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Revolutionary changes in either technology or social interaction throw the American legal system into temporary chaos. Because our courts give so much weight to precedent, revolutionary innovations force the courts to scramble to find the best model to deal with the new environment.
In Beyond Our Control?, UCLA professor Stuart Biegel details the debate over the nature of cyberspace from a legal perspective, starting with the argument as to whether the Internet and its attendant technologies are like anything else comprehended by the legal system. The extreme positions, ranging from John Perry Barlow's assertion that cyberspace is its own country to Eugene Volokh's view that, while cyberspace is different from other things the legal system has addressed in the past, that those differences can be addressed by adjusting existing laws.
Readers who have followed Internet law for any time at all will surely be familiar with these arguments, but they are presented as background and are confined to Chapter 2. In Chapters 3-7, Biegel fleshes out a framework for evaluating proposed regulatory regimes for the Internet. For example, Chapter 3 begins by sorting conduct to be regulated into four categories:
The rest of the chapter examines each of these categories in detail, breaking them down into subcategories and providing illustrative cases where appropriate. Chapters 4-7 offer more background information, describing the limits of the American legal system; analyzing how national regulations affect the Internet; looking at how international agreements could be used to regulate cyberspace; and discussing whether code-based regulation, such as that proposed by Larry Lessig, could affect user behavior by changing the architecture of computer networks.
All of this background information is put to terrific use in Chapters 8-12, where Biegel offers a road map for potential Internet regulation and examines how each regulatory approach would affect conduct in the four categories he set out in Chapter 3. The four issues Biegel chose (cyberterrorism, consumer rights, digital copying, and online hate speech) are all at the forefront of American and international regulators' minds and will most likely continue to be for quite some time, preventing the book from becoming dated too quickly.
What makes Beyond Our Control? such a good book is the author's division of issues into manageable chunks and his systematic application of his regulatory themes to those issues. By organizing his information as well as he has, and by choosing outstanding model cases for each subject he covers, Biegel offers readers a solid approach with which to examine Internet law. Without reservation, I recommend Beyond Our Control? to professors discussing Internet law and to any instructors or researchers who need a popular reference to the recent legal history of the Internet.
Curtis D. Frye (email@example.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is the author of three online courses and nine books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.