Law 897: The Law in Cyberspace
From 1930 to 1941, New York University published the Air Law Review, devoted to the proposition that there was something distinctive about regulation of aircraft, flight and radio broadcasting that defined a legal subspeciality, because all of them took place in the air. In 1941, the Review ceased publication.
Today, there are multiple law journals devoted to Internet law, and lawyers debate whether Internet law comprises a coherent legal field. Some commentators have suggested that the Internet poses unprecedented challenges to conventional law, which assumes that both regulatory and
adjudicatory jurisdiction derive from geographic boundaries. Legal scholars have gone so far as to suggest that we treat the Internet as its own
distinct jurisdiction, and adopt Internet-specifc laws, rules, and adjudicatory mechanisms. Others insist that talking about the law in cyberspace is as
silly as talking about the law in the air. The Internet, they insist, is made up of computers and networks that,
like the air, exist in extant jurisdictions and are subject to their laws. Both characterizations have a lot of truth to them.
In a very short time, the Internet has reshaped our lives.
According to the Pew Internet and Life Project, 73% of Americans are Internet users, and and 42% have broadband Internet access at home. Nonetheless, we are only beginning to formulate the laws that
govern cyberspace. A variety of efforts to apply current law to the Internet
have yielded a variety of different results. Attempts to draw new laws to
address the distinct problems of the networked digital environment have run
into logistical and political problems as well as legal ones. The seminar will
examine the law in cyberspace as it develops. Most of the assigned texts will
be material available online.
Overview of the Seminar
Your grades will consist of
three, equally weighted components:
1) The reading assignment
designed for the class. (I will be looking primarily at your assignment's
effectiveness in enabling the members of the seminar to learn interesting
and challenging material, and will pay attention both to presentation and
to selection of sources.)
A 20-to-30 page research
paper on the same topic.
Class participation over
the course of the semester.
- We will meet every
Wednesday from 3:40 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.
- Most of the material
you will be reading in preparation for class over the course of the
seminar will be selected by your classmates.
- I have posted a list of potential topics
After finding out from all of you which topics you're interested in working on, I will assign a single topic to each of you.
- For each topic, the
person assigned to cover that topic will, after consulting with me, create
a reading assignment. The reading assignment will contain any explanatory
material and instructions along with citations to the assigned readings,
including complete URLs for material available on the Internet. I will put
the assignment on the web server before the previous week's class, and
students in the seminar will have that week to read the assigned material
for the topics scheduled for the following class. We will typically cover
two topics each week.
- You should plan on
spending six to eight hours completing each week's reading assignment, and
additional time doing the research for your own class topic and paper.
- Class discussions will
proceed as follows: The person assigned for each topic will begin and
conclude the discussion with a short (5 to 10 minute) presentation. Every
member of the class will then be expected to speak for two minutes about
the assigned material.
- Reading assignments
should be in a form that will allow them to be converted into HTML files
and put up on the UM web server, and should be able to be completed by
the average student not encountering unusual technical difficulties in
two to three hours. (I know that I just told you to expect to spend six to eight hours doing this reading. How do two assignments, each supposed to take two to three hours, add up to six to eight hours? The answer is that it will take many of your classmates longer to do the reading than you think. If you aim for two to three hours, they should be confident that they can get the reading for your half of the class done in three to four hours.) You must turn in your assignment for the class by 9
a.m. Tuesday morning of the week preceding the class scheduled for
your topic. Late assignments
will result in a grade deduction.
- There is no requirement that you learn
to write HTML files, but there are a variety of useful aids that will
teach you how to do so, and many common applications programs include a
web translation utility. (Recent versions of all
major word processing programs include utilities to convert files into
either HTML or ascii text. There are also a number of HTML conversion
utlities available on the web as freeware or shareware.) I
will accept assignments in HTML or in ascii text. You may give me a
CD, or e-mail your file to me. You may in addition supplement your
assignments with material available only in hard copy format, so long as
you distribute it to the class on the Wednesday before your topic is
- You are responsible
for the accuracy of all citations you provide to the class. (You should
always try to check your assignment on a computer other than the one on
which you create it, so that you can make sure that you have all the files
you need.) That said, I won't put anything up on the server until I have
checked the links to make sure they work. To the extent I need to spend a
substantial amount of time correcting your citations and links, I will
take that into account in assigning that portion of your grade. It is a
good idea to make sure I have a telephone number, email address, or pager
number at which you can be reached on the day you turn in your assignment.
- I will give you some
initial suggestions for sources to consult to start your research. After
you have developed some ideas for your assignment, we should discuss your
plans either in person or by email. The week before your assignment is
due, please send me an email message giving me a brief description of the
material you plan to assign.
creativity and cleverness are appropriate for the class reading
assignments. Other students in the seminar will appreciate them, and I
will consider them favorably in your grade. At the same time, you should keep in mind that fancy or
animated graphics load very slowly on machines connected to the Internet
via dial-up connections.
- Every student is
expected to attend every class and to have something thoughtful to say on
every topic, and every student will be graded on the remarks she or he
makes in each class. In addition, I will take the quality of class
discussion on a topic as an indication of the effectiveness of the
assignment for that topic. (Let me repeat that: whether you attend that week's class and what you have to say with
respect to a given assignment will be among the things I consider in
assigning a grade to the student who created that assignment.) As a matter
of fairness to the other members of the seminar, you need to take
sufficient time with each week's assignments to be able to contribute to
- Your paper should be on the same broad topic as your class assignment, but need not focus on the same specific aspects of that topic.
- I have assigned Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing as a useful resource for helping you to plan, organize and write your reserach papers.
- Papers must be turned
in in both hard copy format and in electronic format. (Electronic copies
may be any word processing program, in HTML or in ASCII text; via CD or email.)
footnotes and citations must conform to the current edition of the
Bluebook or the ALWD manual. Citations to material available over the
Internet should give the URL. (E.g., URL: http://iitf.doc.gov/index.html),
and should generally conform to Bluebook rule 17.3.3. I will not post your
paper on the Internet without your permission.
- Papers must reflect
analysis and original thought as well as description. Be careful to cite
your sources. I will check citations to sources I'm not familiar with.
- All papers must be
turned in on or before 5 pm on Thursday December 7.
This document, the revised syllabus, the list of topics and a
hypertext-enhanced bibliography will be available at http://www.umich.edu/~jdlitman/classes/cyber/. In addition, because servers sometimes go down, I will post
copies of the assignments and files for the current week only at http://www.digital-copyright.com/cyberspace/
- In order to make sure
that we cover the topics we need to in coherent fashion, and to give
enough preparation time to students responsible for early topics, I need
to distribute a final syllabus and schedule of assignments in early
September. I have posted a list of potential paper topics here. Please give
me, as soon as
possible, but no later than noon on Monday September 11, your preferred five topics from that list in
ranked order. If you prefer, you can list more general topics than those
on the list (e.g.,
"Internet Privacy"), and I will assign you to one of the topics
within that area. You may also list up to three dates that you would find
inconvenient for your scheduled presentation.
- The order in which the
topics are listed is not the order in which we will reach them in the
seminar, since I will put together a schedule that seems to flow in a
coherent progression based on what topics you do and don't select. If
what's really important to you is to ensure that your
presentation is scheduled, e.g., during September and you don't
care what that topic is so long as, e.g., it doesn't have
anything to do with Internet domain names, tell me so and I will try to
take that into account in scheduling. If you would like to write on a
topic not on the attached list, please email the topic and an associated link to me before the first class, and I will either add it to the list or explain why not. If it's already after the first class, please come see me before turning in your topic preferences.
- I will try to honor
preferences, and will, in the event of a conflict, make selections on the
basis of the class's scheduling convenience. Within those constraints, I
will give topic choices turned in earlier precedence over choices turned
in later, so it's in your interest to turn in your topic selections as
early as possible.
- Topic selections and
all other assignments may be turned in to my mailbox on the 3d floor of
Hutchins Hall, slipped under my door at 427 Hutchins Hall, handed to me, or e-mailed to me. If you are sending me something via e-mail, please
don't assume that I have received it unless I send you a confirming
message via e-mail.
Go to the list of paper
Go to the seminar Syllabus
Go to the list of Sources
Go to the New
Send e-mail to me at
jdlitman -at- umich.edu