The Rules of the Internet Road
by Robert J. Ambrogi
Editor's note: This is part one of two. Next month: Scholarly perspectives and specific law topic sites.
THE Internet has spawned a field of law all its own -- a dynamic, malleable, uncharted area where the rules have yet to be firmly defined. It's an amalgam of theory and practice drawn from many fields: intellectual property, civil liberties, tort, criminal, property, telecommunications, international trade, commercial and conflicts law. Internet lawyers must be generalists, able to sort through and recognize the array of legal issues that can arise in cyberspace.
Where better to keep up with the latest developments in Internet law than the Internet itself?
A good place to start is GigaLaw.com.
Although it bills itself as a general legal information site for Internet and technology professionals, GigaLaw most closely resembles an online magazine, a kind of e-zine for e-law. Featuring regular columnists, in-depth articles and daily news, GigaLaw provides current coverage and considered analysis of issues at the convergence of law and technology. Douglas M. Isenberg, an Atlanta lawyer and former journalist, edits the site, with articles contributed exclusively by lawyers and law professors.
BitLaw was created by Daniel A. Tysver, a partner with the Hopkins, Minn., I.P. firm Beck & Tysver. It has grown into a virtual online treatise on intellectual property and technology law, with more than 1,800 pages covering patent, copyright, trademark and Internet law. It offers original essays and hyperlinked resources; full text of significant copyright decisions, federal IP laws and regulations, general discussions of various legal issues, and a good collection of links.
From the technology and e-commerce practice group of Chicago-based Sidley & Austin, CyberLaw@Sidley, is a practical site combining daily news coverage with in-depth feature articles and analysis. The news comes via links to other media sites, with a half-dozen or so headlines added every business day and older stories maintained through an archive. New feature articles are added regularly, all organized under topics that include banking, copyright, domain names, e-commerce, encryption, legislation, privacy and others. A collection of links to cyberlaw sites is also organized by topic, and some are annotated.
Useful starting points for Internet law include:
David J. Loundy is a Chicago lawyer who also happens to be an Internet junkie and a proficient writer. His site, called E-Law, collects the complete archive of his monthly technology law column, dating back to 1994, in which he tackles issues such as meta-tag litigation, Internet fraud, spam and encryption, all in an informed and thorough style.
Ultimate Internet Law Meta-index. This is a page of links, nothing more, but a good one -- an index of links to other sites that themselves index links to Internet law resources on the Web. Steven D. Imparl, the Chicago lawyer who maintains the site, says that his goal is "to make this page the best meta-index on Internet law in the world."
For keeping up with Internet-related case law, the best site is the Perkins Coie Internet Case Digest. From the Seattle-based law firm, this is a compilation of U.S. court cases and international cases of especially high interest that address issues of Internet-related law or that have significant implications for Internet legal issues. Although not the only site to track Internet-law cases, Perkins Coie's stands out for a number of reasons, including its broad scope and its up-to-the-minute timeliness. A unique feature is that case summaries include links not just to the opinion, but also to news reports about the case.
Another source for cases is Phillips Nizer's Internet Library. Martin H. Samson, a partner with Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon, New York, created and maintains this resource, collecting and analyzing case law relevant to the Internet. Samson provides a brief synopsis of each case, with a link to a more in-depth analysis and, in many cases, the full text of the opinion.
Defining the scope of free speech and privacy on the Internet creates unique issues of civil rights law.
Since its creation in 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been front and center in this field. It played critical roles, both as plaintiff and advocate, in ACLU v. Reno, the lawsuit that successfully struck down portions of the Communications Decency Act. It tackled encryption restrictions in Bernstein v. Department of State. It established the blue-ribbon campaign to promote free speech on the Internet. Its Web site features complete information on all of its projects, as well as an enormous archive of documentary resources.
Another key destination for anyone concerned with civil rights in Cyberspace, the Center for Democracy and Technology is a public-interest organization "advocating for civil liberties in new computer and communications technologies." Covering free speech, data privacy, government surveillance, cryptography, domain names and terrorism, CDT combines in-depth analysis with up-to-date headline news and legislative tracking to serve as both a resource for research and education and a springboard for political action.
Founded in 1994, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has emerged as a leading public-interest advocacy organization. During its relatively brief lifespan, it has helped uncover the FBI's controversial Internet monitoring system Carnivore, helped ease government restrictions on the use of encryption, and played a central role in ACLU v. Reno. EPIC continues to be at the forefront of protecting civil liberties.
Its Web site reflects that, with a range of current-awareness information on litigation, legislation and policy initiatives affecting free speech, privacy and other key areas, as well as a comprehensive archive of documents on free speech, computer security, freedom of information, cryptography and privacy.
Cyber-Liberties,is devoted to work by the American Civil Liberties Union to protect civil liberties in Cyberspace. Current reports cover legislative developments, court cases and related news, while archives offer a history of the ACLU's role in groundbreaking cases involving free speech, encryption, censorship and other threats to civil liberties online.
Robert J. Ambrogi, the director of American Lawyer Media News Service, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web, which can be ordered through Amazon.com.