Cyber Rights
By Mike Godwin
Senior Policy Fellow, Center for Democracy and Technology
Former Counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age

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About the Book

"When it comes to cyberspace controversy, Mike Godwin has been there longer, worked harder, and thought more deeply than anyone else alive." -- Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown

"CYBER RIGHTS sets the standard as the most articulate and intelligent guide to the power and perils of free speech in the digital era." -- Mitchell Kapor, founder, Lotus Development Corporation

"An intellectual feast...written by a most incisive, literate, and astute mind." -- Clifford Stoll, author of Silicon Snake Oil and The Cuckoo's Egg

(Publicity text for Random House edition): Even as the Internet booms in popularity, its negative reputation also continues to grow. Many people see the Net as a threat to social stability, a haven for the lawless, or a cornucopia of pornography. Mike Godwin, widely regarded as one of our most influential online-rights activists, sees his mission as fighting this backlash against the Net. As staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- cyberspace's version of the ACLU -- he's been there since the beginning, fighting to extend the First Amendment to the online world in a series of high-profile, highly charged legal battles.

In CYBER RIGHTS: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age (Times Books / August 3, 1998), Godwin provides a legal road map for the cyber world and addresses our fears about new technology and the new social consequences brought about by the Net. "Much of what people are told about cyberspace is wrong, and much of what they're told that's wrong is also frightening," he says. "Fear of a new medium is often used to justify treating it more destructively, and less rationally, than older forms of communication. I want people to see past the fears, which are usually overblown."

Godwin views the Internet as the most liberating and egalitarian communications medium the world has ever seen. He traces the long-standing historical pattern in this country of giving less First Amendment protection to any new medium, and makes the case why the First Amendment must apply to freedom of speech on the Internet. Godwin also identifies the many problems raised by this freedom of expression, such as libel, sexual harassment, copyright issues, and cyberporn, and outlines many situations where the First Amendment doesn't protect speech on the Net.

During what Godwin calls "the great Internet sex panic of 1995," he spearheaded a brilliant attack on Martin Rimmís study of online pornography, which became the foundation for a highly controversial Time magazine cover story. Godwin testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, debated Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition on Nightline, and prodded Time to admit that the study was "seriously flawed." Says Godwin, "As far as I know, this was the first instance in which anyone used this new, hyperdemocratic communications medium -- the Net -- to hold a traditional media powerhouse accountable for its mistakes." It turns out that almost all of the legal cases and controversies surrounding the Net raise First Amendment issues, which is why Mike Godwin and the EFF are at center stage. In CYBER RIGHTS he comments at length about all of the pivotal litigation he's been involved with, from the early anti-hacker panics that colored law enforcement activities in the early 1990s to the struggle between the Church of Scientology and its critics on the Net. A sample of his insights and observations:

On ACLU v. Reno, the Supreme Court case challenging The Communications Decency Act: "Most of the important First Amendment questions hadn't even been raised until the twentieth century, so I thought it was at least possible that the First Amendment framework for cyberspace wouldn't be established until well into the twenty-first. Yet here, suddenly, the very legal status of cyberspace itself...would be put to the test in a genuine constitutional battle.... It was also an opportunity to fulfill one of my long-hoped-for dreams -- to see the EFF itself be party in a leading First Amendment case. It turned out to be the important case concerning freedom of speech online."

On the libel cases of Blumenthal v. Drudge, and Blumenthal v. America Online: "The Drudge case is one in which the media -- both old and new -- have functioned just the way they're supposed to in an open society. Drudge's correction [his immediate retraction of old rumors about the Blumenthals' domestic troubles,together with Drudge's apology] has caught up with, and even outpaced, the original defamation. This fact is obvious to anyone who reflects on the case, but it is a fact that has nevertheless escaped virtually all reports about it. Drudge's libel case against Blumenthal raises a raft of First Amendment issues like who's a public figure, vicarious liability, and reputational damage, all of which undercut Blumenthal's case. What's really on trial here is not the Internet itself, but the degree to which mainstream journalists demonize the Net, and the usefulness of libel law itself.î

On Jake Baker and Santa Rosa Junior College, cases of freedom of speech on the Net: "In each of these cases are situations in which freedom of speech seems to be on a collision course with the legitimate needs of individuals and of society as a whole. These are two of the toughest cases I know of, because both involve speech that, while protected constitutionally, cannot easily be defended on any other basis. These hard cases are good for us because they test our commitment to the principles upon which we've based our society."

Godwin offers provocative discussions of such topics as forgeries, copyright abuse, pseudonyms, right to privacy, cryptography, and the hidden agendas behind the draft legislation titled the "Electronic Communication Forwarding Act." He predicts that "the central political and social struggle in the next few decades will be over whether we can tolerate a technological framework that puts the full promise of 'freedom of the press' (and a much greater power to ensure communications privacy) into each individual's hands. The dominant threat will be whether governments, acting out of fear of both social instability and their own loss of control, institute repressive measures that limit or destroy the full democratic potential of this new medium."

As both an essential primer on the legal issues of cyberspace, and an insightful call to action to protect our Constitutional rights, CYBER RIGHTS offers the invaluable thoughts and experiences of the online world's reigning freedom fighter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR In addition to having been first staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mike Godwin writes on legal issues for such magazines as Wired, Internet World, Playboy, Reason, and The Whole Earth Review. A much sought-after speaker at universities and at public rallies, he is a Texas native and a graduate of the University of Texas Law School. In 1998 he completed a fellowship at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center in New York City. He now works and lives in the Washington, DC, area.

CYBER RIGHTS: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age Mike Godwin Times Books / Hardcover / $27.50 / ISBN 0-8129-2834-2 Publication date: August 3, 1998