For 16 years, I've tracked important Internet legal news on my GigaLaw website, and I'm still amazed at the important and interesting developments that continue to arise almost every day. While selecting the most important news from more than 1,100 items is obviously a highly subjective undertaking, I think it's clear that my top-10 list represents significant decisions, changes and impacts in Internet law for 2015. I hope you'll agree -- but, if not (or, if you think I've overlooked something vital), please let me know.
1. FCC Votes to Regulate Internet as Public Utility: The Federal Communications Commission voted to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, a milestone in regulating high-speed Internet service into American homes. The new rules, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, are intended to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else. (Source: The New York Times)
2. U.S. Delays ICANN Transition for At Least One Year: The U.S. Commerce Department delayed for at least a year its plans to give up oversight of a key component of Internet governance. The department said it would renew its contract with the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for one year. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)
3. Obama Urges More Sharing to Fight Cyber Attacks: President Barack Obama asked U.S. executives for closer cooperation in defending against hackers after high-profile attacks on companies like Sony that exposed weaknesses in America’s cyber defenses. Speaking at Stanford University, Obama told Silicon Valley and financial services CEOs that they needed to share more information more quickly both with each other and with his administration. (Source: Reuters)
4. EU Accuses Google of Antitrust Violations: The European Union’s antitrust chief formally accused Google of abusing its dominance in web searches to the detriment of competitors and began official proceedings into whether its Android smartphone software forces phone makers to favor the company’s own services and applications. “If the investigation confirmed our concerns, Google would have to face the legal consequences and change the way it does business in Europe,” said Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner. (Source: The New York Times)
5. Court Says Copyright Owners Must Consider Fair Use in DMCA Notices: A Federal court ruling on a copyright case from the early days of YouTube could have a sweeping impact on how media companies police online video. And it could give a boost to Facebook, which is just starting to navigate the video copyright waters that Google has traversed for years. (Source: Re/code)
6. Supreme Court Reverses Conviction for Facebook Threats: The Supreme Court threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man convicted for making violent threats on Facebook and said the government must do more than prove that a reasonable person would find the postings threatening. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the conviction would have held up if the jury found Anthony Douglas Elonis knew he was making a threat or should have known it would be seen that way. (Source: The Washington Post)
7. FCC Says Hotels, Others Can’t Block Wi-Fi: In a public advisory, the FCC said it is “aggressively investigating and acting” against businesses that illegally interfere with Wi-Fi. The agency’s Enforcement Bureau said it has noticed a “disturbing trend” in which hotels and other businesses block personal Wi-Fi hot spots. (Source: The National Journal)
8. Appeals Court Dismisses Google Book-Scanning Lawsuit: A federal appeals court in New York dismissed a lawsuit brought by an authors’ group that accused Google Inc. of copyright infringement over its digital copying project. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Google’s scanning millions of copyrighted books wasn’t infringement because what the company makes viewable online is so limited. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)
9. Google Pays Record $25M for ‘.app’ Top-Level Domain: Google paid $25 million to control the “.app” top-level domain, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit group which maintains much of the technical plumbing of the Internet. The price is more than three times as much as the previous record for a new top-level domain, the $6.8 million paid by Dot Tech LLC in September for the “.tech” top-level domain. (Source: The Wall Street Journal)
10. Sex Cheating Network Hacked; 37 Million Users at Risk: Casual sex and cheating network Ashley Madison has reportedly been hacked, compromising the user databases, financial records, and private details of the service’s owners and 37 million users. Security researcher Brian Krebs first reported the leak, which was subsequently confirmed by Noel Biderman, the CEO of Avid Life Media. (Source: The Verge)
And, finally, here's one bonus Internet law news item from the past year, included not necessarily because it's important (though perhaps it's too early to tell) but simply because it seems like it will be published in a future edition of my young son's favorite book, "Weird But True!":
Woman Gets $32,000 Award for Suffering from Wi-Fi Allergy: A French court awarded a woman more than $32,000 in compensation for suffering wrought by an allergy to Wi-Fi, reports Britain’s The Times. It’s the first time any court has recognized the markedly modern condition as a legitimate disability, potentially setting a precedent for future claims. (Source: Houston Chronicle)
The year 2016 surely will bring many more new and important Internet law news stories. Be sure to follow all of them by subscribing to my GigaLaw email newsletter.