Another overarching perspective of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society concerns forms of coordination and rule-making in digital environments. Recent literature on governance arrangements has accentuated the plurality of origins, venues and resources of rule-setting activities. Legal research has also paid increasing attention to the relationship between social norms and the law as well as between public and private ordering. As the debate on copyright infringement on the Internet shows, social and legal norms can mutually reinforce but also undermine each other. However, the Internet also provides ample evidence for the relevance of technical norms as a means of private ordering in digital space. Lawrence Lessig’s “code is law” reflects the popular assumption that, in the digital realm, technical settings may govern social interaction in similar ways as legal norms do.

While the Internet has made both the co-existence and the enabling or restricting impact of social, legal and technical rules a common experience, this dynamic interplay of regulating the digital world is only gradually finding its way into research approaches. However, the more the Internet penetrates all areas of social and economic life, the more evident this decentralised rule-making authority is likely to become. What is still lacking across the various disciplines involved in Internet research is a systematic appreciation of the interdependence and the ongoing shifting process between legal, technical and social sources of rule-making in technically mediated environments.

Several projects at the  Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society explicitly centre on the interaction between social, technical and legal norms (Social Media GovernanceCirculation of cultural GoodsGlobal Privacy GovernanceOrphan Works in Digital LibrariesFreedom of Expression in the Quasi-Public Sphere). Heterogeneous ordering processes of this kind are also of relevance for several other projects (Open Sciencethe Digital Administrative State). By elevating this issue to the status of an overarching topic, we build an interdisciplinary bridge between the four research areas while simultaneously creating the prerequisites for comparable contributions to various research fields dealing with processes of binding rule-making.

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