Students Staff

20 March 2013

Essex and Oxford researchers call for better approach to internet regulation

Regulating Code front cover

On the day Professor Chris Marsden of the University of Essex argues for a new approach to internet regulation at the European Commission, his latest book addressing the issue head on hits the shelves.

In a ground-breaking academic collaboration between a lawyer and a computer scientist, Professor Marsden of the School of Law has teamed up with Dr Ian Brown of the University of Oxford to write Regulating Code, published on 22 March by MIT Press. By analysing the regulatory shaping of ‘code’ – the hardware and software behind the internet – they argue that a prosumer-led approach to internet regulation would be more efficient and socially just.

Professor Marsden, who will outline the argument at the 2013 EuroCPR conference for policymakers and industry representatives in Brussels, said: “Over a billion people now use YouTube to watch and upload videos, Facebook and Instagram to share news, gossip and photos, and Twitter and other blogs to say just about anything. We are all becoming ‘prosumers,’ consuming but also contributing to the content of the internet and in the process often sharing intimate personal details.

“This ‘prosumer environment’ is currently either grossly unregulated, leaving personal information at the mercy of the multinationals who host it and sometimes claim to own it, or subject to knee-jerk over-regulation, such as the Prime Minister’s on-off plans to subject all UK internet users to filters.”

He added: “A smarter ‘prosumer law’ approach taking into account the increasing multistakeholderisation of the internet would enhance the competitive production of public goods, including innovation, public safety, and fundamental democratic rights. It would protect user rights and prevent the long-term damage of a monopoly by companies such as Google or Facebook without regulatory intervention to make the market work better.”

In Regulating Code, Professor Marsden and Dr Brown draw lessons for better future regulation from failures illustrated by five case studies. These include copyright issues surrounding music and video file sharing, state-sponsored censorship of protest sites such as Wikileaks, and privacy and data protection including the implications of new European laws relating to companies such as Google and Facebook.

Professor Marsden concluded: “We argue that in order to maintain public spaces on the internet as well as our fundamental democratic rights, there needs to be a recognition of a smarter ‘prosumer law’ approach.”


Notes to editors

1. Contact Professor Marsden directly via his Twitter account: @ChrisTMarsden. Alternatively, contact the University of Essex Communications Office, telephone: 01206 873529 or e-mail: More information about the ‘prosumer law’ approach and its implications for Google and Facebook are also available at:

Alternatively contact Jennifer Darnley at the University of Oxford, e-mail: or telephone: 01865 287210

2. For further information about the EuroCPR conference on 22 March, see:

3. The Oxford Internet Institute is a department within the Social Sciences Division of the University of Oxford. It is a leading world centre for the multidisciplinary study of the Internet and society, focusing on Internet-related research and teaching, and on informing policy-making and practice. For further information see:

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