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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Introduction and Dedication

Hello Prawfs! It is already August 12, and I am posting my first post to Prawfs this month. For that, I apologize. But I will make up for it in the coming weeks.

First, some introductions. My name is Ari Ezra Waldman. I'm on the faculty at New York Law School, where, in addition to teaching intellectual property, internet law, privacy, and torts, I run our academic center focused on law, technology, and society. My research and writing focus on privacy, the bridge between privacy and intellectual property, and cyberharassment. You can find some of my publications on SSRN, although I have a handful in the works or under submission at the moment. More on that later. My partner and I are the human parents to a wonderful dog named Scholar. She's a dachshund-beagle mix.

Second, I would like to dedicate all my posts this month to Dan. I didn't know Dan as well as some others, but in the short time I knew him, he was a friend and mentor.

Now on to substance. In my short time at Prawfs, I would like to use several posts to talk about teaching and some other posts to tell one story, hoping to flesh out ideas about an ongoing project about information diffusion, privacy, and intellectual property. I start with identifying a theoretical problem.

In an important and oft-cited essay, Professor Jonathan Zittrain came to the profound conclusion that intellectual property owners and personal data owners want the same thing: “control over information.” That control was being eroded by the early internet: “perfect, cheap, anonymous, and quick copying of data” endangered copyright owners’ ability to control dissemination of their content and threatened to make private personal data a market commodity. Using the illustrative case studies of copyrighted music and patient health data, Zittrain suggested that privacy advocates could learn from content owners’ use technological systems that prevented the unlawful mass distribution of copyrighted data.

Professor Zittrain’s view that copyright owners and patients both shared the same fear of loss of control over data makes a great deal of sense: it appeals to an intuitive and dominant understanding of privacy as control over information and reflects centuries of legal thought, from British common law to Samuel Warren’s and Louis Brandeis’s groundbreaking article, The Right to Privacy, that saw the overlap between privacy and intellectual property. But recognizing that the fields share the same “deep problem” of loss of control is only a first step. We all want to maintain control over the dissemination of our data, whether it’s Taylor Swift removing her music from Spotify or internet users opting out of the use of cookies. But musicians also want many people to buy and listen to their songs, and individuals need at least some other people to have access to their data. Loss of control and, thus, loss of legal protection, has to happen sometime later, after some other publicity trigger. This suggests that the word “control” does not fully capture the problem; rather, it is about the social process that transforms information from under control to out of control.

This correlative inquiry is important. Control is an empty concept without knowing what it means to lose it, and the conceptual vacuum has contributed to haphazard and, at times, harsh, unjust results. Often, courts conclude that personal information and intellectual property is out of an individual’s control if even just a few other people know or have access to it. At other times, decisions are more nuanced. But they all ask the same question: When is information, already known by some, sufficiently out of the owner’s control such that it can be deemed public? Conceptualizing the problem of privacy and intellectual property merely as loss of control does not give us the tools to answer this question.

In subsequent posts, I will lay out a proposed answer to this second inquiry. In short, I argue that loss/retention of control has everything to do with information diffusion, social networks, and trust. 

 

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on August 12, 2015 at 01:07 PM in Dan Markel, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, Legal Theory | Permalink

Comments

Hi Ari,

I recently interviewed one of your alumni, video games lawyer Ryan Morrison, who had some nice things to say about NYLS's IP department.

Now onto the substance,

Actually, something completely different. Since you work with cyberharassment you may want to consider Reddit's new (and very constroversial) anti-harassment policy, which defines harassment as "Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them."

I imagine the folks here would have some interesting things to say about how to craft such policies and define harassment, especially as the ways we interact with each other are rapidly changing. (Brigading and Sealioning are good examples.)

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Aug 12, 2015 1:30:24 PM

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