Legal challenges in a digital context

Normative gaps, traceability and conceptual change
This is the main project page for the research project Legal challenges in a digital context in which Stefan Larsson uses copyright as a case to study:

  1. The “gap problem” in terms of the distance between law and social norms in a digital context;
  2. Online traceability, that is, consequences and trends of traceability in relation to legal enforcement and surveillance; and
  3. Conceptual change, exemplified by how the transition of concepts to originally describe tangible objects to now describe digital “stuff”, and, particularly, what this means for law and other norms.

The project is hosted by the Lund University Internet Institue (LUii), and during its three years Stefan will be visiting the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa as well as the Centre for Comparative and European Constitutional Studies (CECS) at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen in Denmark. The theoretical fundament is a combination on norm theory and conceptual metaphor theory and the methods used will consist of large-scale online surveys as well as legal surveys in Sweden and the US. The purpose of the project is to produce more knowledge about the relationship between law and other, emerging, norms in a digital society.

Time plan and funding
The project is performed between 2014 and 2016, and is funded by The Swedish Research Council as an “international postdoc”.
Time plan

The first large-scale online survey was performed in February 2014, slightly ahead of schedule, in collaboration with the Cybernorms research group (and TPB). It collected over 140 000 respondent, and the data from this large set is currently being analysed from a number of views, of which some is of particular interest for this project. The data includes:

  • demographics and frequencies of uploading and downloading,
  • demographics and frequencies for using anonymity services such as VPN,
  • metaphors and justifications on how this community conceptualizes the future of copyright, online piracy and in terms of the Internet and legal enforcement.


With regards to the legal survey, a first comment on the invalidity of the Data retention directive has been published in Swedish here, and with an American focus on privacy here.

Significance of project
The usefulness of the proposed research primarily lies in the policy sector, on how to better regulate and legislate issues related to the digital sphere in order to avoid as much widening of a norm gap as possible:

  • To decrease the gap between law and social norms, that is, suggest how to improve the legitimacy of law, in order to
  • To avoid dysfunctional law that will spur counter activities, for example a strongly encrypted and anonymous Internet.
  • To understand more of what impact digitization has on how we conceptually understand reality – particularly through old concepts, and especially what relevance this has for law.

About Stefan

Stefan Larsson is an Associate Professor in Technology and Social Change, holds a Phd in Sociology of Law, a PhD in Spatial Planning and an LLMRead more here.

stefan.larsson [at]


Publications of relevance