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Policing the Internet: Policy, Politics and Consequences of Regulating Internet Content

14-15 December

The High-Level Workshop focuses on the new research and policy agenda concerning the regulation of content provided via the Internet. It addresses the kinds of content that is regulated and in what ways, as well as how different public or private institutions create and enforce content regulations. It also examines how such regulations interact with social norms and attitudes.

The goal of the workshop is to provide a comprehensive framework for analysing social and political debate, the distribution of knowledge and artistic creations, and commercial interchange.

The Internet may include contents and support practices that are viewed as illegal by the applicable legal systems. This raises the issue of how to police the Internet while preserving the freedoms of its users, as well as the Internet’s capacity to support creation and innovation according to viable business models. It also raises the issue of how to reconcile the global dimension of the Internet (and of the human rights exercised over the Internet) with the particular cultural, economic, and security interests of countries and communities.

The Internet has so far developed under the protection of the fundamental rights of its users (including freedoms of speech, information and artistic creation as well as economic liberties), in combination with legislation providing immunities to intermediaries for user-generated content (such as the EU e-commerce directive and the US Communications Decency Act and Digital Millennium Copyright Act). This normative framework is now put into question by legislative initiatives, in the US as in various EU member states, intended to facilitate removing and filtering allegedly illegal contents and practices or even blocking the sites at issue.

In particular, there is an increasing pressure toward making intermediaries responsible for the illegal contents they host, and for delegating to them enforcement tasks. Many have argued in favour of such an approach, affirming that intermediaries have today both the resources for covering damage caused by illegal contents, and the skills for policing their platforms and preventing damage. Others, on the contrary, have raised objections to this approach. Exposing providers to legal risks and shifting enforcement costs from property owners can lead providers to engage in over-enforcement resulting in violation of users’ rights and chill legitimate speech. Moreover these laws can disrupt current business models based on free user-access, and ultimately impair access to knowledge and reduce the opportunities to benefit from innovative social practices (such as capabilities sharing).

This two-day workshop aims to examine both private and public regimes, addressing how contents and practices can be regulated and how regulation can be enforced (by removing, filtering, blocking, content as well as by sanctioning users and providers). We want in particular to consider procedures for regulation and enforcement, and assess effectiveness and possible side effects of different institutional mechanisms, especially with regard to the impact on social media and on international relations. The workshop aims at integrating economic analyses of costs, gains, losses and incentives provided by different approaches to content regulation, political analyses of impacts on democratic dialogue and political processes, and legal assessments of the proposals at stake.


Scientific Coordinators: Eric Brousseau, David Levine, Giovanni Sartor, Alexander Trechsel and Ben Wagner




  • Michele Boldrin, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Nicolas Curien, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), Paris
  • Juan Carlos de Martin, NEXA Center for Internet & Society, Torino
  • Urs Gasser, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University
  • Chris Marsden, University of Essex
  • Milton Mueller, Syracuse University
  • Stefano Rodota, University of Rome & Italian Data Protection Authority
  • Gerard Spindler, University of Göttingen
  • Joel Waldefogel, University of Minnesota
  • Vicenzo Zeno-Zencovich, University of Rome