Internet Law: Cases and Problems

I’m usually pleased to announce new projects here. I’m unusually pleased to announce my latest: an Internet law casebook I’ve been teaching Internet Law for five years, and in that time I’ve gradually turned a few supplementary cases into a set of materials for a full course, and now into a real casebook: Internet Law: Cases and Problems. I’d like to tell you a bit about it — but first, I’d like to tell you about its pricing.

Consider the deal you get with a typical major-label casebook. You’ll probably pay five times as much: $150 or more. Maybe that price includes online access to an electronic version, but your access will expire after you finish the course. Good luck getting a version you can mark up in a basic PDF reader, rather than in a proprietary and hard-to-use application. And did I mention the prices that can drive a law student’s cost for books over $1,000 a year? I was bothered by this gouging as a student; it bothers me even more as a professor who sees students go an entire semester borrowing the book from the reserve section of the library in three-hour blocks because they can’t afford their own copy.

I thought there had to be a better way. Then I met Semaphore Press. Each Semaphore book is sold as a DRM-free PDF download for a suggested price of $30. Each copy comes with a license letting you download and copy the book for your own personal use. You can print it, annotate it on your, copy it to your iPad, or even download it again if you lose the original. Semaphore can keep the prices low because it publishes electronically, because it doesn’t spend millions of dollars on glossy marketing brochures and fancy displays at academic conferences, and because it doesn’t have to placate a corporate parent that demands constant increases in the annual revenue numbers. And the suggested price really is that: a suggestion. If you’re a student in a developing country for whom $30 would be a hardship, pay what you can instead. I think this deal is a fair one for all concerned; it’s built on mutual trust and respect, something I’ve written a bit about.

Now, for the book itself. I’ve tried to produce a casebook that reflects the fun and excitement of contemporary Internet law. The classic cases are in there, to be sure, but I’ve tried to put them in a historical context, to show how they connect up with cutting-edge controversies like WikiLeaks, Righthaven, and network neutrality. Although the book is a trim 414 pages, it covers an unusually broad swath of issues, with a constant emphasis on the ways that these things really happen, and how real-life lawyers in all areas of practice need to be prepared to deal with them.

The “Problems” in the title aren’t incidental add-ons, either. There are dozens of them, designed to probe the implications of legal doctrine by asking students to take on a wide variety of roles. You’re a prosecutor: advise the police on what they should do with a suspected child pornographer’s laptop to avoid running afoul of the Fourth Amendment. You’re general counsel at an e-commerce firm: redesign the process for updating your terms of service so that any changes will stand up in court. You’re on the staff of a non-profit: tell a Senator (politely) whether his new encryption bill will break the Internet.

Law students: I wrote this book for you. I’m sure you’re familiar with books that are so pedantic about saying what the law is in excruciating detail that reading them is a constant battle to stay awake. I’m sure you’re also familiar with books that are full of drama but leave you in the dark about the current state of the law. I’ve tried to steer a middle course: picking cases with memorable facts and striking analyses, but also making sure never to hide the ball. I want to help you reach the deep end, not to throw you in it.

Non-law-students: I didn’t specifically write this book for you, but I hope that you also find it interesting and useful. Many of the basic doctrines of Internet law are quite easy to learn; they help make sense out of the Internet as we experience it. Beyond that, the book is designed to show how many of the defining controversies of the Internet connect up with each other. In these disputes, law is often the battleground. Think of this book as a field manual, to help you see the fight through a professional’s eyes.

If you would like to learn more, the book has a homepage with more detailed description, sample chapters, and a FAQ. If you’ve heard enough and you’re already sold, you can go directly to purchase it from Semaphore.

I’m really excited about this book. I hope some of you will be, too.

Congratulations, it is quite the achievement. As a former student in Professor Grimmelmann’s Internet Law course I can personally attest to the relevant spirit of the material.

Congratulations! But how do you possibly find the time to produce so many high-quality products?

The Semaphore model seems like an interesting experiment. I hope you will report on its success, both financial and, more importantly, in fostering wide-spread adoption and use.

One question: can a library purchase a copy of the book? I could see printing out a copy for the shelves and keeping a copy in a “dark archive” in case anything happened to the print copy. Alternatively, I could see letting one student at a time “borrow” the PDF file.

Congratulations, James, on this wonderful achievement. And I do hope the distribution model catches on.

James, I know it is early days but how is the model faring so far?

John, it’s August. Law schools aren’t in session in the U.S.

Sorry I was forgetting , its late winter here.