Thursday, April 19, 2007

News Flash: The Internet Is Still Part of the Real World

Vince Polley's MIRLN newsletter alerts us to a story out of Florida, where the Florida state bar authorities are on the verge of implementing new rules regarding lawyer advertising that are specifically concerned with advertising on the Internet. That's not so interesting as was a quote from the Orlando Sentinel story about this development. "If the Supreme Court approves the proposed rule, it would make Florida the first state to address lawyer advertisements via the Internet." That's just plain wrong, for one simple reason. Every state authority that regulates lawyers already addresses lawyer advertising -- And internet advertising is, in the end, just advertising. The laws and rules that already exist regarding lawyer advertising should be applicable to the Internet just as they are to newspapers, TV and the back cover of the Yellow Pages. (My guess is that the quote is the newspaper reporter's own characterization rather than by the bar authorities -- So, please forgive my using that as an opportunity for a rant, and no ill will is wished upon those same authorities.)

More to the point -- Why do we always feel a need to create special rules for what happens on the Internet? Where there are distinct differences there might be good cause for special carveouts, but more often than not the "Internet rules" are simply a restatement of what the rules are already in the real world, with the implicit thought that the real world rules didn't apply to the Internet unless we say so. The rules already apply -- The Internet is still a function of the real world, it still applies to how human beings communicate with each other just as pamphleteering, newspapering and broadcasting applied before it. We can apply the same rules to the 'Net in most cases just as well as we can to the other media. Let's get past the fallacy that just because it's the Internet all the rules are off the table, so that we can start to talk about real differences rather than perceived ones.

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