Internet Law

Internet Law in the United States

PATRICIA L. BELLIA ET. AL. in “CYBERLAW: PROBLEMS OF POLICY AND JURISPRUDENCE IN THE INFORMATION AGE (3d ed. 2007), notes that the Internet transforms basic assumptions about the nature of communication, knowledge, invention, information, sovereignty, identity, and community.

Lawrence Lessig, in the article “The Law of the Horse, What Cyberlaw Might Teach (113 HARV. L. REV. 501 (1999)), explains that the Internet provides a prism to understand the interconnections between law, markets, code, and cyberspace.

Professor Lawrence Lessig wrote that Internet law represents an entirely new paradigm and way of thinking about intellectual property, privacy, and private regulation. He explains how cyberspace raises new challenges in regulating pornography not found in the bricks-and-mortar world.

Lessig notes how difficult it is for websites to distinguish adults from children— not an issue outside of cyberspace. The Internet is a unique legal space because its “anonymity and multijurisdictionality . . . makes control by government in cyberspace impossible. The nature of the space makes behavior there unregulable.”


The architecture of Internet law began to shape the path of the law in the early 1990s. The first court decision in which a court mentioned “the Internet” in an opinion was in 1991 (United States v. Morris, 928 F.2d 504, 505 (2d Cir. 1991)), upholding the conviction of a computer science graduate student under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That same year, a computer hacker was convicted for gaining unauthorized access to BellSouth’s 911 computer files and publishing this proprietary information in a hackers’ newsletter (United States v. Riggs, 743 F. Supp. 556, 558–59 (N.D. Ill. 1990)), upholding the court a federal wire fraud indictment against computer hackers.

The first case in which an online service provider was sued for Internet-related defamatory statements was decided in 1991. In Cubby, Inc. v. CompuServe, Inc. (776 F. Supp. 135 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)), a federal district court held an online service provider was not liable for defamatory postings made by a subscriber because it was classified as a distributor rather than a publisher. The court compared the Internet Service Provider’s role to that of a newsstand or bookstore, finding that it was not a publisher for purposes of the law of defamation. This case is a landmark because it represents the first time a court stretched defamation law developed for printed copies to Internet
publications. (1)

In 1993, a Florida federal district court became the first to find a computer bulletin board liable for copyright and trademark infringement, in Playboy Enters., Inc. v. Frena (839 F. Supp. 1552, 1562 (M.D. Fla. 1993)). The defendant displayed Playboy’s copyrighted photographs on its website without permission.

That same year, a court ruled that a software program made infringing copies on the computer’s random access memory (RAM) each time it was installed. (MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 518 (9th Cir. 1993), abrogated by eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006))

In 1995, Senator J. James Exon of Nebraska introduced the Communications Decency Act (CDA) (Cass R. Sunstein, Constitutional Caution, 1996 U. CHI. LEGAL F. 361, 375 n. 16 (1996)). Publisher liability is a principle of the law of defamation where the publisher has the same liability has an original author. Section 230 of the CDA has evolved to address the immunities of service providers for every conceivable tort, far beyond publisher liability for defamation (in Rustad & Koenig, the Court argued that § 230 of the CDA should be reformed to enable cybertorts to evolve) ). Since Congress enacted the CDA in 1996, federal courts have stretched Section 230’s immunity for publisher liability to cover every conceivable tort. (2)

Global Digital Economy and the Federal Government

The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy (EB/CIP) is responsible for the formulation, coordination, and oversight of policy related to information and communication technology (ICT). Congressional mandate gives responsibility to the State Department on information and communication technology international policy. The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy is the interagency lead.

The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs’ Office of International Communications and Information Policy is divided into three offices: Bilateral and Regional Affairs, Multilateral Affairs, and Technology and Security Policy. These offices lead interagency delegations to international meetings (frequently with private sector participation), work with Advisory Committees (see below), coordinate Executive Branch views on related policies, provide fora for input from private sector and consumer organizations (see below), and maintain close liaison with U.S. embassies and other missions around the world to advocate U.S. interests.

The Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy (ACICIP) serves the Department of State in an advisory capacity concerning major economic, social and legal issues and problems in international communications and information policy.


Organizations include:

Association and Institutions:

  • Alliance for Affordable Internet
  • Satellite Industry Association (SIA)
  • Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS)
  • Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA)
  • U.S.Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI)

International Organizations:

  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Telecommunications and Information Working Group
  • Independent Regulators Group (IRG)
  • Interamerican Telecommunications Commission (CITEL)
  • International Telecommunication Union
  • International Mobile Satellite Organization
  • International Telecommunications Satellite Organization
  • OECD Information and Communication Policy
  • World Bank Information for Development (infoDEV) Program
  • World Trade Organization



  2. Id.

Further Reading

  • The Law of Electronic Commercial Transactions, Preface, Raymond T Nimmer

Internet Law and the E-Commerce Law

Internet Law and the Legal Aspects of E-Commerce


See Also

  • PPC Advertising
  • Social Networking
  • Spam
  • Startups
  • Internet Tax
  • Technology Law
  • Terms of Use

Internet Law in E-Commerce Law

Internet Law and the Legal Aspects of E-Commerce


See Also

  • PPC Advertising
  • Social Networking
  • Spam
  • Startups
  • Internet Tax
  • Technology Law
  • Terms of Use

Internet Law and Communication Law

Find more information on Internet Law and Communication Law in relation to the Trading with the Enemy Act in the legal Encyclopedias.

Internet Law and the International Trade Law


See Also

Further Reading

  • Internet Law entry in the Dictionary of International Trade Law (Raj Bhala)
  • Internet Law entry in the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History (Thomas Carson; Mary Bonk)
  • Internet Law entry in the Dictionary of International Trade
  • Internet Law entry in the Dictionary of International Trade: Handbook of the Global Trade Community (Edward G. Hinkelman)

Internet Law: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Internet Law. This part provides references, in relation to Internet Law, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Internet Law by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Internet Law and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Internet Law or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Internet Law and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Internet Law. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Internet Law should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Internet Law when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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