By: Sonny Zulhuda
The motivation behind this blog post is my cyberlaw lecture on Electronic Commerce Law this week. I started the class with a big question that has been lingering since we talked about the emergence of the Internet, the need to regulate the Internet, the emergence of digital natives, and so on. The question is: Should the law give way to innovation? If yes, in what way this should happen? If no, how the two can be reconciled? Actually a similar concern arose in the first class of the semester, when we discussed the “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” by John Perry Barlow. We argued that the Internet should and would not be free from regulation. In other words, we can and should regulate the Internet as the needs be!
Settled as we thought it was, the same question reappears when we look at today’s electronic commerce. There are lots of innovation in the global online business that have brought about a huge benefit to us people. Of recent scenario, I discussed the emergence of Uber and Uber-like taxi services in many countries in the world, including Malaysia and the region, which are enabled and empowered by the online service and mobile applications. In Indonesia, similar innovation is adopted for bike-taxi (“ojek” in Indonesian) where the service provider utilises online applications for their booking and customer relations services. As an extension from there, car-sharing taxi services are now mushrooming too. Imagine that a car user who travels between office and home can now possibly give ride service for money while doing his routine travel.
With this innovation, a lot of people are made happier: the car users because they can commercially offer his car ride and efficiently utilise of his travel time (including those time spent in traffic jam); individual customers are happier because they have more efficient, cheaper and faster taxi services; and yet, the families of both car driver and customer will also be obvious beneficiary of all this efficiency! Isn’t the innovation good for people?
But there is a downside: taxi service is a licensed service. You have got to apply and obtain this permit to operate a taxi in many countries. Reports come from many jurisdictions show how authorities have trouble addressing this “illegal taxis”. But the point here is, this “car-sharing” is not like taxis. They are private drivers who are willing to make money out of their boring and unpleasant routine of travelling while helping those who need easier and faster modes of transport for their own travel. It is like match-making situation, as they two match everyone is happy.
This is where the question reemerges: is innovation and law a marriage made in heaven or they actually are strange bedfellows? Could the e-commerce become a battlefront between the two? What is your take?