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Cyber Rights: Defending Free speech in the Digital Age Paperback – June 20, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0262571685 ISBN-10: 0262571684 Edition: Rev Upd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 426 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Rev Upd edition (June 20, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262571684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262571685
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,093,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cyber Rights is an exceptionally rational and compelling account of the most explosive and controversial issues surrounding freedom in cyberspace. Author Mike Godwin is the well-known outspoken activist for online civil liberties and counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). He's been directly involved in many of the news-making cases and offers cogent analysis of very thorny situations, such as:

  • Time magazine's infamous "Cyberporn" issue, which featured a flawed study and which many believe was at least a partial cause for passage of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (later overturned);
  • the case of Jake Baker, a college kid who distributed his stories about rape and torture in newsgroups, which resulted in his computer being confiscated by police;
  • the Church of Scientology's line in the sand regarding intellectual property and the backlash against Scientology in online debates;
  • the libel conflicts experienced by Net journalists Matt Drudge and Brock Meeks; and
  • Philip Zimmerman's (the programmer who developed the encryption tool Pretty Good Privacy [PGP]) fight with the Clinton administration to allow the use of encryption software.

Godwin is a natural teacher, carefully describing each event and explaining the issues surrounding it. Unlike many writers, he shows that he thoroughly understands the arguments for restricting speech. He then methodically takes the arguments apart, covering what is normally boring legal theory and explaining it in a lively manner so that readers are drawn into the story.

This book differs from other books on the topic in two ways: it's entertaining and it's a personal account. It's obvious that Godwin enjoys telling his stories, and he passes his enthusiasm on to readers. Readers also get a sense of Godwin's personal involvement as he describes his role in exposing the erroneous study that was the basis of Time magazine's "cyberporn" scare. In his chapter on the court decision that overturned the Communications Decency Act of 1996, it's clear that Godwin's work for the EFF is not just his job, but his passion. --Elizabeth Lewis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

With an unusually broad view of free speech, lawyer and advocate Godwin, counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, brings his opinions to bear on a slate of Net-related First Amendment cases and policy issues. Citing examples ranging from the landmark Compuserve ruling, in which the court found that an Internet service provider was akin to a bookstore and not a publisher in its culpability for disseminating offensive speech, to the LaMacchia incident, a software piracy case that was ultimately dismissed, Godwin argues for less government intervention, displaying a Panglossian view of the Net's potential. In doing so, he frames nicely some of the issues raised by the encounter of the 200-year-old Bill of Rights and the cutting-edge Internet. But through much of his book Godwin sounds defensive, and his polemics often trump nuanced analysis. By the time he gets to discussing the notorious Time magazine expose on cyberporn, criticizing the magazine for buying into hype, his arguments have become predictable?or flimsy, as when he implies that the Net poses no new risks with its dissemination of dangerous information, such as bomb-making instructions, because libraries have carried such information for years. Godwin's book is a thoughtful examination of an important subject, but its thoughts seem too often filtered through rose-colored screens. Editor, Tracy Smith; agent, General Median.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I meant to identify myself by name as the media critic and author above..I'm Jon Katz and have written both for Wired and Hotwired. Godwin understands very well how much of fight it's been for the Net and the Web to remain free. That alone makes the book readable and important. This kind of freedom is always a fight, and Godwin's book an important tool in that fight. And I'm not a friend of his. I've exchanged some e-mails, but never met him. It's a very important and valuable book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Godwin's book is basically a rehash of previously published work. Pages 171-176, for example, were originally published in an Internet World column, though he acknowledges that nowhere. In fact, the entire book consists of such retread material spliced together, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes not. Many readers who haven't followed the free speech wars won't recognize this; they may simply wonder why the book is occasionally disjointed for no apparent reason. The other significant flaw in the book is that it stops with the CDA decision, in June 1997. For a book published in late 1998, it could have covered later material, especially since most of the book was cut-and-paste rather than new writing. It's a reasonable introduction to the censorship wars on the internet for readers which are completely unfamiliar with the history; but as for me, I'm pleased that I checked this book out from the library rather than purchasing it. -- Michael Sims
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
One of the things I liked about this book was the way in which it addressed the ethics of online publication (don't spread bad memes, try to counter bad memes with good ones) with the First Amendment (which basically keeps government out of the meme-regulation process). In other words, policing the Net should be a matter of individual ethics rather than of legislation or prosecutions. I didn't find the messages of this book inconsistent at all -- it seems to me to be one of the goals of First Amendment advocacy to explain how free speech leads to good results. I think that anyone who approaches the book as a simple guide to online rights is missing the larger message, which is that there is a philosophy of free speech and privacy that has to shape how we deal with the Internet.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this despite my fear that it would turn out to be yet another dry discussion of the same familiar five or six cases (Cubby, Stratton-Oakmont, Reno ..) concerning online behavior and liability. As an in-house attorney for an Internet startup, I figured I'd better be prepared to discuss the book with management and investors, irrespective of its actual utility. To my delight, the book turns out to be legally accurate and entertaining. Godwin's book - unlike others in the field - also reveals the human and political factors behind the cases and arguments which have now become familiar. I wouldn't have minded if it was a little bit less first-person focused, but that's a small quibble about what's overall an interesting and valuable book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Possibly the best book on cyberspace legal and social issues I've ever read.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on March 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I started off a review of a Bruce Sterling novel with a statement of full disclosure, so I must do the same here--even more so. Mike is a long-time friend from when I lived in Austin, Texas. He knew me, as they say, when. After my disastrous first year at the University of Texas, he helped me identify the classes to take that would awaken my interest (including Shakespeare at Winedale). Mike grilled me on my reading critically, forcing me to be able to talk about books on a level besides enjoyment. He was also the organizer of the Dull Men's Club, a regular meeting group for argument and drinking that often became similar to the Austin BBS Users Reading Group. Yes, I think it safe to say that he was, and still is, a friend.
As he explains his history in this book, Mike was in the right place at the right time interested in the right things. Mike's interest in electronic communication and constitutional law and his journalistic background all brought him to the attention of Mitch Kapor, who made his money with Lotus when they were known for a spreadsheet called 1-2-3. Kapor was forming a think tank to work on his pet project, the rights of people on the electronic frontier. This group eventually became the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and Mike Godwin was hired as its first employee to be its legal counsel.
Nearly ten years later, the world has changed. The EFF has been part of some historic court battles and media frenzy and Godwin was there at each step of the way. In Cyber Rights, he explains these issues by giving you his personal history and his involvement. I can't think of too many other people who could have written a book like this (although Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown comes close; Bruce, however, was never so intimately involved in his non-fiction).
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
To me, this book was great backgrounder for the current fights over how and whether to regulate the Internet. In particular, the chapters about the legal issues and the social forces behind the Communications Decency Act explain pretty well what's going on now with the lawsuit against the CDA II.
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