Internet Law
by Tom W. Bell

Ch. 02: Introduction


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Table of Contents

Ch.  Subject
01:  Course Management
02:  Introduction
    A.  Origins & Growth
    B.  Legal Views

03:  "Law" Online
04:  Free Speech
05:  Privacy
06:  Trespass to Chattels
07:  Intellectual Property
08:  Encryption
09:  Hacking
10:  Commerce
11:  Jurisdiction
12:  Lawyers Online
13:  Review

Preface to Ch. 02

What is the Internet and why should lawyers care? Does it radically change everything--or at least present a unique set of legal issues? Or does it simply provide a new context for time-tested doctrines? This chapter offers an introduction to the origins, functions, and legal significance of the Internet.


Bell's Class #1: Please read Chapter 01 and this chapter.


A. Origins and Growth of the Internet

Barry M. Leiner, Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. Roberts, Stephen Wolff, A Brief History of the Internet (rev. March. 4, 2002) (skim)

U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales: 1st Quarter 2005, May 20, 2005


  1. For many thousands of word's worth of pictures describing the Internet's evolution, compare this December, 1969 map of ARPANET with these various maps of the current Internet.

  2. Is the Internet more like a phone call, a sovereign country, the open ocean, or a language?

  3. Al Gore took a good deal of criticism for claiming, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Vice President Gore Calls for Continuation of Clinton Administration Policies, CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Tuesday, March 9, 1999, 22:00 p.m. ET (comments of Gore in interview by Blitzer). Was that criticism fair?

  4. "The Internet is subject to market forces, but it didn't start through market forces, it was started by the federal government," said Jenifer Simpson, committee member and manager of technology initiatives at the President's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities. Maria Seminerio, Handicapped Access Hits the Web, ZDNN (Ziff-Davis Net News), Sunday, April 18, 1999 (relating Simpson's defense of the imposition of accessibilty standards on all web sites run by federal government or owned by someone buying from or selling to the federal government). Evaluate the truth of Simpson's claim and its implications.




B. Legal Views of the Internet

American Civil Liberties Union v. Reno (Reno I), 929 F. Supp. 824 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (making findings of fact regarding the Internet) [an alternate source], aff'd, 117 S. Ct. 2329 (1997)

Access Now, Inc. v. Southwest Airlines, Co., 227 F. Supp.2d 1312 (S.D. Fla. 2002) (granting, on grounds that defendant's webpage not a "place of public accomodation," defendant's motion to dismiss claim alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act) [an alternate source (PDF format)]


  1. Reno I proved a watershed in Internet law jurisprudence, for in it the Supreme Court recognized the medium as deserving the fullest protection of the First Amendment. That holding relied crucially on the trial court's detailed findings of fact, reproduced in relevant part above. Although the Internet's fundamental features have not changed since Reno I, it bears reflecting, as you advance through the course, on how the case would have come out were more recent technologies at issue. Note, for instance, that Reno I says nothing of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks or weblogs (blogs).

  2. With the opinion Access Now in mind, reassess the issue presented in note 4 of part A, above.

  3. The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the appeal of the Access Now plaintiffs, though only on the rather unsubstantive grounds that they had so changed their claims as to present the court of appeals with a case wholly different from the one they brought to the district court. Access Now, Inc. v. Southwest Airlines, Co., 385 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2004). For a decision more substantively supporting Access Now, see Noah v. AOL Time Warner, Inc., 261 F. Supp. 2d 532 (E.D. Va. 2003) (ADA does not apply to virtual forums for communication such as chat rooms), affirmed, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 5495 (4th Cir. Va., Mar. 24, 2004).




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(C) 2001-05 Tom W. Bell. All rights reserved. Fully attributed noncommercial use of this document permitted if accompanied by this paragraph. - v.2005.08.23