Freedom on the line


"Every time we get a new mode of communication, there have been efforts to limit it," said Cindy Cohn, whose work has been dedicated to fighting for an open Internet. As legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organization defending the rights of Internet users and innovators, she is in charge of "anything interesting that happens online," said Law School Dean Saul Levmore, introducing Cohn at this weekend's Law School conference, Law in a Networked World.

Cohn's keynote address touched on the myriad fronts where EFF is working to protect speech online, including path-breaking cases on electronic voting, file sharing, and federal wiretapping. Discussing trade secret law, copyrights, trademarks, and Internet-service-provider companies, Cohn weaved a story of a still-evolving Internet, where firms, users, government, and advocacy groups such as EFF negotiate the boundaries of privacy and free speech.

In these negotiations, EFF has seen its share of failures. Highlighting one particular example, Cohn discussed how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998)—a U.S. Internet law that limits access to copyrighted material and increases penalties for copyright infringement—"tends towards taking speech down," Cohn said. In a number of cases, she noted, firms have used powers granted under the act to make "phony" threats of copyright infringement to have information removed from the Internet without legal examination. Despite setbacks, Cohn remains "optimistic," acknowledging that gains "won't happen on their own; we will have to fight."

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Electronic Frontier Foundation Legal Director Cindy Cohn delivers Friday's keynote address at the Law School's two-day forum, Law in a Networked World.

October 31, 2007