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The Search for an Internet Model

by Leslie G. Berkowitz

The case of Religious Technology Center v. Netcom On-line Communication Services, Inc., 907 F.Supp. 1361 (N.D.Cal.1995), illustrates difficulties in establishing an adequate model for resolving rights and obligations on the Internet. In this case, the RTC (an offshoot of the Scientologists) held copyrights in the works that were posted to an electronic bulletin board by a former Scientologist who was disputing Scientologist teachings. The bulletin board used Netcom as an Internet carrier. The court denied both parties' motions for summary relief.

In Netcom, the court summarizes the various copyright theories for imposing liability on infringers, whether those infringers obtain liability for their own direct acts or the acts of others. [See Berkowitz, "Am I My Sister's Keeper? - More Vicarious Liability, Now On-line," 24 The Colorado Lawyer 2539 (Nov. 1995).] The court shows the interrelationship of others concepts, such as First Amendment rights and fair use.

Especially interesting is the continuing attempt by the court to develop a cohesive conceptual framework for evaluating Internet issues. Viewing the Internet as a broadcast medium, print medium, common carrier or public forum continues to result in ambiguity. The Netcom court recognizes the Internet as a nonentity, consisting of "a collection of thousands of local, regional and global Internet Protocol networks" (supra at 1365, n.2), and perceives the practical limitations of requiring all carriers to screen the data flowing through their systems. The infringers' behavior is becoming more important than the independent automatic activity of the computer systems they own, although the court ultimately found issues of fact requiring further hearing.

Read this case for a good summary of the Internet milieu and legal concepts affecting resolution of copyright infringement through that medium.

taken from: The Colorado Lawyer/April 1996/Vol.25, No.4