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Continuity and Change in Internet Law

By James Grimmelmann

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 62 No. 5, Pages 24-26
10.1145/3319077

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This is my first column as editor for Communications' Law and Technology column. I am taking over from the very capable Stefan Bechtold, who established the column in its current form and imbued it with his high standards of rigor, relevance, and readability. I thought I might mark this transition with some historical reflections on how the field of Internet law has changed over the last few decades, and what has stayed the same.

Start with the continuity. The basic issues around intellectual property rights in software have been the same for a very long time. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court expressed serious skepticism about patents to "do X on a computer" and a federal appeals court allowed Oracle to assert copyright in the Java APIs. Neither issue is new. The Supreme Court was just as skeptical about software patents in 1972 and 1978, and a different federal appeals court held in 1995 that Lotus 1-2-3's macro interface was uncopyrightable.

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