Berkman Center pioneers steer the course of cyberspace

It is an impressive legacy. Berkman has helped shepherd copyright law into the digital age through academic papers, books and domestic and international testimony, and then created innovative licensing agreements to ease the process. It formed the Internet Safety Task Force with MySpace and 49 state attorneys general to identify technologies to protect kids from online predators. It has tackled the scourge of computer viruses, malware and spyware plaguing Internet users with the formation of the initiative to put a lid on purveyors of so-called badware.

Meanwhile, it has helped shape the debate on "net neutrality" — the concept that all network providers should treat digital data exactly the same — currently being debated at the Federal Communications Commission and in Congress.

Along the way, the center has worked closely with Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's founding fathers, who advised on; Jimmy Wales, co-founder of popular website Wikipedia, on driving debate over the Internet's future; and Lawrence Lessig, the legal scholar at Stanford Law School who helped shape modern copyright law.

"One of the great values the Berkman Center brings is research into issues that consumers should care about, and will care about, in the years to come," Wales says. "Network neutrality, global Internet censorship, spyware."

Fighting the good fight

Berkman, above all else, has been a valuable steward against Internet abuse, Cerf says.

Perhaps that is most apparent in Berkman's work as a watchdog for the security and safety of Internet users, say federal regulators and computer vendors.

"No university has a center more dynamic and deep than Harvard has in Berkman," says Reed Hundt, former Federal Communications Commission chairman. "As difficult as it has been to advocate good ideas with the (Bush) administration and courts as currently constituted, we can count on Berkman fighting the good fight for years to come."

It isn't always on the winning side. The center played a key role in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the case that challenged the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which heightens penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet and extended U.S. copyright terms by 20 years. Lessig was lead counsel in the case before the Supreme Court. But it did not agree, in a 7-2 decision in 2003.

"We don't always solve the problems, but often organize and facilitate the hard conversations that lead to solutions," says Berkman managing director Colin Maclay.

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