Speakers Announced for “47 U.S.C. § 230: a 15 Year Retrospective” Conference, March 4, SCU

By Eric Goldman

On February 8, 1996–just about 15 years ago–President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a lengthy law with significant implications for the entire telecommunications industry. As Justice Stevens wrote in Reno v. ACLU (1997), “The Telecommunications Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-104, 110 Stat. 56, was an unusually important legislative enactment.”

Tucked into a corner of that beefy bill was the Communications Decency Act, a law that defined its generation of Internet Law regulations and spawned a series of laws and court battles that took over a decade to resolve. Tucked away in a corner of the Communications Decency Act was Section 509, “Online Family Empowerment,” a version of the Cox-Wyden bill that ultimately created 47 USC 230.

Of the many legacies of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 USC 230 certainly looms large. It has become the cornerstone of the Web 2.0 economy, spawning the creation of many Internet giants we now use every day and creating countless billions of dollars of wealth. The law has also sparked extensive, and sometimes heated, debates over online free speech, content-based harms, and the legal and ethical responsibilities of online intermediaries.

On March 4, 2011, we will take a thorough look at 47 USC 230, its history, its implications and its future, from a wide range of perspectives. This event has been in development for more than a year, and I’m excited to see it finally come to fruition. Unlike many other cyberlaw conferences, which tend to encounter 47 USC 230 as a sub-component of the event’s main topic, this conference puts the statute front-and-center for maximum geekery.

We have finally posted a tentative version of the day’s agenda (subject to change, as always). The whole day is filled with highlights and expert speakers, but some of the parts I’m anticipating the most:

* former Rep. Chris Cox, who co-sponsored the Cox-Wyden bill that became 47 USC 230, will talk about the statute’s origins and its legacy.

* Ken Zeran, the plaintiff in the seminal/watershed 47 USC 230 case Zeran v. AOL and an early victim of a “cyber-harassment” attack (before we even had the vocabulary to describe such things), will tell the story-behind-the-story of his litigation. I’ve heard parts of his story first-hand, and it has completely changed the way I think about the case.

* Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who authored the majority opinion in Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com, which some would argue is the most significant appellate court incursion into 230’s immunity. Judge Kozinski has also recently articulated his views on Internet exceptionalism (he’s against it). I’m not exactly sure what Judge Kozinski will say, but no matter what direction he chooses to go, it undoubtedly will be humorous and provocative.

The conference will be March 4, 2011, at Santa Clara University. You can see the complete speaker lineup, and register for the event, at the conference website. Registration costs $150 or less; we have lots of categories of discounted or free registration. If the registration fees pose a financial hardship for you, please contact us. If you can’t make it, we plan to record the day’s proceedings (assuming the speakers don’t opt-out) and post the recordings online.

While making your travel plans, please note that we’re informally celebrating Cyberlaw Week in the Bay Area during that time. You may be interested in two other related events:

* on the day before the 230 conference, the Stanford Technology Law Review is holding a conference entitled “Secondary and Intermediary Liability on the Internet” at Stanford. This has a nice list of speakers and topics that complement the 230 event very well.

* on the day after the 230 conference, we are hosting the inaugural Internet Law Works-in-Progress event at SCU, an annual event co-sponsored by SCU and the NY Law School. We anticipate having approximately 30 speakers present their cyberlaw works-in-progress. This is a closed-door event to allow for a high-level academic conversation, and we are restricting participants to folks who can contribute to an academic dialogue. If that describes you, we would like to welcome you as a participant. Although the deadline has passed, we’re still willing to consider talk proposals and discussant requests.

So please come to one, two or all three of these events! I hope to see you there.