Reporter 411, 1 December 1997


Leeds law postgrad spins a world-wide Web

PhD student Yaman Akdeniz maintains the UK's most extensive legal database of cases concerning the Internet. As a research student within the Law Faculty's Centre for Criminal Justice Studies, he is rapidly becoming one of the country's leading authorities on the relatively new subject of Internet law.

On a computer in his top-floor postgraduate office in Clarendon Road, he collects and updates details of hundreds of Internet-related legal cases concerning pornography, free speech, privacy, hyperlinks and copyright. It is a massive and time-consuming job, but he is not precious about the material he gathers.

Although he developed the database to assist his PhD research on the governance of the Internet in Europe, Yaman quickly decided it would be 'in the spirit of the Internet' to make the material available for anyone to access. So he established his own Web site, which now attracts an average of 200 'hits' a day and correspondence from Australia to Zambia. This sharing of information has the advantage that other Internet users frequently send in details of cases.

"I realised that I had this country's leading site for details of legal cases and information on the Internet," he explains. "Things are changing very fast in this area and I didn't want to wait until I have completed my PhD to get it published. I decided to put it on the Internet because it's helpful to others now."

Through the use of links to other sites, researchers who comes across Yaman's pages will find an enormous wealth of material available at the click of a mouse.

But Yaman is not just a collector of information. His comments on Internet issues – ranging from child pornography to the recent Shetland hyperlinks dispute – are now frequently to be found in newspaper, magazine and Web articles published all over the world.

He also used his Web site to establish the civil liberties organisation Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK). His Cyber-Rights site monitored how the Internet was used earlier this year to thwart attempts by Nottinghamshire County Council to ban the so-called 'JET Report' into the handling of a child abuse case. The authorities eventually abandoned their legal action after finding that the report they wanted to suppress was appearing at a growing number of 'mirror' Web sites around the world.

"The genie is out of the bottle," says Yaman. "The Internet was designed to withstand nuclear attack, so you can't ban things and prevent them appearing elsewhere."

Turkish-born Yaman came to the University of Leeds as part of the Erasmus scheme in 1993. After his PhD he hopes to teach and conduct further research. With his supervisor, centre director Professor Clive Walker, he is planning a collection of essays on Internet law.

* Visit Yaman's Web site at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/law/pgs/yaman/yaman.htm

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