Michael Godwin

Senior Fellow, RSI

Mike Godwin 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 an Internet meme, as reported in the October 1994 issue of Wired. From July 2007 to October 2010, he was general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. Godwin has served as a contributing editor of Reason magazine since 1994. He is currently a distinguished senior fellow at the R Street Institute, and was elected in April 2019 to the Internet Society Board of Trustees.

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. 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.

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, where he has published interviews of several science-fiction writers.

Godwin was general counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation from July 3, 2007, until October 22, 2010. 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.” When the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanded in July 2010 that its seal be removed from Wikipedia, Godwin sent a “whimsically written letter” in response, denying the demand and describing the FBI’s interpretation of the law as “idiosyncratic … and, more importantly, incorrect.”

Excerpted and adapted from Wikipedia entry “Mike Godwin”, licensed for re-use per Creative Commons CC-BY-SA and other applicable Wikipedia free and open-source licenses.

Related Sessions

View full schedule