Liability for illegal activities in Cyberspace is affected by how the particular computer information service is viewed. Some services allow one entity to deliver its message to a large number of receivers. In this regard the service acts like a publish er. Some theorists already refer to computer networks as "the printing presses of the 21st century." Many publishers use BBSs to supplement their printed editions either by providing additional stories or by providing computer information services on a BBS. In fact, more than 2,700 newspapers are experimenting with some sort of electronic venture. However, other services are more like common carriers than publishers. Networks just pass data from one computer to another -they do not gather an d edit data. Still other services are more akin to broadcasting than common carriage. This similarity exists because computer services can be provided by sending data over the airwaves, thus providing the same services available from computers networked together by wire. Computer services can also be used to allow many entities to deliver their messages simultaneously to many other entities in a public debate style setting. In this way, computer information systems are likened to traditional public fora, such as street corners or community bulletin boards.
None of these analogies is especially useful taken individually. Each is accurate in describing some situations, but lacking in describing others. There is a tendency to look at a service and give it a label, and then regulate it based on its label. This labelling works well in some instances; but, when a service has a number of communication options, such as a BBS that provides a series of bulletin boards, EPmail, and a chat feature, and that makes available electronic periodicals in the BBS's file sys tem, one analogy is insufficient. To regulate computer information systems properly, lawyers, judges, and juries need to understand computer information systems and how they work.
Copyright © 1994 - 1995 by P-Law, Inc., and Kenneth M. Perry, Esq. All rights reserved. Reproduction is permitted so long as no charge is made for copies, no copies are placed on any electronic online service or database for which there is a fee other than a flat access charge, there is no alteration and this copyright notice is included.
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