The Future of Cyberlaw

‘Cyberlaw’ is a phrase I have adopted to signify the application of jurisprudence in any electronic context. As a descriptive label, it has since been succeeded as the buzzword of choice by such phrases as ‘communications law’, ‘IT law’ and, more recently, plain old ‘internet law’ — as well as its more specific sub-branches, including copyright law, private international law, and so on.

Orin Kerr makes some interesting comments about this conceptual transition from cyberlaw to internet law, arguing that its future direction tends towards integration with existing doctrines rather than the forging of a new, discrete body of law:

The Internet was a world of cyberspace with virtual streets, virtual meeting places, and virtual crimes. … As of 1999, at least, lots of people expected the new cyberlaw to be the new law that governed this new virtual world.

Now let’s fast forward to today. Most schools still offer some kind of Internet law course, but the ground has shifted considerably. Instead of focusing on Internet law as the law of a new virtual world, courses are more likely to feature a grab bag of interesting questions of civil and constitutional law implicated by the Internet. … [M]ost are focused on covering a few areas of law in which the new facts of the Internet may change the assumptions of prior law.

In short, my sense is that Internet law has settled in a bit in the last five years. Its aspirations today are less grand and more doctrinal, and the key questions have shifted from virtual worlds to updating old rules given new technological facts in a few specific doctrinal areas of law.