensive to communicate across oceans as it did across streets. Now as the world truly gets smaller, we seem even less prepared to deal with the consequences.

We are no doubt going to be increasingly faced with jurisdictional issues where electronic communications or global activity come into conflict with existing laws or traditional practices. Legal experts respond that well-written laws can still be fairly applied even under changing circumstances, or that the law will eventually catch up to the reality, but I have my doubts. All too often, legal demands on the online world seem to conflict with the laws of nature.

Of course, the world is moving faster, while the legal framework seems to plod along at an old-fashioned pace. I fear that unless laws change more quickly to reflect the world as it is, the conflict will be much broader in scope than the little skirmishes we have today, like the Intel-AMD lovefest.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 10/13/2006 at 1:15 PM

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