Contract in a networked world
Authors: Brownsword, R.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the doctrines of the classical law of contract, together with the underlying philosophy of freedom of contract, were found wanting in a mass consumer marketplace. In the early years of the twenty-first century, there are new challenges for contract law as business contractors form networks, as networks of connected contracts become more common, and as the consumer marketplace migrates to networked electronic environments. What are the implications of this networked world for the law of contract?. In this chapter, it will be argued that contract doctrine needs to be reformed so that it makes explicit provision for contracts having network effects. There are two respects in which contract law should be coded for networks: first, where contractors act on the assumption that their transactions will be interpreted and applied in a way that is sensitive to their network characteristics; and, second, where the recognition of network effects is in line with the purposes that direct the regulation of consumer transactions. As for the philosophy of freedom of contract, it will be argued that the classical value of self-governance is as important as ever, but that with the burgeoning of e-commerce, there is an agenda of emerging questions that highlights new challenges and opportunities for contractual autonomy.