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Nicholas Bramble: Representing and Sustaining the Public’s Interest in Distributed Communications Platforms

Thursday, November 17, 2011
12:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd floor open space
Princeton, NJ 08544 United States + Google Map

Food and discussion begins at 12:30 pm. Everyone invited.

Safe harbors from defamation and copyright liability—such as the immunity provided by Section 230(c) of the CDA and the notice-and-takedown provisions in Section 512(c) of the DMCA—have typically been understood as deregulatory moves that accidentally facilitated the development of a wide range of search and network intermediaries on the Internet.

But in passing these laws, Congress also effectively built a new layer into the Internet’s infrastructure between Internet access providers and traditional media providers. A wide variety of Internet intermediaries—search engines, blogging platforms, music- and video-sharing websites, social networks, discussion forum providers, and review aggregators—quickly began to populate this layer and to insert themselves into relationships between access providers and content providers. These intermediaries were generally able to negotiate between the competing interests of access providers and rightsholders in a way that redounded to the benefit of users. This creation and population of an “intermediary layer” can itself be seen as a regulatory strategy to enhance public access to diverse sources of information on interconnected networks.

Various legislative proposals, court proceedings, and trade agreements now threaten either to eliminate this layer or to transform it into a point of control through which network or content providers can limit or more finely manage user access to information. My talk analyzes various technological, economic, democratic, constitutional, and regulatory rationales for safe harbors and examines where it is possible to implement these rationales as legal strategies for protecting public access to distributed communications platforms.


Nicholas is a Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, Director of the Law and Media Program at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, and a Visiting Research Collaborator at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton. He conducts research on collective action problems and has written articles, briefs, and comments to agencies on First Amendment law, information policy, and telecommunications law. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, where he was the online managing editor of the Journal of Law & Technology.