The University of Chicago News Office
August 13, 1996 Press Contact: Sabrina Miller
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Law Professors Taming the Wild, Wild Web

The Internet is giving the world a whole new frontier–and (at least at this point) one that looks as lawless as the Wild West. Now three top cyberspace law scholars have come up with a way to help marshal the World Wide Web.

Larry Lessig, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, David Post, professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, have created a course on cyberspace law issues for nonlawyers. They teach it, of course, through the Internet.

More than 18,500 people around the world have signed up for the free seminar, which started this summer. The professors “teach” the course by sending prepared lessons to all seminar subscribers.

“On-line people are very interested in legal issues, from free speech to copyright, libel and privacy,” Volokh said. “They’re practically interested–everyone wants to know what’s legal for them to do and what’s not–but I think they’re also intellectually interested.

“There are lots of myths floating out there, especially about copyright law. People talk about ‘the poor man’s copyright,’ a supposed three-day copyright on news stories, and other things that just have no basis in reality. We’d like to correct some of these misperceptions.”

Lessig said he wasn’t surprised at the popularity of the idea for a cyberspace law seminar for nonlawyers.

“There is a great demand by people to try to understand issues such as First Amendment freedom and privacy in cyberspace,” Lessig said. “People see that this is not a fad–it’s not the CB radio. They see that there is an impact on a wide range of areas.”

Lessig was the faculty adviser of the symposium this fall titled “Law and Cyberspace,” presented by the University of Chicago Law School Forum. Lessig also participated in the conference, as did Volokh and Post.

The three are among the country’s leading scholars of both constitutional law and cyberspace. Lessig, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, teaches constitutional law and the law of cyberspace. Post practiced computer law for six years, then clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now teaches constitutional law, copyright law and the law of cyberspace. Volokh, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, worked as a computer programmer for 12 years and is still a partner in a software company that sells the software he wrote for the Hewlett-Packard Series 3000. He teaches constitutional law and copyright law.

The course informs participants about the basic principles of copyright law, free-speech law, libel, privacy, contracts and trademark law and how they apply on the Internet.

“This is an exciting venture precisely because the law is so uncertain as applied to cyberspace,” Post said. “The law here is not going to be handed down from on high, but will emerge from a collective sense of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Law is an ongoing collective conversation about core values, and in a small way, this seminar might help to advance that conversation among ‘netizens.’ ”

The faculty members–at their own expense–work together to prepare lessons on each topic. Every few days, class members get a new e-mail. Each “lesson” will be no more than a couple of screens’ worth of text. Previous “classes” are available via the World Wide Web.

Lessig said he thought it was important to offer this class to people outside the law-school world.

“The Net is a really remarkable new medium, and I hope this seminar will show some of its power,” Volokh said. “With luck, more and more people will provide these sorts of educational resources in the future.”

Those interested in finding out more about the course may register by sending e-mail as follows:
Last modified at 11:27 AM CST on Friday, September 12, 2003.

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