Web Sites and the ADA

As reported by Law.com last week Target Corp. settled a federal class action lawsuit brought by The National Federation of the Blind, who claimed that Target’s website was inaccessible to the blind in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  At issues was Target’s failure to code its website to enable use of keyboards and software that convert websites into speech or Braille.  Target agreed to pay $6 million in damages and recode the site to accomodate those with vision disabilities.  Target was prompted to settle in part by the trial judge’s ruling that the ADA applies to a business’s website, agreeing with the plaintiffs that there is a nexus between physical Target stores and its online presence.  The article reports that other companies such as Amazon.com and RadioShack have agreed to improve their web sites to enable use by visually impaired customers.  (Source:  Evan Hill “Settlement Over Target’s Web Site Marks a Win for ADA Plaintiffs,” The Recorder, 28-Aug-08.)

Video Op-Ed

Last week The New York Times carried Paul Bremer’s revisionist take on his disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army in May 2003. Numerous histories of the invasion document how Bremer’s decision blind-sided the U.S. field commanders and contributed to the ensuing disintegration of social order. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson, creator of Iraq war documentary No End in Sight, put together a video letter to the editor rebutting Bremer’s claims. Take a look.

The Cup Runneth Over

The problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is no such thing as “Internet Law,” not in the sense of an integrated body of legal principles such as contract law, tort law, or constitutional law. “Internet Law” might better be described as “The Legal System’s Response to Problems Arising from Use of the Internet and Digital Technology for Commercial and Other Transactions.” That’s a title certain to scare away prospective students, and still probably incomplete.

When Internet Law, or Cyber Law, entered the legal consciousness about eight years ago textbook publishers rushed a number of Internet law texts to market. I looked at all of them, tried out a few, and now don’t use any. One problem they shared was the lack of clear vision as to what they should cover. They spent time on topics like non-disclosure agreements for employees of tech companies or forms of business organization for Internet start-ups. These are interesting topics in an employment law or entrepreneurship course, but pose no issues unique to the Internet. Teaching this course requires guidelines to determine what topics are in and what are out. Two Internet law professors might use different guidelines and disagree about whether to include a particular topic. For instance, I don’t discuss patent law in my Internet law course. Patent law raises vitally important issues these days, such as the patentability of methods of doing business and the Patent Office’s need to vet prior art thoroughly, but in my view these cutting-edge issues do not turn on unique Internet characteristics.

Fortunately the news abounds with issues of Internet law. These are some of the stories that came across my desktop yesterday:

Darren Waters, Warnings over ‘broken up” Internet, BBC News, Oct-11-06 (reporting on concerns that countries such as China will tailor Internet architecture to their specific needs, resulting in “island of connectivity that have no inter-connectivity between them”)

Jonathan Bick, E-Communications Policy: Getting It Right, E-Commerce Law & Strategy (Law.com), Oct-12-06 (recommendations about employer policies governing employee use of “Internet, computer, and electronic assets” that recognize the ubiquity inherent insecurity of current methods of electronic communication)

Jack M. Germain, The False Promise of Browser Security, E-Commerce Times, Oct-11-06 (“Vulnerabilities are so embedded in any browser that surfing the Web is no safer than driving a tank through a mine field while blindfolded.”)

Does YouTube Make Google a Big Target for Copyright Suits?, The Wall Street Journal, Oct-11-06 (Discussion between John Palfrey, Harvard law professor and Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Stan Liebovitz, University of Texas economics professor and Director of the Center for Analysis of Property Rights and Innovation)

Susanna Hamer, Google’s big bet, CNNMoney.com, Oct-12-06 (Advertisers will use databases of personally-identifable information, tracking cookies, geo-location software, and other devices to deliver personally-customized video ads to Internet users)

Like I said, the problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is too much.