The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
rather, its purpose is to illuminate, to question, and to articulate thorny and problematic issues that arise in this domain, thus helping to lay a foundation for more informed public debate and discussion.
The communication and information-interchange aspects of electronic networks that provide benefits to our communities give rise to questions related to the rights and responsibilities of participants in those communities: Who is liable when someone posts a defamatory message, child pornography, or copyrighted material on a public bulletin board? What are the legal and ethical obligations of a service provider to screen public postings? What is the provider's obligation to protect the privacy of users of its services? Does responsibility flow from whether the provider has the technical ability to exercise control or from whether the provider chooses to exercise control? What is the role of regulation and the law versus that of ethics, informal community behavior, and the marketplace? What constitutes fair use of copyrighted information? What is the nature of informed consent relative to providing information?
The workshop provided a variety of background perspectives on issues such as free speech and privacy. The forum itself began with presentations on the nature of electronic networks and on the relevant legal perspectives. Within the current legal regime, creators of information are provided legal protection (and restraints) through copyright and patent laws. Publishers are protected primarily under the First Amendment, although they, too, must abide by relevant intellectual property law. Distributors govern their relationships with their sources through contract and with their customers through both contract and more informal business practices and codes of conduct. Carriers are subject to an elaborate regulatory system established by law and administered by the Federal Communications Commission and state regulatory agencies. Users are governed by social customs (commonly called ''netiquette"), by contract with the providers of the services they use, by federal and state statutes, and by common law if they want to litigate about some harm that has occurred.
To explore the concepts of rights and responsibilities more fully, panels of experts at the February forum considered four areas: free speech, electronic vandalism, intellectual property interests, and privacy. For each area, two scenarios were presented and the panelists were asked to address relevant issues in the context of the scenarios; audience reaction to each of these panel discussions was also sought. After all four panels had finished, the steering committee attempted to identify and synthesize key themes. Certain important points emerged from discussions in these areas, as described below.