Mike Godwin is a First Amendment attorney who has carved out a unique niche for himself as counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to preserving free speech online. In addition to providing individualized advice to specific parties (usually defendants) in specific lawsuits, he has now produced a guide for the general public. As in any good legal primer, Godwin bases his advice on past cases, many of which he rehearses in his book. The difficulty with this approach in this instance, however, is a significant paucity of cases: for example, at the time Godwin was writing his book, there had been only two important cases concerning online libel.
Godwin deals with this lack of materials in a masterful way, rehearsing American libel law and how it applied in these cases, and then extending his discussion to demonstrate why there have been so few such cases. In doing so, he not only convincingly argues his own case for freedom of speech online, but provides readers with some helpful hints on how to stay out of court.
Godwin is equally good on copyright issues. Laypersons as a rule have difficulty wrapping their minds around the concept of intellectual property, ownership of which can bestow intangible rights in intangible things. A discussion of such rights as they pertain in cyber space would seem to be a recipe for utter confusion, and often is. This confusion is, in part, the very thing that permits the kinds of First Amendment abuses Godwin crusades against. By making common sense out of arcana, CYBER RIGHTS: DEFENDING FREE SPEECH IN THE DIGITAL AGE will help the vast majority of internet users gain some perspective on the law of the brave new world—as well as retain rights granted by the nation’s foundation document.