‘Chilling effects’
Law students to help educate Internet users

27 February 2002 | Creating a web site parodying Barney the purple dinosaur could be a lot of fun — until you receive a “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer claiming you’re threatening harm to Barney and violating his copyright and trademark.

Parody is typically protected under the law, but many Internet users, faced with these kinds of legal challenges, don’t know whether to “cease” or “persist” with their web-based creations.

To help them sift through the legalese, Boalt Hall’s Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic this week participated in the launch of a project and web site known as “Chilling Effects.”

The project provides legal information and invites Internet users to submit their “cease-and-desist” letters to Students at four participating schools review the letters and point users to “frequently asked questions” that help explain relevant laws.

“The Internet allows ordinary people to put their ideas in front of the public,” said attorney Jennifer Urban, a fellow at the Samuelson Clinic. In the process, she said, they sometimes collide with complex intellectual property laws.

By educating people about their rights, she said, clinic students provide a valuable public service while gaining hands-on experience with challenging legal issues.

Urban noted that in the 24 hours after launch of the web site Jan. 25, users posted 25 cease-and-desist letters for review, and the web site got 10,000 unique hits.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based online civil rights organization, set the Chilling Effects project in motion. Three other law schools — Harvard, Stanford and University of San Francisco — are also collaborating on the project.


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