Internet Law
by Tom W. Bell

Ch. 03: "Law" Online


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Table of Contents

Ch.  Subject
01:  Course Management
02:  Introduction
03:  "Law" Online
    A.  Local Control
    B.  Global Control
    C.  Coercive Control?

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

A. Local Control: Life Among the Netizens

Julian Dibble, A Rape in Cyberspace, The Village Voice, 12/21/93, pp. 36-42 (1993) (an early and insightful examination of the sociology and governance of a relatively small internet community) [an alternate source]

S. Hambridge, Network Working Group RFC # 1855: Netiquette Guidelines (October 1995) (skim)

Chapman University Computer and Network Acceptable Use Policy (June 1, 2000)


  1. Assuming you don't already think there are, do you think there should be real world laws forbidding the virtual crime described in Dibble's article? Why or why not?

  2. Assess the legal weight of the various rules described in today's reading. Whom, if anyone, do they bind? What, if anything, follows from violating them?

  3. Does Chapman University's Acceptable Use Policy ("AUP") cover this webpage? Does it cover our use of this webpage in class? Does it cover your use of the law school's computer lab? Had you read that AUP prior to this assignment? What does your notice--or lack of it--imply?

  4. Compare Chapman's AUP with the Earthlink Acceptable Use Policy, which Chapman's AUP incorporates by reference. In particular, consider the potential impact of paragraph j of Mindspring's AUP on academic research.

  5. In addition to informal social sanctions and rules adopted by private entities, the internet also offers sophisticated and formal alternate dispute resolution mechanisms. For an interesting and apparently popular one, see SquareTrade.


Bell's Class #2: Please read Ch. 03.A.


B. Global Control: Battle of the Acronyms

The Internet Society (ISOC) is an international organization for global cooperation and coordination for the internet and its internetworking technologies and applications. Any interested person may, for a modest fee, join the ISOC.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a large and open international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers interested in the evolution of the internet's architecture its continued smooth operation. Any interested person may join the IETF.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit corporation formed to oversee some of the internet technical management functions formerly managed by or through the U.S. Government, such as coordinating the assignment of protocol parameters, managing domain name and root server systems, and allocating IP address space. From February 25 to July 31, 2000, it offered at-large memberships at no charge. It currently does not accept new at-large members.

The World Wide Web Consortium is an international organization that develops protocols for the World Wide Web. Only dues-paying organizations may join the W3C.


  1. Of the organizations listed above, ICANN rates as the most recent and by far the most controversial. For a critical view of ICANN, visit For information about a competitor to ICANN, see the homepage of, which offers various alternatives to ICANN-authorized upper-level domain names.

  2. Why do you suppose that the IETF's homepage links to the ISOC and the IANA--but not to ICANN? Or that ISOC similarly includes, in the related organizations listed on its homepage, the IETF but not ICANN? Note that these organizations do have ties; ICANN lists the IETF as one of the organizations that created its Protocol Supporting Organization, for instance.

  3. How much of a voice (a "vote," if you will) does the average, individual internet user (or "netizen") have in these or other organizations that affect the internet's global architecture? Compare the influence of a well-known network engineer, or of a large telecommunications or software corporation, or of a high-ranking bureaucrat at a national or international government organization.

Useful Resources and Optional Reading

  • The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was originally responsible for the oversight of IP address allocation, the coordination of the assignment of protocol parameters provided for in internet technical standards, and the management of the DNS. In 2000, it transferred to ICANN authority to manage registration of the .COM, .NET, and .ORG generic top-level domains (gTLDs).

  • The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides a forum through which state and private sector organizations coordinate global telecom networks and services.


Bell's Class #3: Familiarize yourself with the origins and missions of the institutions listed in Ch. 03.B, as well as their relationships. Also, read Ch. 03.C.


C. Coercive Control?

Yahoo! Inc. v. LICRA, 169 F.Supp. 2d 1181 (N.D. Cal. 2001) (granting summary judgement to plaintiff) [an alternate source (PDF format)]

Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, ch. 17 (1999) (arguing for a view of regulation that includes code-driven efforts of private parties)


  1. Following the distrct court decision we read above in Yahoo! Inc. v. LICRA, LICRA appealed to the Ninth Circuit and won a reversal; see 379 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2004). Therein, the three judge panel held that the district court had lacked personal jurisdiction over the French defendants. The Ninth Circuit vacated that decision, however, and announced plans to rehear the case en banc, at 399 F.3d 1010 (9th Cir. 2005)

  2. Recall that the court in Reno I, at ¶¶ 117-19, found it legally significant that internet communications pass over national boundaries with very few constraints. That may have changed, however. Yahoo!, Inc. admitted in its Complaint, at ¶ 28, that roughly 70% of the time it can identify users who access its web site from France--so long as they do not try to conceal that information. What do you suppose has driven the trend toward improving the indentification of internet users' geographic location? What do you predict will result if that trend continues to its limit?

  3. Theorists such as Friedrich A. Hayek have described spontaneous orders--like languages and markets--as the result of human action but not of human design. To what extent does that same description apply to the internet and, to the extent that it does, what does that tell us about regulating the internet?

  4. The English language arguably shapes our verbal world at least as much as computer codes shape the virtual one (a point made in Post's commentary on Lessig, cited below). What, if anything, do you think Lessig would propose we do to keep the "code" of English from subverting our freedom?

Useful Resources and Optional Reading


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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