Mike Godwin

Mike Godwin

Godwin in July 2010
Born Michael Wayne Godwin
(1956-10-26) October 26, 1956
United States of America
Nationality American
Occupation Attorney, author
Known for Godwin's law

Michael Wayne "Mike" Godwin (born October 26, 1956) is an American attorney and author. He was the first staff counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and he created the Internet adage Godwin's law and the notion of Internet meme in the magazine Wired of June 1993. From July 2007 to October 2010, he was general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. In March 2011 he was elected to the Open Source Initiative board.[1] Godwin has served as a contributing editor of Reason magazine since 1994.[2] He is currently general counsel and director of innovation policy at the R Street Institute.[3][4]

Early life and education

Godwin was educated at Lamar High School in Houston,[5][6] before graduating in 1980 from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Plan II Honors program. Godwin later attended the University of Texas School of Law, graduating with a Juris Doctor degree in 1990. While in law school, Godwin was the editor of The Daily Texan, the student newspaper, from 1988 to 1989.[7]

In his last semester of law school, early in 1990, Godwin, who knew Steve Jackson through the Austin bulletin board system community, helped publicize the Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games. His involvement is later documented in the non-fiction book The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) by Bruce Sterling.[8]


Internet law

Godwin's early involvement in the Steve Jackson Games affair led to his being hired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in November 1990, when the organization was new. Shortly afterwards, as the first EFF in-house lawyer, he supervised its sponsorship of the Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service case. Steve Jackson Games won the case in 1993.[9]

As a lawyer for EFF, Godwin was one of the counsel of record for the plaintiffs in the case challenging the Communications Decency Act in 1996. The Supreme Court decided the case for the plaintiffs on First Amendment grounds in 1997 in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union. Godwin's work on this and other First Amendment cases in the 1990s is documented in his book Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age (1998), which was reissued in a revised, expanded edition by MIT Press in 2003.

Godwin has also served as a staff attorney and policy fellow for the Center for Democracy and Technology, as Chief Correspondent at IP Worldwide, a publication of American Lawyer Media, and as a columnist for The American Lawyer magazine. He is a Contributing Editor at Reason magazine,[10] where he has published interviews of several science-fiction writers.[11]

From 2003 to 2005, Godwin was staff attorney and later legal director of Public Knowledge, a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., concerned with intellectual property law. In recent years, Godwin has worked on copyright and technology policy, including the relationship between digital rights management and American copyright law. While at Public Knowledge, he supervised litigation that successfully challenged the Federal Communications Commission's broadcast flag regulation that would have imposed DRM restrictions on television. From October 2005 to April 2007, Godwin was a research fellow at Yale University, holding dual positions in the Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School,[12][13] and at the Yale Computer Science Department's Privacy, Obligations and Rights in Technologies of Information Assessment (PORTIA) project.[14]

Godwin was general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation from July 3, 2007,[15][16] until October 22, 2010.[17][18] Commenting on the self-correcting nature of Wikipedia in an interview with The New York Times in which he said that he had corrected his own Wikipedia article, Godwin said, "The best answer for bad speech is more speech."[19] When the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanded in July 2010 that its seal be removed from Wikipedia, Godwin sent a "whimsically written letter"[20] in response, denying the demand and describing the FBI's interpretation of the law as "idiosyncratic ... and, more importantly, incorrect."[21][22]

The character "Michael Godwin" in The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson was named after Godwin as thanks for his technical assistance in linking their computers to allow them to collaborate between Austin and Vancouver.[8]

Godwin was named a member of the Student Press Law Center Board of Directors in January 2009[23] and of the Open Source Initiative Board of Directors in March 2011.[24]

Godwin's law

Main article: Godwin's law

Godwin originated Godwin's law in 1990,[25] stating:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

Godwin believes the ubiquity of such comparisons trivializes the Holocaust.[26][27]



  1. "Board Meeting Report". Open Source Initiative. 2011-03-17.
  2. "Mike Godwin : Contributors". Reason.com. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  3. "Internet ain't broke, don't let AG try to fix it". clarionledger.com. February 11, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  4. Amira, Dan (January 29, 2013). "Mike Godwin on Godwin's Law and Nazi Comparisons - Daily Intelligencer". Nymag.com. Retrieved September 23, 2013.
  5. Smith, Evan (August 19, 2007). "Re: A Complete Waste of Time". TexasMonthly.com. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly. pp. "State of Mine: A Mostly Texas Blog" section.
  6. Casey, Rick (August 13, 2009). "Commentary: Lamar grad laid down Nazi law". Chron.com. Houston Chronicle.
  7. A call for TSP independence – Editor Godwin's co-authored letter about Daily Texan reform, July 5, 2005.
  8. 1 2 Sterling, Bruce. The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, 1992; download link from Project Gutenberg.
  9. Meme, Counter-meme Wired, October 1994.
  10. "Reason Magazine — Articles by Mike Godwin: Contributing Editor". Reason.com. Retrieved 2009-07-19.
  11. Reason Bruce Sterling interview January 2004, Neal Stephenson interview February 2005, Vernor Vinge interview May 2007.
  12. "People at the ISP". Yale Information Society Project. 2006. Retrieved 2010-10-11., listing Mike Godwin as Resident Fellow, 2005–2006.
  13. "Resident Fellows". Yale Information Society Project. Yale University. 2006. Archived from the original on August 20, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25., listing Godwin as Microsoft Fellow, 2005–2006.
  14. "Education". Yale PORTIA Project. 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-25., listing Godwin as Research Scientist, 2005–2007.
  15. Welcome Mike!Florence Devouard announcing Godwin's Wikimedia appointment, July 3, 2007.
  16. Nick Farrell (July 5, 2007) Mike Godwin joins Wikipedia. Beware the Wiki-Nazis., The Inquirer.
  17. Gardner, Sue (October 19, 2010). "Wikimedia Foundation Announcement: Mike Godwin leaves the Wikimedia Foundation". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
  18. Patricia Paine (October 25, 2010) Wikipedia's General Counsel Says Goodbye, Corporate Counsel, law.com
  19. Noam Cohen (2007-08-20). "Defending Wikipedia's Impolite Side". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
  20. Sutter, John D. (2010-08-03). "FBI to Wikipedia: Remove our seal". CNN. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
  21. Schwartz, John (2010-08-02). "F.B.I., Challenging Use of Seal, Gets Back a Primer on the Law". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
  22. "Wikipedia and FBI in logo use row". BBC News. 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
  23. "PRESS RELEASE: Student Press Law Center Welcomes Virginia Edwards as Chair; Patrick Carome and Mike Godwin to Board of Directors".
  24. Phipps, Simon. "OSI Board Meeting Report". The OSI Web Site. Retrieved March 17, 2011.
  25. Godwin, Mike (October 1994). "Meme, Counter-meme". Wired. Retrieved March 24, 2006.
  26. McFarlane, Andrew (2010-07-14). "Is it ever OK to call someone a Nazi?". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
  27. Voices on Antisemitism Interview with Mike Godwin from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
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