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In Shaping of Internet Law, First Amendment Is Winning

In Shaping of Internet Law, First Amendment Is Winning

By Joan Biskupic Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, September 12, 1999; Page A02

When a federal judge refused to stop the gadfly operator of an Internet site from publishing confidential Ford Motor Co. documents last week, she described the dispute over trade secrets as a clash between free speech and commercial innovation.

"In this case, the battle is won by the First Amendment," Detroit Judge Nancy G. Edmunds concluded, allowing the operator of the site to continue posting the confidential documents he said he had received anonymously.

Legal experts touted Edmunds's opinion as a major precedent for free speech in cyberspace. But it is only the latest in an emerging pattern of decisions enhancing expression in the communications revolution that is the Web.

Equally striking, the ruling in the Ford case illustrates how even though the Internet has transformed how people go about their lives, it has not transformed the law. Unlike the rise of broadcast television and other media over the decades, in which new technologies generated new bodies of law and extensive government regulation, the Internet is being treated much like newspapers or books, with judges emphasizing the primacy of the First Amendment.