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Ask Mike Godwin About Internet Law 357

Posted by Roblimo
from the oldest-living-internet-lawyer-tells-all dept.
Mike Godwin is probably best known to Slashdot readers for Godwin's Law, but that's one of the most minor reasons you should know him. In this blurb for his book, CYBER RIGHTS, he's (correctly) described as "one of the first lawyers to 'live and work in cyberspace.'" Naturally, Mike can't give specific legal advice, but he's certainly about as expert as they come about the development of law and legal hassles surrounding the Internet. We'll send him 10 of the highest-moderated questions, and publish his answers as soon as we get them back.
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Ask Mike Godwin About Internet Law

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  • questions... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:47PM (#8569141)
    Is port scanning illegal? Spoofing e-mail addresses?
    • Re:questions... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by alexatrit (689331) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:57PM (#8569260) Homepage
      Most law requires context. Port scanning has plenty of legit purposes. If I port scan my home network, or the network of a system that I own, operate, or maintain - you'd think it would be legal. If not, enter the hazy grey area. Spoofing email addresses can go either way as well, depending on the content and the recipients.
  • Other work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:48PM (#8569150) Homepage
    Do you ever feel that your more recent work has trouble climbing out of the shadow cast by Goodwin's Law? Is there any work you've done that you feel is of greater significance than Goodwin's Law which hasn't received sufficient attention you think it deserves?
    • by artg (24127)
      How many 'o's are there in Godwin ?
      And how many 'o's are there in Goodwin ?

      Can't anyone count past 1 ?

      Another GOdwin.
  • I've heard from time to time (albeit prety sparsely) of companies threatening legal action for using their images on a website/forum/etc.

    Is there any written law that backs it up, or is it just baseless threats?
    • Wouldn't that fall under standard copyright law? If you are using an image I made without my consent thats illegal.
  • Gotta ask (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:48PM (#8569154) Homepage Journal
    Internet piracy, peer-to-peer, 'sharing mp3s'... is there any chance any of this can and will be legal? It just seems like so many geeks want it to be legal, but it requires a lawyer with a good understanding of technology to deliver the odds. So whats it gonna be? Slim to none?
    • Re:Gotta ask (Score:5, Insightful)

      by happyfrogcow (708359) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:56PM (#8569243)
      please.

      You're connecting "piracy", something inherantly illegal by definition, with peer-to-peer. p2p is a technology that can be used for so many different things, that lumping them together is naive.

      so many geeks want what to be legal? piracy? sharing mp3's? p2p? they are 3 separate things, only one of which I care about, as a geek, and that is p2p. Which I don't even use. Once i tried bit torrent to d/l slackware, but it didn't work.

      please, for the sake of reality, don't lump 3 vastly different things into one thing that the general public sees as illegal. p2p != sharing mp3s. p2p != piracy. sharing mp3's is not always even equal to piracy.

      generalizations are like premature optimizations... the root of all evil.
  • IP lawsuit frenzy. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by alexatrit (689331) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:50PM (#8569166) Homepage
    In your experience, have you found most lawsuits involving IP issues to be a waste of time/resources, or possessing merit?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:50PM (#8569168)
    What do you think of the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act of 1997 and do you think it is fair to make not profit motive copyright infringement a criminal offense?
  • My question (Score:5, Funny)

    by MarsDefenseMinister (738128) <dallapieta80@gmail.com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:50PM (#8569176) Homepage Journal
    Don't you think that some of today's Internet laws are suspiciously reminiscent of the laws the Nazis used to have? What? What did I say? Why are you looking at me like that?
    • This is scary... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mykepredko (40154)
      I'm halfway through Len Deighton's "Blitzkrieg" in which he explains Hitler's rise to power and how it was used. I was going to attempt to write a humourous response to the parent, stating that Hitler took away many of the rights of his own citizens, wrongly imprisioned and tried citizens of other countries, manipulated England and France into supporting his attacking other countries when I realized that the parent wasn't all that fallacious.

      We live in scary times,

      myke
      • I'm sick of people comparing our life and times with those under the Nazi Regime. The iherrent implication with all of theses stupid claims is that because there is a small simularity with something that the Nazis did, that the Government will end up Killing 6+ Million of us.

        Seriously, this is Freakin' slashdot. Aren't we supposed to be somewhat intelligent? Basically all of the arguments can be boiled down to the following exagerations. They are obviously exagerations, but they expose the logicall falla
        • joke -- (joek) n.
          1. Something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement, especially an amusing story with a punch line.
          2. A mischievous trick; a prank.
          3. Your penis.
  • by cynicalmoose (720691) <giles.robertson@westminster.org.uk> on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:50PM (#8569178) Homepage
    It has become clear to me that we probably need new IP laws for an age where copying is so easy. The current set were drafted when widespread copying was difficult, and accepted that certain infringements would happen. We can now copy so much so easily, and prevent copying so easily, that I think we should look again at the law, and see whether some small rights should accrue to the user. What's your view on this?
    • and prevent copying so easily

      what are you talking about? give me at least one example on how you would make it impossible for me to copy something.

      everything can be ripped (eg. with dd command) everything can be put on the web for others to download.

      better you would ask how the law should look like, when everyhitng is possible to copy.
  • Fair Use (Score:4, Interesting)

    by onyxruby (118189) * <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:54PM (#8569220)
    How long do you predict it will be before all rights to fair use are vanquished from the Internet?
  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:54PM (#8569221)
    Sedition is defined as speach which advocates the immedate and violent overthrow of the government in a fashion as to provide a clear and present danger, if my memory serves me correctly.
    My question is, would an internet website fall into that catigory, as it does not have the same force as say, Hitler in the Haufbrauhause with like, 2,000 SA going to storm the Bavarian capital building. It does have a wider audience, but due to the decentralized nature I doubt that a website can provide a clear and present danger or immediate action at all. Am I wrong? Does the PATRIOT Act redefine it in such a way as to make it "terrorism?"
  • Personal Usage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pandrijeczko (588093) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:55PM (#8569228)
    Do you have a right to make your own personal copies of media that you have purchased as backups?

    If so, how does this impact the manufacturers of copy protected audio and data CDs?

    If a copy-protected audio or data CD goes faulty, is the manufacturer liable to provide a new copy free of charge? If so, in what time-frame?

    • Re:Personal Usage (Score:5, Interesting)

      by zerocool^ (112121) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:10PM (#8569409) Homepage Journal
      *translation*

      Should BioWare/Atari pay for the new CD Rom I had to buy after upgrading Neverwinter Nights to v1.31, and subsequently making it impossible for my old CD Rom to read the disc because of advanced "SafeDisc"?

      *corollary*

      I own Neverwinter Nights, all 5 glorious discs of it. If, for some reason, my old and/or busted CD Rom refuses to give the executable what it wants because of SafeDisc, is it legal to bypass the "Do you have a legit disc" check? Is it legal to download a crack that does this for you because I can't speak hex?

      (On the Neverwinter Nights message boards, Atari says "no", BioWare says "We can't condone that action, but we're happy you purchased the disc (hint), but you can't link to cracks sites here")

      ~Will
    • by prgrmr (568806) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:12PM (#8569424) Journal
      More to the point, does changing the medium in which content is delivered constitute a derivative work and therefore require a seperate copyright license? E.G., ripping a muic track from a CD to play on a computer, copying a track from a vinyl album to a CD or audio cassette to play in a car, etc.
  • by MntlChaos (602380) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:55PM (#8569230)
    Is deep linking legal?
    What about mirroring? Does the answer change if the site would require you to register before accessing it? Does the answer change if no copyright notice is placed on the page?
  • by windows (452268) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:55PM (#8569231)
    Often, I find my network and servers I use for my small business come under attack by script kiddies. Sometimes it's a DDoS attack, but more often than not, it's just getting hammered by one machine. When I contact the ISP involved, generally one of the large US ISPs, I am told that they will look into it. Nothing ever happens, however, and ISPs are generally unwilling to provide assistance in tracking down attacks. This means my complaint ends up in the circular file. The ISPs are protecting criminals because they don't want to lose business, and I have no way of making sure my complaint doesn't end up lost in this black hole. As an individual representing a small business, what recourse do I have in dealing with ISPs to make sure my complaints are heard and taken seriously?
  • Interoperability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bluGill (862) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:56PM (#8569237)

    The DMCA contains an obscure clause about interoperability, what does this mean? That is could I break encryption to allow DVD player to work, so long as I maintained the spirit of the encryption (not allowing copies)? Can I break the encryption on various games to allow them to run under Wine?

    • Re:Interoperability (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dcgaber (473400)
      I know this might be best for Mike to answer, but to answer your question, probably not. Refer to the recent 321 studios case and deCSS cases. In the Federal deCSS case, the Court held that the IP infringment concerns that CSS mitigates outwieghs any interoperablity functions (i.e. playing a DVD on Linux) served by deCSS. Of course, they could have felt that interoperability was a fluff argument, and the only prupose of deCSS is piracy, but they were pretty explicit in saying the IP concerns outweighed
  • Is there any hope? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by griffjon (14945) <GriffJon&gmail,com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:56PM (#8569249) Homepage Journal
    By the time your daughter grows up, do you think there will be any of our cherished freedoms on the Internet left, or will everything be wrapped in legalese and DRM? With the passage of laws from the DMCA to the PATRIOT act, I've been increasingly pessimistic about the US's ability to pass any sane legislation that interfaces with the Internet...
  • by Viperion (569692) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:57PM (#8569256) Homepage
    Mr. Godwin - Lots of /.ers follow the SCO case, followed the DeCSS, Napster, IP, CIPA, etc. What are some lesser known cases/laws that you forsee as having a large potential impact on 'cyberlaw' as we know it?
  • Internet "Piracy" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by abb3w (696381) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:58PM (#8569272) Journal
    A freind of mine was preaching to the choir (me) about how inappropriate it is that the RIAA is calling mass copyright infringement "piracy", and how it is an inappropriately biased term given the evils of Blackbeard and the like. Since I agreed, but like my rants to be backed up by better facts, I did some research on piracy of the "Argh, me hearties" kind. To my surprise, it almost fits, if you grant that copyright is "property", Cyberspace is a "place outside the jurisdiction of any State", and that mass copyright infringement falls within "act of depredation". (See what the UN has to say [un.org] about the Jolly Roger type stuff.)

    Skimming the web for some history on this, it seems that the idea of the laws against piracy arose slowly to deal with the problem of crimes committed outside of any national jurisdiction. I was wondering if Mike has any thoughts on this parallel, and what it may imply about how cyberlaw may evolve.
    • by pb (1020)
      Sounds good to me. Now all you have to do is convince governments that they can't tax online purchases, and the like...
  • by SuperChuck69 (702300) on Monday March 15, 2004 @12:59PM (#8569279)
    Has there been any challenge to a copyright holder's ability to deny publication in a given format?

    A print example is an author's refusal to allow translation of a book to a given language.
    A more digital example is Lucas' refusal to release the original Star Wars movies on DVD.

    It seems to me that the copyright system is designed to allow the copyright holder to receive compensation for his art, but that this system is being abused by not allowing publication in a given format.

    This has obvious implications, also, in the world of digital music.

  • Evolution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SamBC (600988) <s.barnett-cormack@lancaster.ac.uk> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:00PM (#8569296)
    As a legal professional, how do you see the evolution of the laws surrounding the internet progressing? We have heard much talk of losing our online liberties - what do you think the real threats to a reasonable internet are?
  • Same Question.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Catiline (186878) <akrumbach@gmail.com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:00PM (#8569301) Homepage Journal
    If I may, I would like to ask you the same basic question [slashdot.org] I asked of Lawrence Lessig three years ago: what form do you think that copyright law (and licencing) should take on the Internet?
    • Re:Same Question.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jerf (17166)
      I'm not Godwin, but I wrote an essay [jerf.org] on that topic, which requires branching out a lot. (Which is to say, it isn't always 100% about copyright law all the time, but it's always related.)

      It's easy to be against something, it's a lot harder to come up with something you're for, and I felt I had to do that before I could feel good about opining on this topic.

      Summary version: It can't be summarized well, because you pretty much have to toss out copyright as you know it and start from nearly scratch. Even thin [jerf.org]
  • How far do you think that the internet will be responsible for creating a de-facto international legal system? Property rights, shared criminal databases, shared economic systems,... it seems that the influence of TCP/IP packets has no limits on our society. Will we one day see a world government to enforce international law? And lastly, will this be the US?
  • ISPs vs. FBI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fstcc (703087) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:01PM (#8569309)
    Several years ago the company I work for was the target of a denial of service attack. We contacted the FBI and, after an hour of deliberation, in not so many words they said there really wasn't much they could do. Our ISP was actually much more helpful, both legally and technically, than the FBI. Basically, as I understood the situation, they won't lift a finger unless you can prove $5,000 in damage was caused. The damages were easy to account for, but even then it seemed like they had very little power. I know most internet crimes involve violation of FCC regulations, making them federal issues, but does the FBI have any more power now than they did 3 years ago on this particular issue? If so, is the Patriot Act the source of additional power?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:02PM (#8569325)
    Copyright law in individual countries is usually relatively clear. However, the interactions of the copyright laws of different jurisdictions are often a legal minefield.

    What is the best general rule for dealing with 'odd' copyright lengths such as Crown copyright, 50 years from date of publication in general, in countries like the US which have not adopted the Berne Convention rule of shorter term?
  • Internet Pollution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iplayfast (166447) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:02PM (#8569326)
    It seems to me that most (if not all) spaming and advertising done on the Internet is simply polluting the lines of communication. Like any pollution, it reduces the stuff you want, by increasing the ratio of stuff you don't want, thereby making the whole environment unusable.

    Is it possible that this view can be used in any legal way to go after Internet polluters?

  • Legality of... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by abscondment (672321) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:03PM (#8569334) Homepage
    What's the legality of An Anti-DoS Tool That Returns Fire [slashdot.org]? It sounds pretty vigilante to me, but what sort of laws would be applicable to it?
  • by Bravo_Two_Zero (516479) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:03PM (#8569337)
    Do you see any municipalities or counties taking advantage of the internet in terms of embracing the benefits of online court calendaring and legal notices? And, are there real prospects of that supplanting the print legal organs that have grown up around the "public notices" industry?

    We all know it's possible, but I'm curious to know if anyone is doing it effectively and if there are judges who have a comfort level that allows them to accept a move from paper-based notification.
  • by MrIrwin (761231) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:04PM (#8569354) Journal
    I have always considered comments that are said on newsgroups and forums to be personal opinions of the sort one might overhear in a bar, so if you say "Apple nicked all thier ideas from PARC" you would not suddenly expect a summons from Apples legal department.

    On the contary, if a site passes itself as an "eNewspaper" site, an eMag or whatever, and it publishes mistruths, then I would expect it to be sued as any pulp publication would be.

    Are there any legal precedents or specific laws on this?

  • by NewbieV (568310) * <.victor.abrahams ... .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:05PM (#8569363)

    Different countries/governments/political systems have different laws concerning freedom of expression, privacy, property rights, etc.

    How can it be possible to create one set of rules that can apply to all nations with regards to Internet access?

  • by MagicDude (727944) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:07PM (#8569376)
    I have a question about the recent litigation by the RIAA against a handful of university students for running supposedly illegal P2P services. I'm a student at Rensselaer, so I'm more familiar with the service that was being run there, but as far as I figure it was the same deal at all the other universities as well. At RPI, the Phynd server searched all the computers that were sharing files on the network and indexed them so you could do a keyword search for files, similar to the way google works. From what I read of the case, the major point in the case was that the RIAA said that the service provided illegal access to copyrighted material because you could use the service to directly download material, via a hyperlink in the search results window; even though the service and the files were restricted only to students at Rensselaer. My question is how would their case have changed if all the service returned was just the address of the computer hosting the files? Thus after a person ran a search and decided on his own to manually type the address of the hosting computer to access it, would the owners of the phynd server have been held accountable since it would have been the miscosoft transfer protocols transfering the files. This seemed to be the big point in going after the students that it was their program that was directly facilitating the illegal downloads, and it seems like if the service merely indexed the files without providing direct access the case would have been significantly weakened.
  • what is the point? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NorwBlue (711956) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:07PM (#8569385)
    Q: Can You see any way the net can be regulated? I have read the other suggestions/queries here and quite frankly it seems that most people(american that is) just dont understand that the net is global. How can we make a set of rules that all users of the net is forced to follow? Do we really want to?
  • DMCA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeBaldwin (727345) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:07PM (#8569390) Homepage Journal
    Do you see the DMCA as a law that can truly benefit the world as a whole, or just a tool of the big corporations (MPAA, I'm looking at you) or whatever?
  • by School_HK (757129) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:08PM (#8569395)
    Do you think that software patents, like those talked in slashdot, are very hard to get rid of?
    Especially to open-source developers?
  • Battle of the giants (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beacher (82033) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:09PM (#8569400) Homepage
    Sometimes I feel that eventually MS and IBM will come to legal blows (more than likely due to SCO being a puppet of MS) - Do you think that this will eventually happen, and if so, who do you feel will win based on a) legal prowess and b) technology patents.
    Also, what's your take on the SCO brouhaha?
  • Future Lawyers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fros1y (179059) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:11PM (#8569421)

    As a computer science student graduating college and hoping to head to law school, I wonder if you have any particular advice about wha training, if any, will help to prepare me for "cyber-law". Many schools seem to have programs focusing on this aspect of the law, but I've often thought that the generalist approach to a field yielded better results.

    Are there any experiences you'd advise a young prospective attorney interested in this field to seek out?

  • by medication (91890) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:12PM (#8569427) Journal
    While I find spam as annoying as the next person, I'm more interested in the legal status of spyware. What are the rights of the individual when he visits a site? What rights to the individual's machine does the site have? Is permanently altering a user's browser a legal operation? What constitutes permission with regard to this type of manipulation?
  • by TerryAtWork (598364) <research@aceretail.com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:12PM (#8569435)
    If not, why do you suppose they don't do it?
  • Making DVD Copies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iammrjvo (597745) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:13PM (#8569442) Homepage Journal

    Is it legal to make and edit copies of commercial DVDs for personal use? What about loaning out the edited copies to friends?
  • by aphor (99965) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:15PM (#8569458) Journal

    It used to be hard to make intellectual property that was compelling enough to justify the enormous cost of distribution. Since the distribution costs and production costs forced each other up, there was a lot of sunk-cost to deal with before any customers even had the option of paying for the product. Now, distribution costs are so low that you can do as little or as much production as you want, and you can distribute it nearly for free if you use peer-to-peer distribution networks. Software like Apple's iLife suite lowers the ante on production costs to within reach of nearly any high school or college student, let alone professionals moonlighting as film or recording artists.

    Maybe most of the product will not be that good, but there is still no reason to involve the massive and massive expense of a full-blown 1980s style music or film production. For example, people routinely pay for concert tickets (guaranteed delivery) of a performance--sight unseen. If too few tickets are sold, the show is cancelled, and the ticket holders are refunded. Why not sell download tickets for yet unfinished films and albums? Then the fan base can directly fund proven popular artists' productions.

    I recognise that some artists and a lot of middlemen enjoy lots of residual income from past production work. Why is it so hard to recognise that this is not the only way to pay artists for their work, and there may be better ways if we think about it? The way I see it, copyrights only protect residual income, which pays artists and middlemen to NOT produce new material. Why do people think this is good?

  • by jdunlevy (187745) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:16PM (#8569463) Homepage
    Why is it that there "have to be" laws specific to the internet? If a spammer sends an e-mail using forged headers, why doesn't the law go after him (or her) with good old-fashioned anti-fraud laws? Does the main failing of these kinds of old laws lie in ingorance that makes law enforcement unable or unwilling to enforce the laws without further clarification, or is something else going on here?
  • by sys49152 (100346) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:19PM (#8569495)
    It seems that the best way to influence legislation is to buy yourself a government official. Based on your experience can you ballpark how much the following type of decision makers cost (in USD)?
    1. President
    2. Cabinet Member
    3. Other Executive Branch Member
    4. Supreme Court Justice
    5. Circuit Court Judge
    6. State's Attorney General
    7. Senator
    8. Congressman
    9. Governor
    10. Mayor
    11. Local Councilman
    12. Cop
    13. IT Administrator
  • sharing your book (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stallmanite (752733) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:19PM (#8569501) Homepage
    How do you feel about people sharing your book?
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:21PM (#8569508) Homepage Journal
    Do you feel that one should have to make their (human) name and street public information to receive a domain name? It is perfectly possible to keep such information private except to law enforcement under request. The debators on both sides seem to see it as an all or nothing situation: open to everybody or open to nobody.

    For that matter, what are the legal barriers against having a single "recipient number" for all types of communication so that one can move and still keep the same number? Email, phone, paper mail, etc. can then be redirected to such a number, and internal lookup tables would supply physical locations or addresses for final delivery. But to senders or callers, it is just one stable number.
  • Copyright (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JimDabell (42870) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:22PM (#8569518) Homepage

    Do you think that the widespread use of the Internet and practical anonymity will force copyright back into its original, more reasonable form of limited restrictions on copying as business models adapt to the unenforcability of existing law? Or do you think it will force law the other way, to ever-more draconian measures that can't be enforced effectively without making examples of people?

    Do you think a new form of Intellectual Property will arise that is based around creators' rights to control their work that goes beyond mere copying and into the realm of restrictions on use? Or have we already gotten to that point?

    Are EULAs legal? If they aren't now, will they ever be?

    What would you suggest people in countries do to avoid capitulating to the USA and adopting its twisted notion of copyright? It's not always practical to "just say no" to the USA.

  • by Vexware (720793) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:30PM (#8569588) Homepage

    I have written some software and have decided to distribute it under the GNU General Public License. I then find out some established/incorporated company has modified the software without redistributing their modified version freely, that they are making a profit out of the modified undistributed version, or that they are redistributing the software without pointing out that what they are giving is not the original version of the software. What exactly are my rights? Is it worth taking the company to court, or is this too risky? To come to the point, is the GPL actually a licence which has some value in the courts of justice?

    • If this case is not hypothetical, it is a serious matter, and you should do one or more of the following:

      1) Contact a lawyer. Have him/her write a Cease and Desist order to $company. Contemplate further legal action against $company for copyright violation. You may also be able to hit them with something akin to "profitting from stolen goods". IANAL.

      2) Contact the FSF. They've dealt with these matters before. Bradley Kuhn and Eben Moglen will talk to you over email, phone, and in person. There are good gu
  • by eibhear (307877) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:31PM (#8569595) Homepage
    Quite often we hear a legislator (both in the US and Ireland, where I live) tell us about the next best legal scheme to handle the scourges of spam or child pornography. Nearly always their assumptions about how the internet works are so off-base that it's difficult to see where they are coming from. The most common failure in their thinking, of course, is the notion that the internet can be regulated like a utility (e.g. electricity, 'phone communications).
    What do you think is the best means to educate legislators and their advisors on how the internet actually works?

    Eibhear
  • Groklaw (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robslimo (587196) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:32PM (#8569601) Homepage Journal
    What effects, positive or negative, do you think sites like the popular Groklaw [groklaw.net] have/will have on corporate technology litigation? Do lawyers pay any attention to the research and opinions of amateurs and the general public?
  • Global Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by superpulpsicle (533373) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:33PM (#8569617)
    How do you plan on managing laws and constitutions that stretch beyond U.S territories.

    If the Internet started with the U.S and expanded to some parts of Antarctica. U.S. rules are probably useless once it gets to the new continent.

    Vice versa if someone in Antarctica created a P2P application and it became extremely popular in the U.S. U.S lawyers probably can never get a grip on it.

    Isn't geography the greatest challenge out there for any lawyers. In fact it's so difficult to deal with it's rendering the law useless.
  • Corporate cave-ins (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:39PM (#8569666) Homepage Journal
    I am currently in tepid water. A police officer who has no jurisdiction whatsoever where I live is currently investigating me for allegedly promoting violence against a particular spammer and criminal proxy-abuser (proxy hijacking is specifically a crime here).

    That police officer has repeatedly attempted to contact me (as a rule, I never volunteer any information to law enforcement), and has gone so far as to obtain some personal information about me. Turns-out that the ISP caved-in to his demands and provided some information about me, in clear violation of legal procedure and current privacy laws.

    This is no different from a cracker obtaining passwords/access through social engineering.

    Furthermore, the officer has repeatedly attempted to have me contact him tough threatening e-mail messages.

    My question is: should there be stiff penalties towards law-enforcement officers who manage to illegally and without due process of law get information about ISP subscribers, especially if they are well outside their police department jurisdiction?

  • Parody sites (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adzoox (615327) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:43PM (#8569718) Journal
    Do parody sites have to have disclaimers? If they don't are they considered libel. I just did a story on my website about Landover Baptist ( a proclaimed parody site ) but they have another site called Christian Objective that is ALSO a parody with no mention whatsoever of being such. The second site is to create enough controversy to make one curious to visit Landover Baptist.

    My article [adzoox.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#8569736)
    Based on downloads of MythTV I would guestimate there are somewhere around 25,000 people who are screen-scaping copyrighted tv-listings information off of various web sites around the world. These web sites offer public access, and do not require you to view any sort of legal agreement - though I have heard there is a legal agreement on their websites somewhere...

    My question is: Would it be legal to screen-scrape and use this copyrighted information for personal use if there were "terms of service" documents on the website that explicitly forbid this behaviour?
  • Free Tommy Chong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by A55M0NKEY (554964) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#8569747) Homepage Journal
    Tommy Chong is in jail for selling water-pipes over the Internet. I can go a couple miles from here to the local head shop ( which happens to be across the street from the police station ) and pick up a bong legally.

    Before his arrest, I would have just ASSUMED selling bongs over the Internet was legal. What is the best way for an entrepreneur ( like an individual selling something on eBay ) to avoid tripping over any stupid and obscure laws?

  • Debating Skills (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rick.C (626083) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:52PM (#8569842)
    What is your take on the premise that "in a new legal area where there are few precedents, cases tend to be decided based on the debating skills of the opposing attorneys"?

    Is this a reasonable assertion? Has this been the case when new technology has appeared in the past?

    If so, then most importantly: in your opinion, is this a "Good Thing"?
    Thanks, Rick.C
  • by Stomple (746339) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:01PM (#8569934)
    How does jurisdiction and internet law work? For example, spammers in other countries, e-mailing into the US, how do the US courts and hosting country's courts work out this issue? On the other hand, if someone in the US were to post something on a web host based in a country with limited speech laws that angered the local political party, would that person have to worry about being summoned by a foreign court?
  • by LittleGuy (267282) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:14PM (#8570103)
    What current subject(s) do you see having the same probability & impact as invoking the original Godwin's Law in on-line discussions?
  • by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:15PM (#8570104)
    It is obviously against copyright law for me to make available copies of a copyrighted work on a website. However I cannot point out a law which makes downloading from such a website illegal.

    Can you?

    Clicking a link may cause someone's webserver to produce a copy of a copyrighted work and distribute it to me, I agree, but have -I- just violated copyright law?
  • by CarrionBird (589738) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:18PM (#8570135) Journal
    Is there any hope for reverse engineering in the new "IP friendly" future?

    Do you think that Compaq would have been able to do what they did with the PC clone in todays environment? What does that say about the future of research and development?

  • by LinuxParanoid (64467) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:19PM (#8570155) Homepage Journal
    My question is this: Has it been decided by any courts or legislation whether domain names are property, or merely a contractual service? Particularly as this pertains to bankruptcy law?

    I'm interested in a domain name, but it seems to be in legal limbo and I'd be interested in understanding the principles involved.

    Backround:
    The company that holds the domain name filed for bankruptcy about 2 months after domain name was first requested. This was back in 1998. There is no evidence that the company ever used the domain name (e.g. internet archive, trademark registration, etc). The company was trying to restructure and then filed to liquidate back in 2000.

    I looked up the court docket for the bankruptcy case but it looks like there have been no judicial or trustee actions for ~3 years.

    However, the domain name, which appears to be in some sort of Registrar Lock and also a Legal Lock at Network Solutions, appears to be renewing at 1-year intervals somehow.

    There are two other sub-questions that this scenario raises that I presume you don't have time to answer but I'll mention them in case someone else knows:
    1) Does a bankruptcy trustee typically have the ability to renew contracts such as that for a domain name?
    2) What sort of court papers would signal to a registrar that the entity registering the name has been bankrupt and the name should be removed from whatever legal lock and auto-renewal process is in place? (We've tried faxing stuff to their legal department but it seems to go into a black hole and we don't really know what should be sent.)

    --LP
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:23PM (#8570197)
    Hi,

    So we've all read the interview (or, more likely, the headline describing the interview) on groklaw with Mike Anderer, the SCO insider and then consultant, who said that over the next 10 years, Microsoft and possibly other enemies of open source software are going to attempt to shut down open source software. Since they don't have valid trade secret or copyright claims, software patents are going to be the weapon of choice, and we also all know about the very low quality of software patents in general, due to overworked patent examiners, poor-quality patent submissions that are intentionally ignorant of prior art in the area, and perhaps an unfamiliarity with the history of software on the part of the examiners.

    Taken together, this sounds pretty bad for the open source community. The targets of such lawsuits will be the companies using Linux who have the deepest pockets, and if it seems likely there will be 25 legal attacks a year, the obvious business choice to minimize risk is to forget about GNU/Linux, and go with Windows. Alternatively, the developers themselves (and distributors) might be sued, and presumably they would fold immediately due to the lack of an ample supply of patent lawyers willing to work pro bono.

    Do you see this as a strong risk to the open source movement, and what can we do about it?
  • by dallask (320655) <`codeninja' `at' `gmail.com'> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:26PM (#8570238) Homepage
    While wardriving one day I happened to stumble onto an open wireless network for a lawyer, a doctor, and a securities trading firm in the same parking lot. All networks were open and C drives for many computers were shared. I connected to the networks for the doctor and checked my email. I connected to the lawyer's office and plundered around in their shared drives and copied a folder called Client Files onto my computer. And I connected to the securities firm and started up a packet monitor for an hour to capture and analyze their network traffic. This information reveled several bank account numbers, email usernames and passwords, and sensitive customer information.

    All 3 networks had no encryption in place and no passwords were cracked to access any of the data.

    How many, and which laws, have I broken?
  • by iamsure (66666) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:28PM (#8570270) Homepage
    There have been many precedents about fair usage of graphics, images, and the like. However, for places like online forums where users want Avatars (small 50x50 pixel images), I find the case law is unclear.

    There are several cases that say that recognizable images (Spiderman, Anime, etc) are all NOT okay to use - but there are also some cases that say that depending on the size and the usage, it may be okay.

    So, what is your opinion (not legal advice) about what would and would not be legal in terms of Avatars on forums, and also for graphics in general on the net.
  • Professions in Logic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:36PM (#8570366)
    Both programmers and lawyers deal with logic as their bread and butter. But law relies on a vague language (English), an obscure syntax (18th century customs), and bases it's procedures and algorithms on an foundation that's very volatile, hard to track, and subject to forking with almost each ruling.

    Computer professionals had to deal with trying to figure out reliable ways to deal with similar problems even when it wasn't in their power to change things. The waterfall development models of the sixites, and the trial-and-error bumbling of the hobbyists have developed some workable procedures (extreme programming, pragmatic programming, etc) that have made the computer world accessible and observable to all who want to participate.

    I don't see the legal community even wanting to pursue such ideas. A senator introducing a bill into congress can offer all sorts of flowery comments to his "legal code", but it's the code that matters and affects people once codified into law. So much irrelevant crap gets worked into law each year on the state and federal level by being hidden in other work, it's depressing. When a court writes a verdict to set a legal precedent, all hell seems to break loose. It's like you have been told that the memory management routines in the standard C library are deprecated and you're left wondering whether that impacts your string library.

    I know that English stinks as a language for expressing logic, but why can't lawyers depend on something English-like such as Lisp, Scheme, Prolog, or a special legal dialect that could be reduced to clear answers and effects. Lawmakers and judges could continue to write English comments with flowery and awe-inspiring prose, but their code would be clear what the result of this change would be. Imagine the Supreme Court running their rulings through regression tests before they are released so that they can fully understand the impact the changes will have. The results may still be ground-breaking but at least such tests would ensure that there are no unexpected results and loopholes created by a sloppy ruling.

    Of course, this is an absurd idea. But it's even more absurd that the governed allow politicians, lawyers, and judges to play so fast and loose with the rules that govern their own lives. Is it a matter of power having corrupted those in charge? The legal community has all sorts of institutions to preserve their power ("passing the bar", etc).

    Is it just that only recently have the techniques and ability to deal with such a huge system become available? I could be wrong, but wasn't it Blaise Pascal who dreamed of a time when courts could be run with the logic of algebra? Today we machines that can hold the volumous data from the legal world. Our understanding of logic and (more importantly) the consequences of making exceptions are much better understood. Artificial Intelligence tools do exactly this sort of logical "if this then this" sort of reasoning that humans are so bad at doing when we really don't want to come to the logical conclusion.

    These days, the debate over gay marriage for example gives me the willies with overzealous lawmakers spreading diatribes about their legal changes to the definition of marriage. Of course CNN would never carry the actual patches, but if I could go to a website and see for myself different positions. Group A was arguing to simply remove definition of husband and wife as male and female. Group B was coding a subclass of marriage called gay_union. And Group C was making changes to define marriage as a couple capable of producing offspring. Regression tests may tell us more about their intents than their 30 second commercial spots. Group B's gay_union subclass might not hold up as constitutionally valid as marriage and would be subject to court challenge. Group C's fertility requirement might keep certain old or infertile heterosexual couples from getting married. While Group A's dropping the gender definition might make for some funny changes to a 1913 New York subway law th
  • by alexborges (313924) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:48PM (#8570511)
    Why isnt the trend in cyber law to simply apply 'real world' law to cyberspace?

    I mean, if i buy a hammer i can use it to break windows or heads or babies backbones (humour noir), nevertheless it is not illegal to own, buy, invent, sell or use a hammer in any legal way.

    Why is it that in the internet it has been so hard to grasp for lawyers, judges and (worst of the cesspool) lawmakers that software gadgets need not be different at all from hardware gadgets.

    Compare hammer to a portscanner or an active hacking tool (an exploit) ... it has legitimate uses, sucha as testing my own network, even testing someone else network may be fair use in some cases (if im checking to see if a peer has been hacked to determine if they are foe or just a hacked victim that needs a phone call to let them know).

    I mean, just to finish the argument. People in the US can buy an m16 over the counter at wallmart for christ sakes....and lawmakers want to make a different set of law for cyberspace (DMCA for example)?

    Why? Why is the current state of afairs not inconstitutional by US law?

  • 'Free'est nation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EvilAlien (133134) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:02PM (#8570657) Journal
    What nation has the 'free'est legislative environment?

    i.e., Where do you feel the rights and freedoms of individuals are best protected and/or recognized in law?

    i.e.2., Is the USA still the "land of the free", or should that title be bestowed upon Canada, the EU, or foo?

  • by camusflage (65105) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:13PM (#8570773)
    Mike:
    As privacy advocates, what can we do to impress the importance of privacy without coming off as tinfoil-hatted whack jobs?

    An example was a presentation I prepared for co-workers a while back regarding grocery store "loyalty" cards. In it, even after detailing the California case of a store that in a slip and fall case in their store, tried to introduce the customer's purchases, tracked via a card, saying he may have been drunk at the time because of frequent alcohol purchases. Afterwards, I was hit with several questions about being paranoid. I used the standard "this is why we have envelopes and blinds instead of postcards and open windows" argument, and while most seemed to understand, some were obviously unimpressed. What can we do to convince people of the need for privacy without being over the top?
  • by brlewis (214632) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:15PM (#8570794) Homepage

    In 1981, computer programs were nonstatutory subject matter for patents. The US Supreme Court reiterated this in Diamond v. Dieher, but clarified that when you use software somewhere in a process, "the process as a whole does not thereby become unpatentable subject matter."

    Today, with no change of law, we see software patents all over the place? What happened? I don't think it can just be re-wording of patents to make them sound like part of a system. The Diehr opinion had a whole section (IV) for the express purpose of heading such things off. "To hold otherwise would allow a competent draftsman to evade the recognized limitations on the type of subject matter eligible for patent protection."

    So where did all these software patents come from?

  • SPAM Law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stini (469626) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:56PM (#8571163)
    I have always wondered why, when considering new spam legislation, they do not target the ultimate benefactor of SPAM. SPAM in my mind, is nothing but an advertisement for a product or service. For SPAM to be effective (which it must be, seeing how prolific it continues to be) money must exchange hand and contact information must be provided in some manner. Why not just follow the money, see where it lands and prosecute?

    Before the flame, let me acknowledge the opportunity to target legitimate business by sending spam on behalf of a company without their knowledge to put the business in legal peril.

    Don't go after the dealer, go after the supplier.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:46PM (#8571799) Homepage
    Do you believe networks similar to Freenet will be considered illegal? Without going through the entire tech details, just assume the following properties:

    1) Each peer reserves some space on their HDD
    2) The peer has no knowledge or control of the contents, which are all encrypted.
    3) It's impossible (for the legal question) to
    a) Determine who inserted information into the network
    b) Determine who requested information from the network
    c) Determine who provided information on the network

    The only reasonable thing you can prove, is that one peer was the last proxy - it routed the information to you. It does not know the contents, and it only did so on your node's request.

    Do you think such a network, should it grow popular, would be outlawed? And if so, how?

    Kjella
  • by PotatoHead (12771) * <doug.opengeek@org> on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:20PM (#8572196) Homepage Journal
    related to software and user rights?

    Some examples:

    I install a program that claims to do 'X', but it actually does 'X' and or 'Y'.

    I chose to remove a program from my system, yet parts of it remain.

    Installation of one program depends on or triggers the installation of another one. The terms and conditions for the secondary, but required, software are not acceptable though the terms and conditions on the primary software are. Should I be able to return the package to its point of origin even though it has been opened?

    In case the above is not really clear, my real question lies here:

    When the Founders put America together they had some reasonable expectations as to how a free, fair and open society should run. Given this expectation, they were able to provide a framework to guide and foster development that benefit everyone. (This is a little out of balance today, but overall the idea is sound.)

    Fast forward to today. Most people have reasonable expectations as to how their software should work for them, but are growing increasingly frustrated with increasingly aggressive software being produced and sold without a solid framework to maintain order.

    If you take digital devices out of the discussion, for a moment, our current balance of law and freedom mostly works. People have the means to understand what they can and cannot do. There are reasonable protections for those that need them as well.

    Instead of hashing out every issue in the courts, where the general public will end up at a clear disadvantage, shouldn't we be working hard to define and frame core issues and build from there?

    I'm thinking of a cyber citizens bill of rights, where the right expectations can be set. Given those expectations, wouldn't our existing body of law largely handle most of the issues at hand today?

    ( Wishing to slow the great cyber land-grab long enough to see just what we really are losing.)

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