NLYS students, if you've been looking for Cyberlaw in the schedule for next year, it's still there. It'll be in the fall, Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:30 to 3:45 PM . . . under the name Internet Law. Dan Hunter, David Johnson, and I taught Cyberlaw last fall, and I'll be teaching Internet Law this fall, but I assure you it's still the same course. It provides a solid foundation in online law, from jurisdiction to free speech to hacking to intellectual property. At the same time, we ask the big questions of how the Internet should be regulated and what it means to live, work, and play in an environment where software can perhaps do everything that law can and more.
Why a name change? "Cyberlaw" comes from the idea of "cyberspace law," the law that would apply in cyberspace. "Cyberspace," though, is a funny term. It was first used by science fiction author William Gibson to describe a completely immersive computer-generated "consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators." As the term was taken up by early cyberlaw thinkers (including NYLS's own David Johnson and regular visitor David Post), it came to represent the idea of some other place, completely distinct from the offline world, and perhaps ultimately unregulable by physical-world governments, those "weary giants of flesh and steel" (in John Perry Barlow's memorable phrase).
This was a powerful idea, and remains an important one today. But in the two and a half decades since William Gibson coined the strange term "cyberspace" to describe a strange other place, two things have become increasingly clear. First, there isn't one cyberspace. There are millions. There's email space, and blog space, and MySpace; companies have their own intranets and people have private online social spaces with their friends; there may someday even be separate internets for every country. Second, cyberspace is not someplace wholly separate and apart from our offline world. When we go online, we are also still here. Indeed, some of the most exciting developments in the last few years on the Internet have involved technologies that are intimately tied to places in the physical world and to our offline lives. Facebook creates online mirrors of college communities; your favorite maps and weather sites now know where you live and can tell you what to expect when you turn the corner offline.
"Cyberlaw," then, suggests too much of a radical difference, and suggests that everything "cyber" is all somehow the same thing. Instead, the real challenge when learning about the Internet is to take a step back from how familiar it is and to think carefully about what's happening under the hood, and about the different ways that computers are involved in every aspect of daily life. "Internet Law" is a simpler term for what has become a more complex subject.
At least, that's my opinion. In The Course Formerly Known as Cyberlaw, we'll be going through that history and these debates. We'll talk about what people have thought about the Internet, why they have referred to it as "cyberspace," and the arguments for and against having a body of "cyberlaw." And at the end of the course, I hope you'll have an opinion about whether it should be called Cyberlaw or Internet Law, and about a lot of other very important issues, too. I look forward to seeing many of you there in the fall.