Symposium: PERSONAL JURISDICTION IN THE INTERNET AGE

Northwestern University Law Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Symposium: PERSONAL JURISDICTION IN THE INTERNET AGE


EDITORS' NOTE

The advent of the Internet revolutionized the ways in which people communicate with others. It transcends geographic boundaries, allowing individuals, businesses, and other organizations to convey information, via email, the World Wide Web, and other forms of technology, as easily to those in their community as to those across the country or the globe. Each year, the Internet's capability and complexity grows, fundamentally altering communications and changing the economic landscape.

Due to the unique nature of the Internet, legal scholars anticipated from its inception that it would have a major effect on the law of personal jurisdiction. When the Internet first was used commercially, scholars focused mainly on the scope of its future impact on jurisdictional analyses. Since that time, Internet use has widened and Internet technology has advanced, leading courts to struggle with the formulation of a coherent body of personal jurisdiction case law that would be flexible enough to accommodate the Internet's structure. Most of the time, courts have applied traditional jurisdiction jurisprudence to Internet cases and, as a result, have garnered a great deal of criticism. Other courts have created a new line of personal jurisdiction case law specific to the Internet, the most familiar example of which is Zippo Manufacturing v, Zippo Dot Com, 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Penn. 1997). These courts have also been criticized. The courts' divergent approaches, one relying on traditional personal jurisdiction analysis and the other creating a new body of law, highlight the uncertainty surrounding current personal jurisdiction law.

The contrasting approaches adopted by courts evidence that personal jurisdiction jurisprudence has not adapted completely to the sudden expansion of communication and economics via the Internet. With each new case, courts find themselves stumped by the intersection of personal jurisdiction and the Internet. What can and should be the jurisdictional paradigm for the Internet? The four authors in this Symposium tackle this question directly, with several general themes arising from their perspectives.

First, current Internet case law lacks consistency. Due to confusion about how the Internet can fit into traditional jurisdiction analyses, courts increasingly rely on Zippo as one of the only definitive attempts to address purposeful availment in the context of the Internet. Yet Zippo is inadequate for the Internet's increasingly complex functions because of its outmoded reliance on the dichotomy between "passive" and "active" web sites in determining if sufficient minimum contacts exist to create jurisdiction. As Professor Allan Stein notes, the Zippo test's reliance on a web site's interactivity represents a failure on the courts' part to adequately address the question of Internet jurisdiction. he further observes that some courts have wisely opted to defy the Zippo framework altogether. Professor Patrick Borchers remarks that courts cite to Zippo even though the facts of the case before them do not parallel the facts of Zippo, and even though Zippo may not make sense from jurisdictional and technological standpoints. …

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