Friday, September 07, 2018
Save the Date for AALS Panel on January 5, 2019: Promises & Pitfalls of Technology in Dispute Resolution
On January 5th, 2019, a three-hour panel entitled “Promises and Pitfalls of Technology in Dispute Resolution” will feature the top minds in the field of Online Dispute Resolution. The speakers will examine the intersections of dispute resolution and technology on a broader scale. Panel members will discuss how technology, including AI, blockchain, smart contracts, and the like, are affecting dispute resolution.
Professor Alyson Carrel (Northwestern)
Professor Noam Ebner (Creighton)
Professor Ethan Katsh (National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution)
Professor Dave Larson (Mitchell Hamline)
Professor Jan Martinez (Stanford)
Peter Reilly (Texas A&M) (Moderator)
Mr. Colin Rule (Tyler Technologies)
Professor Amy Schmitz (Missouri)
Professor Jean Sternlight (UNLV)
As Dean of the University of Missouri School of Law, I'm proud to announce that the speakers' papers presented at this AALS panel will be published in a special symposium edition of our Journal of Dispute Resolution. Professor Amy Schmitz of the University of Missouri and Peter O'Reilly of Texas A&M worked together to lay the foundation for this innovative panel and symposium issue. It is sponsored by the “Litigation” and the “Technology, Law and Legal Education” sections of the AALS.
Friday, December 22, 2017
#AALS2018 Panel Alert: Fake News, Alternative Facts, and the Future of Journalism
If you're in San Diego for AALS, I hope you'll come to the fake news panel organized by the Defamation & Privacy and Mass Communication Law sections. The program will take place on Jan. 3, 2018, at 1:30 pm. Here's our description of the panel:
A discourse with no anchor in truth ceases to have value as discourse. The President’s accusations that the media are perpetuating “fake news” have raised numerous legal and ethical questions for lawyers, journalists, government officials, and citizens. This panel, comprised of experts in journalism and media law, will consider the phenomenon and politics of fake news; the law’s role, if any, in regulating truth in public discourse; the media’s role in ensuring public discourse is anchored in truth and their contribution to the fake news phenomenon; the role of independent fact-checking websites such as Snopes.com and Politifact.com in helping debunk fake news; and the potential impact of the fake news debate on First Amendment press freedoms.
LaVonda Reed (of Syracuse University College of Law) and I (now of the U. of Missouri Law School!) will be moderating. Speakers include Amy Gajda of Tulane Law School, Lili Levi of Miami Law School, Scott Lewis from the Voice of San Diego, Richard Marosi of the LA Times, David Mikkelson of Snopes.com, Rebecca Nee of San Diego State University, and Jestin Coler of DisInfoMedia.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Why We Need to Talk about Trump & Press Freedom
On Wednesday, January 5, AALS2017 kicks off with a panel on Trump & Freedom of the Press in the Plaza Room Lobby Level of the Hilton Union Square at 8:30 am.
RonNell Andersen Jones (Utah), Amy Gajda (Tulane), Sonja West (Georgia), Erwin Chemerinsky (UCI), John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and I will be discussing what the Trump presidency might bode for press freedom. In preparation for the panel, I thought I'd share with you the research I've done suggesting why this discussion is necessary and timely. In short, here are the reasons that the media (and those of us who value the role they play in our democracy) have legitimate causes for concern that press freedom might be curtailed during the Trump Administration.
First, Donald Trump has shown himself to be remarkably thin-skinned about unflattering press coverage. Throughout his campaign and after, he has publicly berated Saturday Night Live, the New York Times, and many, many other news organizations and individual journalists (too many to enumerate here, as is evident from this list compiled by MediaMatters.org) for criticizing him or simply for covering him. Shortly after the election, he called television news anchors and executives to Trump Tower to browbeat them for their "dishonest" and "short sighted" and "outrageous" election coverage. He singled out CNN and NBC as the "worst," calling CNN "liars." All of this seems a bit churlish from a candidate who got at least $2 billion worth of free air time from these same media actors and did not hold a press conference from July 2016 until the end of December. Nonetheless, it suggests that the relationship between this President and the press will not be a smooth one.
However, more alarming than Trump's propensity to take offense at even the most innocuous press criticisms was his propensity to incite supporters against the press during his campain. Certainly other elected officials have villified and will doubtlessly continue to villify the press to score political points (think VP Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism"). However, Trump turned up the heat beyond anything previously seen. As Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post, "Donald Trump made hatred of the media the centerpiece of his campaign. Journalists were just cogs in a corporate machine, part of the rigged system." During his campaign events, he restricted press to a "pen" and then inflamed his supporters by calling them dishonest and accusing them of rigging the election and inventing stories to discredit him. His supporters often responded with boos, ugly gestures, and chants of "liars", "assholes," "CNN sucks!," and worse, causing some reporters to fear for their safety.
Trump further displayed a lack of appreciation (or perhaps contempt?) for pool reporters by denying them traditional avenues of access. Unlike previous candidates, Trump never allowed the press on his plane. He also revoked credentials or denied credentials of those who garnered his special ire. Although Trump has promised to have a "normal" press pool as president, he's shown a willingness since being elected to deny pool coverage of important meetings and to ditch his press pool at will. He's also stated he may change the format of press briefings, in an as yet unspecified way. On a somewhat more positive note, he has granted interviews to several outlets since his election, including The Today Show, 60 Minutes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine, though his anti-media rhetoric and disrespect for traditional channels of access cast doubt on whether this trend will continue once he's in office.
Other causes for concern about Trump's respect for press freedom abound. During the campaign, he promised, if elected, to "open up libel laws" to make it easier for public figures to sue the press, a threat that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of libel law and constitutional constraints on the President. More alarmingly, Trump has shown a propensity to threaten lawsuits against journalists or actually sue over both innocuous criticisms and normal news coverage. As an ABA report revealed, "Trump and his companies have been involved in a mind-boggling 4,000 lawsuits over the last 30 years and sent countless threatening cease-and-desist letters to journalists and critics. But the GOP presidential nominee and his companies have never won a single speech-related case filed in a public court." Defending libel suits is expensive, even if one ultimately wins; thus, the mere prospect of being sued for libel can have a chilling effect on reporting. In fact, there's evidence that Trump's reputation as a "libel bully' has already chilled some speakers and is likely to chill others.
Beyond that, Trump has praised ruthless dictators who have trampled press freedoms and targeted journalists for assassination. In fact, when asked if his praise of Vladimir Putin was tempered by Russia's killing of journalists, Trump said no: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Such rhetoric would be chilling, even in isolation, but of course it is not in isolation.
Meanwhile, Trump comes into office on the heels of a President who has already eroded the press's ability to perform its watchdog role by aggressively pursuing leaks investigation against government employees, subpoenaing reporters to reveal confidential sources, and monitoring telephone and email records of journalists in service of leaks investigation. As Dana Priest of the Washington Post stated: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.” President-Elect Trump has not signaled whether he will continue such practices, but the fact that his former campaign manager said that the executive editor of the New York Times should be in jail for publishing Trump's tax returns doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Trump also has not signaled how executive agencies within his administration will be directed to handle Freedom of Information Act requests, and although an RNC spokesman has praised the transparency of the Trump transition, Trump's previous treatment of the press, together with his refusal to release his tax returns, certainly gives reason for doubt on this score as well.
In addition to these causes for concern, the media have their own issues that may hamper their ability to perform their watchdog role during the Trump presidency. Trump is a genius at newsjacking. He is able to set the agenda of the media with his tweets and drown out negative coverage. Trump's "Hamilton" tweet, for example, garnered more eyeballs than the $25 million settlement of a fraud suit against Trump University. Meanwhile, the struggle to maintain press freedoms comes at a time when the public's views toward the media are increasingly hostile, many segments of the media face revenue challenges, and fake news undermines the role of legitimate journalism in furthering democratic self-governance. [Not to mention that "post-truth" was the OED's 2016 word of the year.] These issues, and many more, will give the Trump & Press Freedom panel ample fodder for discussion. I hope you can join us.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Streamlining Your Twitter Routine
Twitter can be an epic timesuck, but it doesn't need to be. Here are some tips to make the most of it, for both creating content and consuming it.
For creating content and tracking activity, consider these suggestions:
- Use a scheduling tool. This is my single biggest trick for keeping active on Twitter: I use Buffer. Buffer, like Hootsuite and others, is a scheduling tool that lets you schedule tweets to post at a later date and time (and on multiple social media platforms and profiles). You can also use Buffer plugins that work directly in the apps or websites you are using. My routine includes reading relevant stories on Feedly (which aggregates multiple legal news sources and tech blogs), composing tweets with links to interesting content, and using Buffer to schedule tweets throughout the day rather than tweeting them all at once.
- Tweet a lot at once. If you have a lot to say on one topic, it's okay to occasionally do a series of tweets in short succession (called a tweetstorm, because why not). This article helps explain the mechanics of tweetstorming, and has links to apps that help. Using tweetstorms too often may be spammy, but it can be a good way to focus your energy on tweeting more detailed content in one big burst.
- Set up alerts. You should pay attention to retweets and replies to your tweets, but it can be distracting to always have Twitter open. Instead, set up email notifications or push notifications on your phone. That way, you can respond to replies and monitor activity as needed without being lured to your always-open Twitter tab. Conversely, if you get a lot of activity on Twitter and it's a distraction, disable alerts and instead set aside specific time frames to check your account.
- Don't obsess about follower counts. I don't have a ton of followers, but it's the quality not quantity that matters to me. It takes consistent tweeting and interacting with others to create a meaningful base of followers. You'll frequently gain and lose random followers who have nothing to do with your subject areas -- it may just be someone looking to get followed back (because they, unlike me, are focused on quantity). And occasionally a tweet will make your follower count dip a little immediately afterwards (leaving you to wonder if it was something you said?). For sanity's sake, tune out and pay less attention to the real-time ups and downs of your follower count.
- Check Twitter analytics. It can be frustrating to feel like no one reads your stuff, which seems like a common lament for law professors generally. But Twitter gives you analytics to help gauge the impact of your tweets (such as total impressions, mentions, retweets, and changes to your follower count over time). You can get a lot of info from Twitter analytics from the web version and more limited tweet activity stats in the mobile app. Social media management tools like Buffer also give you analytics. Of course, focusing too much on these metrics can be a timesuck of its own, but it's fun and, if you notice some content always falls flat, you can readjust.
- Accept that your activity will ebb and flow. Resolve to tweet more but certainly prioritize other work and scale back as needed. Consistency may be important but going silent for a stretch of time won't necessarily torpedo your efforts. Don't give up just because you took a hiatus.
For consuming content, Twitter moves fast and you will always miss some updates. Accepting this fact is the key to avoiding frustration, but there are ways to tailor what you see and decrease clutter. Twitter "lists" are the main tool, along with using special apps.Lists let you group updates from certain Twitter accounts in one view, so that you create a mini-newsfeed on a targeted topic. Once you create a list, you can then click on that list to see tweets from only the list's members. Here are additional tips for using lists:
- Subscribe to other people's lists. Sometimes other users have already created helpful lists. Rather than reinventing the wheel with a new list, you can subscribe to theirs.
- Use both public and private lists. Public lists are visible to all, and the list members get a notice when you add them. This is useful because you may want them to know you included them (as long as you picked a flattering list title), and other people may then subscribe to your list. Private lists function as organizational tools and are only visible by you. Members don't know you added them to private lists.
- View lists on the mobile app. The location for lists in the mobile app is not ideal, but if you go to the "Me" tab, click on the wheel with spokes, and select "lists," you can see tweets by list.
- Add accounts to lists without following them. Lists let you add accounts even if you don't follow them. This means that you don't have to clutter up your main twitter feed with updates that go to a list.
In addition to using lists, here are other content management tips:
- Avoid following binges. It's tempting to follow every account remotely related to your interests, but try not to clutter up your main feed with marginally relevant content. You can always add accounts to lists without also following them.
- Unfollow liberally. Declutter your news feed by removing accounts that don't interest you. Most people won't even notice. The only drawback is you'll see fewer replies between other people (which are only visible in your main feed if you follow both accounts), but this may be a good thing.
- Remove duplicative content. If you read a news source regularly via mobile app or an RSS feed, perhaps unfollow them on Twitter. Decide what to prioritize in what platform.
- Use a Twitter dashboard. I'll admit I haven't tried this yet myself, but apps like TweetDeck and TweetBot can be especially useful for curating what you see in Twitter. They help you manage multiple accounts, view multiple lists at a time, and otherwise streamline your Twitter usage (some are complete social media management tools that also let you schedule tweets across multiple accounts). Advanced features include muting content based on hashtags or keywords, which seem particularly useful for tailoring what content you see.
I welcome other suggestions in the comments, as I too am trying to implement new management tips in 2017.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Tips for Tweeting (Including New 2016 Features)
I've put together some tips for tweeting, which may be useful for those who are new to Twitter or who don't tweet much. And for more experienced users, I've included info on some of the 2016 changes to Twitter.
Twitter's most distinctive trait is its 140-character limit for all tweets. This format cuts down on text and allows for a quick view of a lot of content. The 2016 improvements to Twitter largely altered what counts towards the character limit (Twitter toyed with the idea of allowing much longer posts but changed course following backlash).
First, as to content, in 2015 Michael Risch at Faculty Lounge analyzed what law professors tweet, among other data. In general, law professors include a combination of links to new content, retweets of others' content, or statements without links that may be informational (or for purposes of self-promotion). Certainly various content options are possible, and it's best to strive to tweet about a combination of the following:
- Substantive content. Pick a theme, such as your area of scholarly expertise, and focus on tweeting about things you find interesting on that theme.
- Interactions with others. Retweet people, reply (always politely) to things others say on Twitter, and mention people.
- Law school promotion. Retweet official announcements from your law school, your colleagues' tweets, and positive press.
- Self-promotion. Announce new publications, speaking engagements, and accolades. Retweet press about you or tweets that mention you. Live-tweet from events, as long as the event organizers or presenters allow it.
- Other hobbies or interests. Sprinkle in the occasional personal detail or point of interest that goes beyond your academic pursuits. Don't overshare or adopt some fake online persona, but don't be afraid to show a little personality.
Second, understand some of the nuances of how Twitter works:
- Share links. You can copy and paste URLs into the tweet you are composing. Links are worth 23 characters regardless of link length. This means that using link shorteners, like Bitly, is not necessary (even links shorter than 23 characters still count as 23 characters). You can also share on Twitter directly from other apps or websites with the Twitter plugin (just click on the website's Twitter button, though you can still modify the text before tweeting). Rumor has it that Twitter will do away with URLs counting towards the character count at all, but this has not happened yet.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags allow folks interested in a topic to find your tweets more easily. Just add a pound sign (#) before a common term and it'll become a hashtag. If you want to find popular hashtags, check out what is trending on Twitter (usually your Twitter home screen will have a column with trending topics). Or, for those who want to get fancy, you can use various analytic tools and apps to find popular hashtags.
- Add images. Thanks to Instagram and Snapchat, images are increasingly important on all social media platforms. Twitter just made a change so that images no longer count towards the character limit. And images now automatically display in Twitter feeds, making them even more visible. Consider incorporating more images as a way to expand on your ideas.
- Retweet others. Twitter lets you retweet someone else's entire tweet so that it appears on your profile with the original author's handle and profile image. If you learn something from someone else but don't want to retweet the content, it's nice to give credit anyway -- usually indicated with "via," "HT," or "H/T" followed by the originator's Twitter handle.
- Quote tweets. One major 2016 update to Twitter is the revamped Quote Tweet function. It lets you retweet something with your own commentary added, and you now get a full 140 characters for your comment. Before the 2016 changes, people had to squeeze their comments into the remaining characters of the original tweet. Thus, tweet authors tried to save room for comments by using fewer than 140 characters in an original tweet. Now, you get a full 140 characters for your comments on a quoted tweet, plus you no longer have to add "RT" to indicate a retweet or "MT" for a modified tweet. You now can also quote your own tweet, if you must.
- Reply to tweets. An option for engaging in a conversation, a reply includes the original author's Twitter handle and is linked to the original tweet. Just click on "reply" and type your text after the auto-filled Twitter handles. But don't confuse DM (a private direct message) with a reply: replies are essentially a public conversation. [EDIT: When you click reply, that reply is only visible in the news feeds of those that follow both parties. The reply does appear on the profile page of the person who wrote the reply.] One new change is that the characters in the Twitter handles for replies don't count towards the 140 character limit. For experienced Twitter users, note that replies used to be visible to only certain Followers, but they are now visible to everyone even if the tweet begins with a Twitter handle. This means the "[email protected]" workaround is no longer necessary to keep replies broadly visible. [EDIT: Old Twitter treated any tweet that started with a Twitter handle as a reply. So, if you started a tweet with "@" fewer people would see it. The period or dot before the Twitter handle was a pro-tip for users wanting to make tweets beginning with "@" more visible. Under the 2016 changes, a newly composed tweet that begins with "@" is visible like any other tweet, so the dot is not necessary. But when you hit the reply button, visibility is still limited. Thus, the "[email protected]" convention is not totally dead yet (and this requiem for the [email protected] may be premature). This help page explains tweet visibility more. But the best practice may be to retweet anything you're mentioned in (replies or otherwise) if you want them to be seen.]
Next up: ways to streamline your Twitter routine.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Spoliation in the Age of Snapchat
According to Douglas Adams, a set of three rules "describe our reactions to technologies: 1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." Rule 1 explains why I collect vinyl. Rule 2 describes my career trajectory. But I started to move into Rule 3 with Snapchat.
Both anecdotal evidence from my students and industry stats show that Snapchat is here to stay. I'll admit that the first time I tried to use Snapchat, my Discover page of news stories included Seventeen Prom and something about the Kardashians. This made me feel old and silly, and I waited another month or so before I actually began using it. And now I get it - Snapchat can be fun. It steers us away from polished highlights and instead is meant to capture little moments throughout the day from the account-holder's perspective (Snap Inc.'s plan to create camera glasses will further this trend). But the biggest thing is the sense of freedom it creates with the promise of disappearing content. Snapchat stands for less permanency and more spontaneity.
As Snapchat stakes its claims as a social media powerhouse, new legal issues arise in the litigation context.What are the duties to preserve data on ephemeral apps like Snapchat? Some ethics opinions make clear that lawyers must advise clients about their own social media usage, which may include instructions to preserve social media content. Certainly intentionally deleting Facebook content when there is a duty to preserve can lead to sanctions. But is there an issue with using self-destruct apps instead? Do the broader safe harbors in the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure help address these potential issues?
These are some of the questions I'm exploring in my work-in-progress, Social Media Spoliation. More broadly, I am curious how the law should adapt to the fact that we, as individuals, have become stewards of large amounts of data. We create vast digital archives about ourselves through our online activity. While many social media platforms store our personal data, they also may encourage modification or deletion of content through normal usage. The impact of ephemeral apps, like Snapchat, signals a new realm of potential discovery and spoliation issues - not to mention an epidemic of ridiculous selfies.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
The Social Networks Law Students Use
I've taught my Social Media Discovery seminar three times now, and each year I expect to be surprised by some new social media trend (will Kik come up? The now-struggling Yik Yak? GroupMe?). But two social networks consistently dominate among my students: Instagram and, even more so, ephemeral app Snapchat.
This anecdotal evidence lines up with industry trends. Stats show that most Instagram and Snapchat users are 24 and younger. And Snapchat recently surpassed Twitter with more daily users. Facebook, on the other hand, is attracting fewer young folks as its core audience is growing older.
From what I've gathered, many of my students tend to save Facebook for big life events or other safe-for-grandma posts. They may use messenger or check their news feeds regularly, but most of their social media interactions now happen on other platforms. Students also seem savvier about the digital footprint they are creating and how it may impact their career (though some are still shocked when we go over this chart of all the info Facebook compiles on us). Twitter still seems like a source of information for students, but only some tweet at all (whether public or private). Twitter, like Facebook, is not a top choice for communicating with others.
So why Instagram and Snapchat? Both are highly visual and emphasize pictures or video over text. Instagram has a clean and functional layout, with fun built-in tools for editing pictures. It allows comments and likes but its layout de-emphasizes these aspects. Snapchat's hook is its self-destruct model for content (stories disappear after a day; private messages within seconds). And it takes photo filters to a goofy extreme. Snapchat also does not allow visible likes and comments. Thus, while people can share stories broadly, Snapchat ultimately encourages private conversations that leave no trace (well, sorta--Snapchat has faced scrutiny for its privacy claims).
Realizing that Instagram and Snapchat take the lead for my students has motivated me to use more pictures and videos in class. And I am doing my best to accept that Snapchat -- and similar ephemeral apps -- are here to stay. This means my own research now includes some of the unique legal issues these apps pose (more on that later).
Friday, December 16, 2016
Sharing Economy Symposium
To wrap up this week's posts on sharing economy topics, I wanted to highlight an upcoming sharing economy symposium taking place in February 2017 and hosted by the University of Hawaii Law Review. I’m excited to be participating on a panel dealing with ridesharing services, where I'll focus on tort liability. Other participants include Erez Aloni of Whittier Law School, Nancy Leong of University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Timothy Burr, Jr., Senior Public Policy Manager of Lyft, and Christina Sandefur, Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute. Additional participants will be announced here.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
AirBnB as Online Intermediary?
Tuesday I posted about tort law and the sharing economy, and today I want to continue with the sharing economy theme by discussing an AirBnB lawsuit against San Francisco.
A city ordinance was passed requiring short-term rental hosts to register with the city. One of the provisions allows the city to fine AirBnB and similar platforms if unregistered hosts rent places through the site. AirBnB is challenging the law on numerous grounds, including under the First Amendment, Stored Communication Act, and the Communication Decency Act (CDA). It's the CDA issue that some cyberlaw scholars are watching closely.
Section 230 of the CDA creates immunity for online intermediaries against liability for the content others post. This immunity has allowed the internet as we know it to flourish as a marketplace of ideas and haven for free speech. Without it, websites would police content and censor heavily to mitigate their liability risk. But the CDA is over 20 years old and its use has clearly expanded beyond its original purpose, which really contemplated defamatory comments on news sites or similar circumstances.
Now, AirBnB is using CDA immunity to argue that the San Francisco ordinance violates federal law by holding AirBnB accountable for the actions of hosts. Essentially, AirBnB says it's just an online intermediary and it can't be on the hook for its users' illegal activity. While the CDA is meant to immunize online intermediaries for liability for the actions of its users, its provisions are not absolute. Some websites have lost arguments about CDA immunity because they helped create or develop content, rather than merely serve as a passive platform for it.Last month a federal court in San Francisco did not agree with AirBnB and denied its motion for a preliminary injunction, noting that the ordinance is not limiting AirBnB's ability to publish user content. Instead, the ordinance's penalties kick in when AirBnB collects fees for an illegal rental. For AirBnB, losing its preliminary injunction motion is probably quite concerning. CDA immunity is not clear cut because AirBnB imposes requirements on hosts, profits from each individual transaction, and processes the payments. Like other sharing economy companies, its role expands beyond that of a neutral listing platform, perhaps even into the realm of booking agent or joint venture.
It's important to note that CDA immunity is crucial for protecting our freedom online, and attempts to chisel away at it should be approached with great skepticism. But as we continue to blur the lines between real-world transactions and online activity, perhaps a more nuanced definition for "online intermediary" is needed in order to save Section 230 from dilution. In the meantime, a lot is at stake for AirBnB, as other cities contemplate similar ways to deal with a loosely regulated ad-hoc rental market.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Tort Law and the Sharing Economy
Six weeks ago, a UK employment tribunal declared that Uber drivers are employees. A few months before that, Uber settled two class action lawsuits in the US in order to avoid a ruling on whether drivers can remain independent contractors. And Uber regularly takes the position that it is not subject to the regulations that apply to taxi services. Sharing economy companies go to great lengths to shun traditional business models (and the legal and regulatory structures that come along with them). While regulation of the sharing economy remains a major issue, tort law is an important complementary concept – and the subject of my new article, Sharing Tort Liability in the New Sharing Economy.Because sharing economy companies often avoid traditional employment relationships, they complicate the analysis under some long-standing tort law doctrine, particularly when a tort victim is negligently harmed by a worker in the gig economy. But traditional tort law concepts are already well-equipped to adapt to this new world of ad-hoc transactions. For ridesharing in particular, liability challenges may be solved with vicarious liability doctrines – especially joint enterprise liability. An Uber driver, for example, may be unable to bear the brunt of liability when a passenger, pedestrian, or other driver is negligently harmed. In the traditional economy, vicarious liability would solve the under-compensation problem. But sharing economy companies purport to merely “connect” providers with customers, thereby skirting the traditional relationships that would give rise to liability.
Nonetheless, vicarious liability may still attach. First, respondeat superior applies if Uber drivers are deemed employees. Even if drivers are independent contractors, vicarious liability may still attach, such as when they are engaged in a non-delegable duty (like safety). But, at the very least, courts should consider joint enterprise liability: sharing economy companies embark on a joint venture with service providers for a shared profit motive, which could amount to a joint enterprise for the purposes of vicarious liability.
Regulatory challenges are certainly at the forefront of legal issues surrounding the sharing economy, but retrospective tort remedies can help minimize harm and prevent over-regulation. Further, tort law may prove even more important under an administration that vows to cut regulations across the board. Thus, a sound approach to dealing with the sharing economy involves a look at both tort law and regulation and, in my article, I suggest that vicarious liability principles be used liberally to ensure fairness and adequate compensation. By clarifying liability issues under tort law, we can enable policymakers to proceed with a holistic understanding of how retrospective tort remedies already address some of the unique issues in the sharing economy.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
The Ethics of Talking Politics Online
Several years ago I did a short ABA piece with ten tips for maintaining professionalism online. Tip eight used to be a simple one: Steer clear of politics. Based on how we use social media these days, however, tip eight seems antiquated. "Politics" now casts a wide net and has staked its claim, front and center, on social media.
But political statements on social media are not just a matter of professionalism. They may give rise to ethics issues. For practitioners, taking a stance online on specific issues could create a conflict of interest, at least according to a November legal ethics opinion by the Washington, D.C. Bar. Model Rule 1.7 states that a lawyer has a positional conflict when the lawyer's professional judgment may be adversely affected by the lawyer's personal interest. According to the D.C. Bar, when using social media, "[c]aution should be exercised when stating positions on issues, as those stated positions could be adverse to an interest of a client, thus inadvertently creating a conflict." This opinion suggests that online political statements could be used to show a lawyer's conflicting personal interest, an issue that becomes particularly relevant as political posts dominate social media.
Potential pitfalls also exist for judges and professors.For judges, political statements may show a lack of impartiality. A South Carolina judge was suspended last month in part because his public Facebook profile contained "extensive political posts, including ones in which he appears to endorse the presidential candidacy of one candidate." But for law professors who don't practice law, the legal ethics concerns are not as great. Nonetheless, professors must also maintain professional integrity, and extreme online conduct may contribute to dismissal (as was the case for an Oberlin College professor last month). Institutions are trying to define the boundaries of acceptable social media activity by professors, keeping in mind academic freedom.
It's important to remember that a lawyer is not endorsing the client's political stance just by representing them, and lawyers certainly are entitled to have personal beliefs that differ from their client's. Civic involvement in general is a good thing; too many restrictions stifle engagement. But balance and civility often get lost in the bottomless pit of Timeline back-and-forths and tweetstorms. Toning down (or abstaining altogether) may be necessary.
I still use my ten tips when I present on social media ethics to practitioners and students. But going forward, my tip on politics may need to be updated from "steer clear" to "tread lightly," with a major caveat about positional conflicts. And it looks like I have yet another social media example to discuss in next semester's Legal Ethics course.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
Facebook News Feed Tips
Facebook frustrations have seemed to reach new heights lately. NPR's All Tech Considered did a story yesterday with tips on how to spot fake news, which spreads rapidly on social media and seems to add to the angst. But our general discontent can be reduced with the following settings for taming out-of-control news feeds (links go to Facebook's help page for instructions).
- Unfollow. You will no longer see that person's updates in your news feed but you can still view their profile and remain friends. What the unfollowed friend sees of your stuff remains unchanged, however. Added bonus: friends don't know you unfollowed them.
- Use news feed preferences. You can tell Facebook what people and pages you want prioritized in your news feed. You can also hide posts from a certain source (say, for example, whenever anyone shares a story from a specific dubious news site). If you want to prevent the echo chamber effect, prioritize legit sources that offer perspectives different than your own.
- Set as restricted. Restricted friends only see your public profile. This is useful when you're friends with someone only to facilitate group or event invitations, or if you really don't want them seeing (and commenting) on any private content at all. But don't confuse setting someone as restricted with blocking, the feature that unfriends the person and prevents all future contact via Facebook.
- Limit your audience. Consider using inline audience selectors for individual posts, like marking some friends as "acquaintances" and then posting select items to just "friends except acquaintances" as the audience.
- Review tags. Turn on Timeline review to pre-approve tagged content before it appears on your Timeline. Unfortunately, Facebook does not have Timeline review for things people post directly to your Timeline, as opposed to tagged content. So the only option to curtail unwanted direct Timeline posts is to change your settings to prevent people from posting to your Timeline at all (just be sure to change it back to "friends" before your birthday, or you'll feel very unpopular).
- Use groups. Consider discussing things in subject-matter specific groups rather than posting to the potentially broad and disparate audience for your personal profile. Public groups are visible by anyone and can be joined by anyone. Closed groups appear in a Facebook search, but posts themselves are private and new members must be invited to join. Secret groups go a step further: they are also private but can't be found in a Facebook search at all.
With some of these settings, I've been able to restore my news feed to a healthy mix of current events, cat memes, and baby pictures. Of course, limiting your audience and moving some conversations to groups doesn't give free license to be unprofessional or unethical. I'll discuss ethics specifically in my next post.
Friday, December 02, 2016
Facebook’s Fake News Crisis and Social Media Echo Chambers
This week I wrapped up my Torts course with a discussion of products liability and the McDonald’s hot coffee case. We watched this clip, which noted that Stella Liebeck’s case became one of the most misreported tort stories of all time: news of the $2.9 million verdict went viral, facts were skewed, and Ms. Liebeck was villainized.
The hot coffee case happened in the 1990s, and I can only imagine the memes and fake headlines we would have seen on Facebook had the case happened today. This brings me to the 2016 election – the results of which left many people stunned by the seemingly unpredictable outcome. Social media may be to blame, at least in part, for two reasons. First, “fake news" has blurred the lines between entertainment, advertising, and real journalism. Second, our news feeds keep us from hearing diverse perspectives.
First, fake news is becoming harder to spot and control. Until two weeks ago, Facebook allowed fake news stories as sponsored content. These stories consist of made-up clickbait, dressed up to look like legit news. Fake-news generators would pay to have their content appear on Facebook because it brought more clicks and ad revenue. Rolling Stone reported this week about a comedian and fake-news creator who intended to troll Trump while making some cash in the process, thinking his stories were too ridiculous to fool anyone. New York Times interviewed a fake news creator in Tbilisi, Georgia who focused on anti-Clinton news, as it produced the most clicks. He also considered his work satire and not fake news. Certainly we as readers should use good judgment and be at least somewhat skeptical about what we read. But one recent study shows a disturbing inability to differentiate between real news and fake news, especially among younger people. The truth is, we are not sorting out fact from fiction very well online.
Second, news feed bias may have led us further astray.About six months ago, the Wall Street Journal wrote about Facebook’s news feed bias and created an online tool showing the difference between red feeds and blue feeds. It seems obvious that Facebook’s algorithms would tailor content to fit what we already like. After all, Facebook only profits when we stay logged in and engaged. But studies show that many people are getting most of their news from social media these days, so the red feed / blue feed phenomenon may have created an echo chamber of unprecedented scale this past election cycle.
Facebook and Google recently announced that they will crack down on fake news. And, according to some reports, Facebook is doing some serious soul searching about the role fake news and news feed bias may have played in this election. But by adjusting their own internal policies to combat fake news, these companies once again act as the Great Deciders, assigning to their paid staff or contractors the task of judging the veracity of specific posts. In an effort to promote truth, they will censor. And drawing the line between fake news, satire, and sloppy journalism is tricky.
I am looking forward to seeing future scholarship on these issues. Some scholars have already noted that market forces alone fail to weed out truth from fiction, but regulation of fake news poses difficult First Amendment challenges. We also need to be wary of attempts to chip away at the immunity for online intermediaries like Facebook and Google under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. Looking beyond these legal challenges, tech experts are also grappling with the fake news problem and have proposed some design-based solutions.
But social media platforms – and all of us – must figure out how to deal with fake news and echo chambers. I personally recall the 1990s sensationalist headlines about the McDonald’s hot coffee case, and admit that I never thought critically beyond the skewed narrative at the time. And I'm pretty sure I clicked on that headline about the Pope endorsing Trump.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
Greetings from a First-Time GuestPrawf
This is my blogging debut – thanks for having me as a guest this month! I’m an assistant professor at University of Toledo College of Law, where I teach Torts, Legal Ethics, a seminar on social media discovery, and, as of next semester, Privacy & Data Security Law. I mainly write on social media & the law (which is basically the law of the horse but with emojis). I thought December would be a great month for my guest stint, as post-election analysis would die down and we once again would be interested in seemingly trivial things, like social media. So much for that!
But I still intend to blog about social media topics, including social media’s post-election angst. Other topics will include top social networks your students use (spoiler alert: it’s Snapchat), Facebook tools to tame your out-of-control news feed, social media issues in legal ethics, and Twitter tips for academics. I’ll also write a bit about the sharing economy & tort law, my other area of interest.
So thanks again for having me and I look forward to a great month!
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
State v. Dharun Ravi: Invading the Sexual Privacy of LGBTQ Persons
*This post is based on a contribution to the Boston University Law Review symposium on Danielle Citron's Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.
Invading the sexual privacy of LGBTQ persons is particularly devastating. In a world characterized by homophobia, exposing someone as gay, publicizing his or her sexual activities to others, and transforming him or her into a sexual object means that LGBTQ victims of sexual privacy invasions face stigma and discrimination.
Cyberharassment devastates its victims. Anxiety, panic attacks, and fear are common effects; post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia and bulimia, and clinical depression are common diagnoses. Targets of online hate and abuse have gone into hiding, changed schools, and quit jobs to prevent further abuse. Some lives are devastated in adolescence and are never able to recover. Some lives come to tragic, premature ends. According to one study, almost three-quarters of cyberharassment reports come from women. Nearly half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth experience cyberharassment each year, and LGBT teens are three times more likely than heterosexual teens to be harassed online and twice as likely to receive threatening or harassing text messages. As a gendered and sexualized phenomenon, cyberharassment plays a role in the continued subjugation of women and members of the LGBT community.
For sexual minorities, institutional discrimination amplifies cyberharassment’s horrors. This is not to say that heterosexual victims are crying wolf; to the contrary, cyberabuse is an equal opportunity offender. But LGBTQ victims face three additional hurdles. First, the personal psychological effects of cyberharassment are likely worse when victims live in jurisdictions with laws that discriminate against them. And despite some notable advances, anti-gay discrimination is still more the norm than exception. Second, when patterns of cyberharassment also involve “outing” the victim as gay, rampant discrimination and lost opportunity can follow. And third, for those LGBT and questioning youth who, by virtue of their families’ geographic and cultural isolation, lack local LGBT friends and role models, cyberharassment transforms the internet, ostensibly a door to a wider digital world of opportunity, into a danger zone. This enhances a no-where-to-turn sense of hopelessness that, although experienced by many victims of cyberharassment, is felt by none more acutely than LGBT youth.
Institutional discrimination faced by LGBT victims of cyberharassment metastasizes psychological effects because, as Mark Hatzenbuehler has shown, institutional discrimination enhances all mood, anxiety, and psychological disorders. In a 2010 study, Hatzenbuehler found that institutional discrimination can have a statistically significant negative effect on the mental health of LGB persons: lesbians, gay men, and bisexual individuals who lived in states that banned gay couples from marrying experienced mood, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders at higher rates than LGB persons living in equality states. It makes sense, then, that LGBT victims of bullying and harassment rival only homeless LGBT youth in the frequency and severity of psychological injury in the community.
As a means of “outing” gay persons, cyberharassment also triggers an onslaught of potential discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of health care. “Outing,” or the revelation of another’s identity, is a frequent element of cyberharassment targeting members of the LGBT community. It is a central reason why antigay cyberharassment is an invasion of an LGBT person’s privacy. Though emotionally harmful, the closet may be a necessary evil in a discriminatory world: in 29 states, you can be fired, denied a home, and denied public accommodation just for being gay. Consider the story of Mark C., one of the many LGBT victims of cyberharassment with whom I have spoken in the course of my research.
Many LGBT youth, in particular, also experience acute effects of cyberharassment because of their unique dependence on online social networks. Often faced with geographic isolation from fellow LGBT individuals, gay youth rely on online social networks to replace non-existent face-to-face communities because they allow roughly anonymous virtual interaction with like-minded individuals. Therefore, these adolescents are not only frequent internet users, but also completely reliant on the virtual community they create for social support, information about their sexuality, and answers to any questions they have about being gay. Empirical data bears this out. As early as 2001, more than eighty-five percent of LGB adolescents reported that the internet had been the most “important resource for them to connect with LGB peers.” Destruction of that online social support network through cyberharassment is, therefore, particularly harmful because it turns what might have been a gay student’s safe space into a danger zone. Gay and lesbian adolescents’ dependence on online media makes them more susceptible to those who would use it as a sword against them.
None of this is to say that cyberharassment does not devastate all its victims. But while it is clear that cyberharassment is a modern weapon used to subjugate sexual minorities, it also makes institutional discrimination worse. Cyberharassment turns second-class citizens into third-class denizens by ballooning psychological harms and triggering discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of benefits. And it takes away a virtual world of great opportunity from those who need it most.
Tyler Clementi may not have been a victim of cyberharassment. But he was "outed" by his roommate's invasion of his privacy. That Mr. Ravi acted with such disregard for Tyler's humanity makes this story reek of injustice. The criminal law, as written by New Jersey's legislature, may not have been the best tool for addressing the problem. In my next post, I will discuss a few options--beyond the criminal law--for making the internet safer for us all.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Nonconsensual Pornography and the "Gay Bachelor"
Logo TV, an LGBTQ-themed television network, is running a sort-of reality show called "Finding Prince Charming." I hear it's absolutely terrible. It looks a lot like ABC's "The Bachelor," except Logo's version is about gay men. Its star is a statuesque man named Robert Sepulveda Jr., a model, interior designer, and, apparently, a former escort. Because Mr. Sepulveda is on television trying to become famous, a celebrity gossip website thought it was "newsworthy" to publish explicit photos of him from his escort days without his consent. The photos have now been "unpublished." As far as we can tell, Mr. Sepulveda used those photos during his days as an escort. He didn't publish them online for everyone to see. Posting graphic or explicit photos of another without his or her consent is called "nonconsensual pornography" (NCP), more commonly known as "revenge porn." And it is a crime in 35 jurisdictions and counting.
Most NCP victims are women. But gay men are frequent victims, as well. Lokies Khan, a gay Singaporean man, had a sex tape posted online without consent. Speaking on the YouTube channel, Dear Straight People, Mr. Khan said he felt "violated," "scared," and undermined by the incident: “Things that I post on Instagram are things that are within my control, are things I want people to see, [that] I’m comfortable with people to look at. But these gifs of me on Tumblr are not within my control. I did not give consent. I did not know it was there.”
In my own research, I have spoken to more than 20 gay male victims of NCP. It usually happens in one of two contexts:
- As with many cases of NCP, generally, ex-boyfriends sometimes post nude or graphic images of their former partners on Craigslist, pornography websites, or use them to impersonate victims on social networking sites.
- Some gay male NCP victims participate in gay social networking apps. Those apps require their users to post a profile photograph, but social norms on the platforms often make sharing more intimate photos a de facto requirement of participation.
One person I spoke to was a victim of NCP at the hands of a photographer who enticed the victim with promises of free professional headshots for casting calls. Many victims felt "vulnerable"; others felt angry about a person stealing their photographs. Almost all of them found different ways to express how NCP is a devastating erosion of trust.
Victims sent intimate photos to their former partners when they were apart, as kind of a modern day love letter. And many victims were indignant when their friends, acquaintances, or online commenters blamed them for taking and sending the not-suitable-for-work photos in the first place. On gay social networking apps, in particular, a background trust exists. As one man said to me, "We're all gay on here. We're all part of the same tribe, looking for community and companionship in a tough world. You are expected to share photos, with your face and your body. If you don't, people don't talk to you. To have that thrown back in your face is really devastating."
NCP can destroy its victims, as Danielle Citron and Mary Anne Franks have described at multiple points in their work. The fact that photos may be "unpublished" does not make the situation any better. The original publisher may have changed his mind, but the photos, once available online, could have been downloaded, uploaded, and reposted thousands of time. Nor is it a publisher's First Amendment right to publish anything he wants about others. Even celebrities enjoy a right to privacy, which, in fact, fosters more, better, and diverse speech.
Despite having his private photos published online, Robert Sepulveda may be doing fine; he hasn't, as far as we know, experienced the kind of professional, personal, physical, and emotional abuse faced by many NCP victims. But he has been the subject of repeated ridicule online for his past as an escort. The attacks have been a combination of different types of shaming (those who both look down on male escorts and those who think he is a poor role model for the LGBTQ community). Whatever we think about escorting or "sex work" or his absolutely excruciating show, no one deserves to have his or her privacy invaded by transforming them into the subject of the prurient interests of others without consent.
Monday, September 19, 2016
State v. Dharun Ravi: A Culture of Homophobia
Dharun Ravi existed in and contributed to a suffocating culture of homophobia. It helped keep Tyler Clementi in the closet and devalued Tyler's life to the point where Mr. Ravi and his friends consciously or subconsciously felt that Tyler did not deserve a right to privacy. This is the context in which LGBTQ individuals (and many women and other marginalized groups) live: they are seen as "less than" and less deserving of equal rights. For many, it is easy to harass them, assault them, ignore their protests, and invade their privacy because their second-class status means they don't really exist as fully realized humans. The cavalier way in which Mr. Ravi and his friends approached invading Tyler's privacy contrasts with the particularly grave consequences of "outing": openly gay individuals face latent and overt discrimination in society that could make coming out terrifying and dangerous.
There were several pieces of evidence to show that Mr. Ravi himself was explicitly uncomfortable with gay people. When he heard that his roommate might be gay, he texted to a friend, "Fuck my life. He's gay" (8). He tweeted a sarcastic "yay" after seeing Tyler make out with another man on September 19 (12). His sent a dismissive tweet--"they're at it again"--on September 21. He was "shocked" at what he saw when he spied on Tyler on September 19 (20) and did not want to go back to the room afterward, suggesting he was creeped out or that there was something dirty about what Tyler did (20).
Mr. Ravi also participated in a particularly nasty homophobic exchange with a high school friend.
M.H.: hahahahha your gay roomie that. . . did you really see him make out with some guy lmao
DEFENDANT: Yeahh omg [M.W.] saw it too. He was older and creepy and def from the internet
M.H.: that's so nastyyy ew watch out he might come for you when you're sleeping! hahaha jk
DEFENDANT: Omg everyone keeps telling me that. I haven't seen him since then
M.H.: hahaha good luck with thatt
DEFENDANT: He just texted me asking when I was coming home omg.
M.H.: maybe his gay friend is in your Ed bed*
DEFENDANT: I set my computer to alert me if anyone is in it when I'm not there LOL
M.H.: really?? how lmao that's so cool
DEFENDANT: My webcam checks my bed hahaha. I got so creeped out after sunday
M.H.: hahaha that's so crazy
DEFENDANT: Yeah keep the gays away
M.H.: I saw a lesbian Asian couple today but they were like nerdy fobby asian and it was gross
DEFENDANT: Ewwww. When we were in ny we saw two guys making out on a stoop
M.H.: NY that's pretty normal though hahha one of my friends is this gay Asian guy who has his ear pierced lol I mean bellybutton pierced*
In addition to this evidence suggesting that Mr. Ravi looked down on gays and contributed to the culture of homophobia at Rutgers, there is even more evidence that Mr. Ravi knew that antigay stigma permeated his group of friends. His friends said they were "shocked" and that it was "scandalous" two men would make out with each other (11, 14). One called it "weird" (11). Everyone was gossiping and laughing about it (14). There were at least 6 people who were gossiping and whispering and pointing to the man with whom Tyler hooked up (26). One student tried to brag that being told Tyler was gay "should have fazed" her (18).
Perhaps most indicative of the fact that a culture of homophobia contributes to a devaluing of gays lives is that everyone thought what Tyler was doing in his dorm room was their business. Mr. Ravi's friends wanted to "grab a glimpse" (19). They were "curious" (14). Mr. Ravi thought nothing of purposely positioning his webcam to focus on Tyler's bed (10, 19) and tweeting out invitations to his friends to watch the sexual encounter (18, 20). And his only response to a friend asking if Mr. Ravi actually spied on Tyler was "LOL" (23).
By the end of this story, more than 18 people knew that Tyler was gay and that Mr. Ravi could spy on him. This number included Ravi's friends from high school (7-8, 21), a young woman across the hall (9), her boyfriend at another school (12), her roommate (13), a friend from class (13-14), friends of the young woman's roommate (14), other friends from college (17, 19), and the members of Mr. Ravi's ultimate frisbee team (20, 21). When Tyler found out that Mr. Ravi had been spying on him, it would be hard for him to deny that his secret was out. He decided to commit suicide shortly thereafter.
Mr. Ravi cannot be directly blamed for Tyler's suicide. But the homophobic context in which he acted and to which he contributed should be relevant when considering both the gravity of the invasion of privacy and Mr. Ravi's state of mind. Mr. Ravi remained willfully blind to the consequences of his actions.
Should willful ignorance of the effects of invading the sexual privacy of a closeted gay person should be enough for sentence enhancement? That is clearly not the way the New Jersey statute invalidated in Pomianek was written; that statute made the state of mind of the defendant irrelevant. But could a re-written statute include both intentional targeting and willful ignorance of the effects of such targeting? Antigay bias is not just using antigay rhetoric--"I hate gays" or "Gays deserve to die"--and then purposefully acting on those impulses. Antigay bias includes contributing to a culture of homophobia that devalues the lives of gay persons.
What do you think about an antibias sentence enhancement provision that gets triggered either when someone purposely acts to discriminate on someone's identity or when someone acts with reckless disregard for the discriminatory consequences of his or her actions?
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
State v. Dharun Ravi: The Appeal
In my last post, I summarized some of the basic facts of the Tyler Clementi/Dharun Ravi story. After he was convicted on all counts, Mr. Ravi appealed his convictions. He made various arguments, but his appeal was given an enormous boost by the 2015 New Jersey Supreme Court decision in State v. Pomianek, 221 N.J. 66 (2015), which declared unconstitutional a key statute upon which Mr. Ravi's conviction was based.
N.J.S.A 2C:16-1(a)(3) states:
A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of [certain specified] offense[s] ... under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim's property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim's race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity (emphasis added).
This provision was the basis for 4 of the 15 counts in the State's case against Mr. Ravi (Ravi, 2-4). Related evidence also permeated the prosecution's case, including counsel's moving closing statement (45-48). But on March 17, 2015, in Pomianek, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared the provision unconstitutional: it was void for vagueness in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Pomianek involved several workers at the Gloucester Township Department of Public Works. The defendants, all white, and the victim, a person of color, were assigned to an old garage that Public Works used for storage. Inside that garage was a large metal cage that could be padlocked closed. The workers had been "horsing around" in the garage, including in and near the cage. As part of a ruse, one of the defendants approached the victim and told him that their supervisor needed some supplies from the cage. Once the victim was inside, the defendant closed the cage door and locked it. A number of workers started laughing, and one of the defendants said, "Oh, you see, you throw a banana in the cage and he goes right in, which triggered more laughter among the men." The victim felt there were racial overtones to this statement. Another worker unlocked the cage door within 3 to 5 minutes. The victim testified that he felt "humiliated and embarrassed." After the victim was released, the defendant was heard saying, "You all right, buddy? We were just joking around."
The defendants in Pomianek were charged, among other things, with bias intimidation in violation of 2c:16-1(a)(3). The jury convicted them on those counts because, considering the racist overtones of the "banana" comment, the victim could reasonably believe that the act was committed on the basis of race.
The problem with this provision was that unlike every other bias crime statute in the country, this law was based on the state of mind of the victim, not the intent of the defendant. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that this violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A core element of due process is that a law must clearly define forbidden conduct so that individuals can tailor their behavior to conform with the law. Section (1)(a)(3) did not do that. By hinging guilt on what is going on in the victim's mind as opposed to the defendant's mind, the statute does not put a "reasonably intelligent person on notice when he is crossing a proscribed line."
Based on Pomianek, any part of Mr. Ravi's conviction based exclusively on (a)(1)(3) was void as a matter of law. But, according to the Appellate Division, evidence of Tyler's perception of the events was a "pillar" of the prosecution's case (41). It came up often, including in the closing statement. In fact, it came up so often that it "render[ed] any attempt to salvage the convictions under the remaining charges futile." It therefore was "unreasonable to expect a rational juror to remain unaffected by this evidence" (6). Evidence of Tyler's state of mind was prejudicial and not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, the court overturned Mr. Ravi's conviction in its entirety.
I am not so easily convinced. The Fourteenth Amendment does not protect people from punishment enhancement based on their indifference and willful ignorance to the plight of their victims. "Bias" should be understood as more than just stating, "I hate gays." But let's assume that Pomianek is correctly decided. The statute was poorly worded; the trial judge noted that. And it is hard to imagine convicting someone of a bias crime without any evidence of bias. There was, however, a lot of evidence that Dharun Ravi existed in a contributed to a culture of homophobia that discriminated against Tyler and devalued his life in the eyes of others. I will discuss this point in my next post.
Though we were all shocked by Tyler's suicide, it is not clear that turning to the criminal law is always the right answer. The New Jersey legislature had good intentions: it wanted to recognize that the pain of the victim, the monstrosity of the attacker, and the social context in which attacks occur matter. But maybe those considerations are best left for tort law. Clearly, evidence of the gravity of the harm and the homophobic context of Mr. Ravi's conduct could be important in a civil case against him.
Stay tuned for more!
Monday, September 12, 2016
State v. Dharun Ravi: What Happened?
On September 9, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey released its opinion in State v. Dharun Ravi. Dharun Ravi, of course, was the roommate of Tyler Clementi, a young Rutgers student who, after Mr. Ravi and his friends spied on him during an intimate encounter with another man, committed suicide on September 22, 2010. The court overturned all of Mr. Ravi's convictions.
To refresh our memories, here's what happened. (All numbers in parentheses refer to the page numbers in the Appellate Division's decision).
Tyler and Mr. Ravi were roommates at Rutgers University. Shortly after being notified that Tyler would be Mr. Ravi's roommate, one of Mr. Ravi's friends found out that someone using Tyler's email address had posted on a forum for gay people (7). So, Mr. Ravi came into college with at least an inkling that his roommate was gay. Tyler, however, was not open about his sexuality. Tyler was still in the closet.
On two occasions in September 2010, Tyler asked for some time in the room by himself (10). He had met a man using a gay social networking platform and invited him to his room (24). Mr. Ravi left. On the first occasion, which took place on Sept. 19, Mr. Ravi actually came back into the room within a few minutes and appeared to "shuffle some papers" on his desk. It turned out he was also adjusting the position of his webcam to face Tyler's bed. Mr. Ravi then used his technical skills to have his video chat platform automatically accept all calls. This allowed anyone who called him to see through his webcam. On both Sept. 19 and Sept. 21, Mr. Ravi tweeted out several comments about Tyler being gay, that he asked to be alone in their room, and that he was hooking up with another man (12). He encouraged others to call his account and watch (18). Mr. Ravi and quite a few of his friends watched live video of Tyler and another man "making out" on Sept. 19 (11). They tried to do so again on Sept. 21.
By reading some of Mr. Ravi's public tweets, Tyler found out that Mr. Ravi had invaded his privacy and made him the subject of others' prying eyes without his consent. Tyler then complained to his resident advisor and asked for either a private room or a different roommate (26-27). On Sept. 22, Tyler's RA notified Mr. Ravi about Tyler's request for a new room and explained Tyler's allegation that Mr. Ravi had invaded his privacy (29). At 8:46 PM that evening, Mr. Ravi wrote Tyler a text that (sort of) apologized (29-30). Shortly thereafter, Tyler, who had already left campus, used his cellphone to write on his Facebook page: "I'm going to jump off the GW Bridge. Sorry." Moments later, he did so (30).
On April 20, 2011, a grand jury returned indictments against Mr. Ravi for invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering apprehension or prosecution. On March 16, 2012, the jury convicted Mr. Ravi on all counts. After denying a motion for a new trial, the trial judge sentenced Mr. Ravi to 3 years probation, dependent on serving 30 days in jail (4). Mr. Ravi also had to complete 300 hours of community service, attend counseling on cyberbullying and diversity, and pay $10,000 (which was to be dedicated to helping victims of bias crimes) (5).
September 2010 was a difficult month for the LGBT community. Tyler was just one of 10 gay adolescent boys to commit suicide. Billy Lucas, 15, died on Sept. 9. Cody Barker, 17, died on Sept. 13. Seth Walsh, 13, died on Sept. 19. Asher Brown, 13, died on Sept. 23. Harrison Brown, 15, died on Sept. 25. Raymond Chase, 19, died on Sept. 29. Felix Sacco, 17, died on Sept. 29. And Caleb Nolt, 14, died on Sept. 30.
Tyler's death brought extensive media attention to the problems of suicide in the LGBTQ communities and antigay bullying. Celebrities, including Ellen Degeneres and Anderson Cooper, spoke out about both issues. Antigay bullying is indeed an epidemic facing our schools and our communities. But it is worth asking: Was Tyler a victim of "cyberbullying"? In one sense, it doesn't matter. Tyler's story brought much needed attention to a problem that needs to be addressed, and his parents have joined the fight against bullying and cyberbullying in the years since his death.
But definitions are important. There are a host of definitions of “cyberharassment” or “cyberbullying” milling around. And imprecise and inconsistent definitions frustrate our ability to understand, talk about, and solve the problem. Danielle Keats Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace and the leading cyberharassment scholar, defines cyberharassment generally as repeated online expression that intentionally targets a particular person and causes the targeted individual substantial emotional distress and/or the fear of bodily harm. There are five core elements to that definition: repetition, use of digital technology, intent to target, targeting, and substantiality of harm.
Cyberbullying is a subcategory of cyberharassment that includes all five of those elements but is focused squarely on youth-to-youth behavior. It can be understood as repeated online expression that is intended to cause substantial harm by one youth or group of youths targeting another with an observed or perceived power imbalance. This definition retains those five factors and adds two important elements: youth and power imbalance, the latter of which is actually common in many forms of cyberharassment. The asymmetry of power, which could be based on identity (i.e., a member of the majority attacking a member of a traditionally marginalized and discriminated minority), draws the line between schoolyard teasing and bullying. It should come as no surprise, then, that young members of the LGBTQ community are uniquely susceptible to bullying and its tragic consequences. They are bullied because they deviate from the norm and because antigay bullying is either tacitly or explicitly condoned by antigay bigotry and homophobia in society at large. This definition of cyberbullying captures the worst online aggressive behavior while excluding the otherwise mean, hateful, and distasteful speech that free speech norms tend to tolerate. Cyberbullying is, at bottom, cyberharassment involving youth. And it is an epidemic affecting our schools.
Although Tyler was targeted because of his sexual orientation and Mr. Ravi's behavior caused Tyler to experience substantial emotional distress, it is not clear that what happened to Tyler involved repeated behavior that rises to the level of a course of conduct. However, I am not sure that matters at all. Mr. Ravi was not accused of violating an anti-bullying law; he was accused of invading Tyler's privacy, which is exactly what he did.
With this background, I would like to use several forthcoming posts to explore several theories and questions about the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Dharun Ravi. Stay tuned for the next post!
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Copyright Doctrine: IPSC2016
IPSC - Breakout Session II - Copyright Doctrine
Summaries and discussion below the break. If I didn't know the questioner, I didn't guess. If you asked a question and I missed you, feel free to identify yourself in the comments.
Copyright State of Mind – Edward Lee
Authorship and Audience Appeal – Tim McFarlin
Free as the Heir?: Contextualizing the Role of Copyright Successors – Eva Subotnik
Leveraging Death: IP Estates and Shared Mourning – Andrew Gilden
Copyright State of Mind – Edward Lee
Offering a descriptive taxonomy about how state of mind is used in copyright law.
2d Circuit in Prince v. Cariou: transformative use, the first factor in the fair use test: objective state of mind
9th Circuit in Lenz v. Universal: DMCA 512(f) violation: subjective state of mind
State of mind re: copyright liability - it is often said that copyright infringement strict liability. This differs from criminal law, where mens rea (criminal intent) typically matters.
If we look beyond liability, state of mind figures prominently in many different copyright doctrine. For example, authorship, including intent to be joint authors (both objective indicia and subjective intent). We haven't considered the intent of the lawsuit - are we protecting copyright or privacy, for example, but Judge McKeown on the Ninth Circuit recently argued we should. For ISPs, we have the red flag cases which have both subjective and objective elements.
Dave Fagundes: Property also deals with intent. Adverse possession and first possession have a whole mess of intent-related doctrines. Perhaps the ownership intent doctrines might help conceptualize these issues.
Pam Samuelson: Think about remedies as well. Innocent infringement, as well as willful infringement. It can play out also in relation to injunctive relief. Plaintiff's state of mind might matter with regard to obtaining injunctive relief. See also the new Kirtsaeng attorneys' fee case.
Ed Lee: Perhaps I should also look at the Supreme Court's patent cases.
Matthew Sag: If there is a universal theory about what state of mind should be for any of these doctrines, is there a logic that connects us to why we have copyright in the first place?
Ed Lee: I'm skeptical of a uniform theory. See, for instance, DMCA which is a negotiation between stakeholders.
Dmitry Karshtedt: My understanding is that civil liability more objective than subjective, while for criminal liability, intent is more subjective. and should we see the same play out in copyright?
Reforming Infringement – Abraham Bell & Gideon Parchomovsky
We have an immodest goal of reforming remedies in copyright, more systematically including culpability in the analysis. Under the reformed regime, we would treat inadvertent infringement (where the infringer was unaware and couldn't reasonable become aware) and willful infringement (blatant disregard of copyright law) different from standard infringements (with a reasonable risk assumption).
The close cases are in the middle category of standard infringement. The default is standard infringement. Compensatory damages should be awarded in every case. Injunctions would be rare and no restitution for lost profits awarded in the inadvertent cases. We are trying to preserve statutory damages only for cases where it is difficult to prove actual damages. So the defendant in the standard infringement case could argue that statutory damages exceed actual damages.
Why bring it in? 1) Information forcing - incentivize owners of copyright to clarify ownership and terms of licenses. 2) Avoid overdeterrence of follow-on creation. 3) Increase fairness.
Ted Sichelman: In the patent context, we worry about transaction / licensing costs. It may matter for copyright as well. For example, if the work is an orphan work, why should I face huge potential liability?
Abraham: The inquiry should account for the difficulty of finding the copyright owner.
Ian Ayres: Does any kind of negligence go to willfulness because there is no reasonable basis for non-infringement?
Abraham: It's not clear how we would calculate such a thing: What is a reasonable risk, re: evaluation of risk of law. We're treating standard as a residual category. But we are still arguing about this point.
Pam Samuelson: Have you been thinking about remedies re: secondary liability? The framework appears to deal with direct liability, but secondary liability cases may be the more complicated cases, where we wonder how culpable is the platform? The statute tries to grapple with through 512.
Abraham: We didn't think about secondary liability until we talked with Lisa Ramsey last week.
Pam: Secondary liability is the area that needs the most reform!
Abraham: We'll have to bracket this right now. Secondary seems to follow primary, and we don't have a better model right now.
Shyam Balganesh: How much of your proposal unravels other parts of the system? Are you accounting for systemic effects? For example, if information forcing matters, why not deal with that through a heightened notice requirement? Do you think infringement is independently problematic, or is it the best place for achieving information forcing goals?
Abraham: Unlike information forcing, overdeterrence is harder to fix with levers in other places. This isn't the only way to accomplish these goals, and we don't claim that, or that it's the best way.
Jerry Liu: Is it necessary, from an overdeterrence standpoint, to distinguish between willful and standard infringement? Google Books was arguably willful infringement, but it was also efficient infringement.
Abraham: I think Google probably was a standard infringer, from a culpability standpoint. They took a fair use gamble, and they won.
Jerry: How about the MP3.com case?
Abraham: You can make an argument that format change / transferring medium is fair use, so standard.
Authorship and Audience Appeal – Tim McFarlin
Recent projects have looked at disputes between Chuck Berry and his piano player, and Orson Welles and a script-writer. In both cases, questions of audience appeal have been nagging at me, and I want to explore that further.
Can we better use audience appeal in the infringement context than the authorship context?
Audience appeal, from the Aalmuhammed v. Lee case (9th Cir 2000), is an important factor. Audience appeal turns on both contributions, (by potential coauthors), but "the share of each in the success cannot be appraised," citing Learned Hand. If that's right, and we can't evaluate audience appeal in the authorship context, is it a junk factor? If we can, how do we do it? And if we can, should we?
What do courts do with audience appeal? Mentioned in 21 cases, but 9 ignored it in reaching the decision. 9 found it weighed in favor of joint authorship, and 3 found it weighed against joint authorship?
How do we appraise it? If we find evidence of audience appeal from both contributions, at what point is the smaller contribution too small? 60/40?
Might audience appeal help with questions of infringement, for example in the Taurus / Led Zepellin case? Might we consider the appeal of Stairway to Heaven v. the appeal of Spirit's Taurus as a reason for public interest to weigh against injunctive relief? See Abend v. MCA (9th Cir. 1998).
Jake Linford: Perhaps talk to Paul Heald about his research on how musicians copy from each other. There is some potential danger in using audience appeal to decide infringement, injunctive relief, or damages, because that leads to a copyright regime where the party who is best-placed to take advantage of the works gets to use and make money with it, even if that party doesn't pay.
Peter DiCola: You are right to challenge Learned Hand. Audience appeal can be appraised. The question is whether it can be appraised convincingly. The part about in general where does audience appeal matter may be too general, and may not be at the heart of your paper.
Pam Samuelson: Some works have audience appeal, some don't, and it might not be relevant for unconventional expressive works For example, the internal design of computer programs are not appealing. You may need to unpack works where appeal matters and where it doesn't.
Jani McCutcheon: Watch where trademark and copyright protection overlap on this issue.
Free as the Heir?: Contextualizing the Role of Copyright Successors – Eva Subotnik
This paper is inspired by two recent controversies surrounding Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird: the appearance of Go Set a Watchmen, and the decision by her estate to pull the student-priced paperback from the marketplace. Both of these stories are murky. Lee may not have been in her right mind when Go Set a Watchmen was released, and the announcement from Hachette about the student-priced paperback suggest both the estate and Lee wanted the low-priced version discontinued.
Should motivations of the author or the heir matter for copyright decisions? Eva argues that it should. The law should be tougher on post-death copyright successors. We should treat them more like stewards, and require some duties on their part. If copyright ownership limits post-mordem access, heirs should be encouraged to take care.
What might stewardship mean? It has its origins in theology, traditionally applied to land. It's taken on a secular cast today. Stewardship suggests that the owner has duties as well as rights. Stewardship has something in common with commons advocates - copyright should be forward looking, and concerned about future generations. Bobbi Kwall has argued that authors are stewards, and I think it should be applied to heirs as well. Unlike authors, publishers, and distributors who did work with the work, stewardships step in as recipients of a gift, and perhaps they should step into some duties.
Application: Eva doesn't argue for a statutory change, and it's not clear stewardship would change the analysis of the Harper Lee issues, but stewardship could change fair use analysis, for example with biographers and scholars. When the heir has the ownership of a sole copy, stewardship could matter [JL: unclear to me how]. Perhaps stewardship could allow authors to better shape stewardship of their legacy. [JL: Doesn't the termination provision already exclude wills?]
Brad Greenberg: A potential disconnect between assignments and statutory heirs of termination rights. What if the author's assignee is a good steward, and the children are poor heirs, from a stewardship standpoint? Is Stewart v. Abend's analysis of the renewal right a problem for your analysis? Should we also apply stewardship duties to non-author copyright owners?
Eva: To my mind, a post-death successor gains enhanced prominence in managing the copyright after death, and I'm trying to say something specific to that group of copyright owners.
Dave Fagundes: I like the idea of stewardship, but it's still inchoate, and I can't tell to whom is the steward responsible? The work? The public? The author's intent? What if authors wanted their families to be taken care of?
Eva: You could also add the author's legacy, which may differ from author's intent. [JL: This reminds me of Mira Sundara Rajan's project from the first breakout session.]
Ed Lee: Perhaps the moral rights of integrity literature could also be helpful, which is more about legacy than children.
Giancarlo Frosio: French case 2007 might be helpful. See also Kant.
Leveraging Death: IP Estates and Shared Mourning – Andrew Gilden
Scholars seem to distrust claims by estates and heirs, but the tend to succeed in advocating for statutory change, and winning cases before the courts. But I found some recent claims that sound in mourning and grief that perhaps we shouldn't discount in copyright and right of publicity cases.
IP Narratives that are traditionally invoked:
1) Anti-exploitation. Randy California was badgered for years to sue Jimmy Page, but his heirs stepped in to claim some recognition for him.
2) Family privacy. James Joyce / J.D. Salinger estates
3) Purity narratives. Limit downstream uses, especially those that raise potential sexual purity.
4) Inheritance. It's all that the author left to the family.
5) Custody (like child custody). Children as caretakers of the work.
Copyright scholarship tends to ignore these types of claims, but we see them invoked successfully in cases like family businesses, bodily disposition, organs and genetic information, digital assets, like email, and succession laws dealing with omitted family members.
What would happen if IP took these interests seriously? Perhaps there is a desire for shared mourning and grief, both by authors' heir and fans. Fans circulate and disseminate broadly as part of public mourning, but mourning families look inward, seek silence, achieve some semblance of privacy. These interests might not be as irrational as we might think.
One solution might be to bring issues of estate planning more to the fore. Marvin Gaye and Frank Sinatra created a family business when they secured copyright, whether they meant to or not.
Rebecca Curtin: You've made a very sympathetic case, and you've repeatedly spoken about family. Do you mean family, or could you include designated heirs, like the Ray Charles foundation? What might that mean?
Andrew: We may need to think differently about those who inherit intestate and those who don't.
Brad Greenberg: The incentive theory of inheritance suggests that authors will create in part to benefit children. But there could be a labor theory of inheritance: this was the authors, like the children, and it goes to the children. In addition, is this really about IP, or just copyright?
Andrew: Copyright and right of publicity. My take is more of the labor than the incentive theory.
Q: Why does the right publicity survive death?
Andrew: Jennifer Rothman has a very good paper on this. Right of publicity is labelled as property, and property descends, so in some states it descends.
Peter DiCola: I enjoy the presentation, and I ask not to upset the applecart, but what might the First Amendment tell us about these arguments about importance of controlling meaning?
Andrew: I don't think these insights should change fair use outcomes, but my concern is that heirs' motivations are okay, especially in light of how they work in other cases. The emotional appeals are not inherently problematic. (Although I have some problems with the purity rationale).
Jake Linford: Is this project normative as well as descriptive?
Andrew: It started more descriptive, but normatively, I see no problem. Prescriptively, perhaps we could ask authors to be more clear about how their intent at registration / protection, for example.
Giancarlo: Is there space for a moral rights style argument here?
Andrew: Perhaps attribution is the best moral rights claim.
Giancarlo: Is there a mechanism is the composers of Blurred Lines had said no? Can you make the heirs grant a license?
Andrew: Blurred Lines is a declaratory judgment action - the derivative authors brought the case to foreclose liability.
Tim: The estate's emotional appeal in the Taurus complaint may have been somewhat strategic, trying to deal with the perception of greedy, rent-seeking heirs by promising to give money to sick children.
IPSC 2016 First Plenary Session
Thanks to Rachel Sachs for the following summary of the opening plenary session at IPSC! The following papers are summarized, and Q&A recounted, below the fold.
Scarcity of Attention in a World without IP
What’s In vs. What’s Out: How IP’s Boundary Rules Shape Innovation
Mark McKenna & Christopher Sprigman
What We Buy When We “Buy Now”
Aaron Perzanowski & Chris Hoofnagle
Jake Linford: Attention Scarcity in a World without Copyright
The standard account of copyright is that we have it and impose artificial scarcity so that artists can recoup their sunk costs in creating information. But the costs of creating/disseminating information have fallen, and some argue that maybe we should narrow copyright as a result.
This paper argues that narrowing copyright for this reason may be too hasty! It does so by introducing a complicating wrinkle: attention scarcity. The cheaper it is to disseminate information and the more information we get, it may create information gluts. Information gluts can impose costs on consumers, including consumers of copyrighted expression. And the competition for scarce attention is often a zero-sum affair, in which competitors benefit by using copyrighted expression (some of which they don’t pay for and thus use impermissibly) to attract and manipulate scarce attention. As such, some calls to reduce copyright protection may worsen these problems of attention scarcity and information gluts.
Linford does consider the possibility that less copyright protection is better for attention scarcity. What might happen if we reduce copyright protection? One option is that we have less entry. If we have narrower protection then there’s less incentive to enter, but then at the same time there are lower “expression costs.” With copyright retained, you have a relatively higher incentive to create, but you also have higher expression costs. Linford’s concern is that lowering protection might result in less creative or distinct entry, things that are more similar to each other, which is duplicative and results in wasteful racing to capture the first-mover advantages for derivative works. Here, Linford relies on recent work by Joe Fishman (Vanderbilt) arguing that constraints imposed by copyright can sometimes push creators to be even more creative, work that is supported by recent psychological research.
Lemley question: It turns out that crowdsourcing is at least as good and maybe better than expert selection in helping us separate good from bad creative works. So yes, if twenty people make a derivative Star Wars movie, the crowd is good at telling us which is good and bad. Are we really worse off?
Linford: One key danger is that Lucas has to rush out The Empire Strikes Back to compete with those twenty derivative movies, and we may be concerned about the effect of that pressure.
Betsy Rosenblatt: We live in a world where trends are pervasive, even in a world with heavy copyright. One successful horror film leads to twenty more mediocre ones. People tire of sameness. The solution doesn’t seem to be “stop the trend from happening,” it seems to be “let the trend run itself out.” Information scarcity may not create the problem/solution set Linford is describing.
Linford: Thinks what’s more likely is that trends will purge themselves by, instead of having 20 horror movies that pick up the tropes of the genre, you end up with 20 more identical horror movies. The more you narrow it, the more similar those interpretations are.
Central question: What sorts of things are sorted into the utility patent system rather than design patent, copyright, or trademark law? This matters for the current utility patent debates over patentable subject matter but more importantly for the tructure of the system overall. Copyright, trademark, and design patents all have doctrines designed to exclude useful or functional matter on the grounds that such matter is the proper domain of utility patent law. They define themselves in opposition to utility patent law. They all police the boundaries differently, and with different levels of rigor. They don’t do it because the material doesn’t otherwise meet the requirement of those systems – functional material may still indicate source (trademark) or have expressive content (copyright) – but they do it because we think it’s the domain of utility patent law. Mark & Kathy STrandburg have called this the Utility Patent Supremacy Principle. This only works if the other systems have a reasonably clear view of what belongs to the utility patent system.
However, in their view the sense of utility patents deployed in other areas of IP is quite reductive and intuitive, and lack of a clear sense of patent law’s boundaries creates problems both for patent law and these other fields. It’s especially hard to apply when utility patent eligibility is in flux, as it is now. Patent law itself has an inconsistent sense of its own grounding – what counts as technological innovation?
Conundrum: there’s a widespread belief that utility patent law focuses on technological innovation, but in practice that’s inconsistently enforced. Yet all other areas of IP act as if there’s a clear sense of what utility patent law is about (technological innovation) and that other areas of IP should defer to utility patents in that area.
Provides as an example the Varsity Brands case, decided by the Sixth Circuit and scheduled to be heard at the Supreme Court this upcoming term. What divided the appellate opinions in that case was their assessment of functionality. For the majority, the chevrons on the cheerleader uniforms just served to cover the body. But for the dissent, the function is to identify the wearer as a cheerleader. And in that chase, the chevrons are not separable. But if the function is just to cover the body, chevrons are separable and thus copyrightable. This case turns on the definition of functionality and what kinds of functionality the courts are supposed to keep out of copyright, which is undertheorized, as they’ve been arguing.
Linford: What’s the right answer in terms of which way should we push the doctrine?
McKenna: The paper is mostly diagnostic, it’s not prescriptive. The primary point is to identify a paradox at the heart of the system, if you think of the various forms of IP as a cohesive system. We don’t have a particular answer yet.
Ouellette: Where do you think this causes the most difficulty? Overlap may not obviously create problems.
McKenna: Overlap does create some problems, makes it more difficult for people to know what the bounds are of permissible conduct and expression. The accumulation of rights is a problem at least some times for overprotection. When we think about what kind of fair use rights we want to give, as an example, we don’t account for the possibility of overlap.
Sprigman: Some things will end up being protected in multiple ways, but some things won’t end up being protected at all – patent law may kick things out on grounds of novelty or non-obviousness, but other fields will kick it out as being functional.
Janet Freilich: Patent Clutter
Patent claims point out and distinctly claim the invention, and they’re often thought to be shorthand for and synonymous with the invention. But there are few empirical studies of these claims. This study asks whether claims are really only about the invention, or whether claims do a lot more than just point out the invention. The method she uses is to look at whether language appearing in the claim language also appears in the specification. We should care about this because if something in the claim isn’t discussed in the specification, it’s unlikely to be new or used in a new way, or alternatively it may fail the enablement or written description requirements.
Freilich finds that a great deal of claim language (roughly 25%) appears rarely or never in the specification. An average of 9.4% of claim words appear nowhere in the specification, 8.3% appear once, 7.5% appear twice. She calls this non-inventive language, and about 90% of it appears in dependent claims. Patents that have more non-inventive language have fewer forward citations and it’s less likely that the patent is maintained, two common measures (though imperfect) of patent value. Her theory is that language in the claims but not the specification is not part of the core invention of the patent.
Freilich considers limitations of her study. For instance, her methodology can’t account for drawings. She also can’t account for genus/species discussions.
Why do patentees do this? There’s an information transmission functions for the patentees. It may also serve a decoy function – competitors may not be sure what you’re planning to do with an invention. It might help to avoid rejection during prosecution. And it might provide insurance against future commercial uncertainty or litigation.
Freilich argues that some of these claims may not satisfy the enablement and written description requirements. There’s also a clarity difficulty here. Claims are already hard to read – non-inventive language makes claims more difficult to read even, especially because the additions by definition are not defined in the specification. Examiners also report struggling with non-inventive language, making their jobs harder. It also makes patents hard to search, when you use keyword searches (a lot of false positives). It may also create the illusion of a patent thicket in an area.
Ultimately, Freilich urges us to think of claims as very complicated and doing more than just describing the invention. It opens up questions like what does the ideal claim look like? There is a tradeoff between precisions and concision. It may not be practical to get rid of all of this, but some of this is clearly problematic.
Fromer: Troubled by the assumption that what’s in the claim language is the only thing that relates to the invention. The specification is frozen at the time the patent is filed, but claims may be amended throughout prosecution. Without looking at the original claim language, it’s difficult to make these kinds of conclusions. More generally, there are many ways to express something and often in practice the specification is more heavily written by the inventors, while the claims are written by lawyers. It doesn’t mean it’s not inventive, just that different people write something in different ways.
Freilich: This is not a precise proxy, but in general patent prosecutors try to ensure that what’sin the claims is reflected in the specification. And she does have some data on claims as proposed versus
granted. A good amount of patents add non-inventive language during prosecution, but others take it out or remain the same.
Vishnubhakat: What you describe as non-inventive language could be language in the claim and simply be what the inventor regards as her invention. If you have it in the claims and not the specification, it could be ill-enabled and described but still satisfy novelty and nonobviousness. So the finding that 9.4% of words never appear in the specification suggests that if this is a story about people who are inventing things and not describing well enough to claim the full scope of the invention is that they’re leaving claim scope on the table, and that seems consistent with a finding that about 10% of patent grants are first-action allowances where there’s not a back-and-forth between examiners and patent applications.
This project builds on a big question: what does it mean to own something? What does it mean to buy something? The now-famous Amazon 1984 case is a big example of why this is a difficult question. Some people look at this and say that consumers understand that they’re buying a license to something, not a copy of it. Perzanowski has never heard a consumer say this. Perzanowski & Hoofnagle set out to understand how consumers perceive this language.
They created a fictitious marketplace and surveyed almost 1300 consumers and asked them about what the “buy now” language means. They screened consumers to be sure that they were all in the market for digital books, music, or movies, and ensured representativeness – pretty close to census data on nearly all metrics. They sorted them into three categories. They saw a page for an ebook, an mp3 album, or a digital movie. Each respondent could also choose between different titles within those media forms. Look at the ebook category as an example. Some people got the “buy now” button for a digital item, some people got “buy now” for a paperback copy, some people got a “license now” button for a digital item, and some people got a little notice about what they were permitted to do with the digital item they were paying for.
Key findings: 1. The “Buy Now” button misleads a substantial number of consumers about the rights they acquire in digital media. Substantial numbers of people think they can lend, gift, or devise these copies by will. The number of people who think they “own” a product drops significantly between people who saw “buy now” or “license now,” although the “license now” group still had a high percentage of people in the lending and gift categories. Many subjects, though, chose “don’t know” in the “license now” group.
2. Those misperceptions are material to consumer decision making. More than half of the respondents would pay more for digital goods that enabled lending, reselling, or using device of that choice, and respondents said they would prefer to retain those rights. And many consumers said they were more likely to download things illegally or stream them if they didn’t have those rights.
3. Replacing the buy now button with a short notice explaining the rights coming with the copy significantly reduced misperceptions. The short notice group seeing the ebook shows significant reductions in the owning, lending, gift, will, and resale categories. However, this wasn’t true for the digital movie group.
Goldman: I wonder if you can tell a different story from the data, which is that it’s really hard to educate consumers. You can still argue that most consumers aren’t getting the message even in the short notice group. What is the best way to educate them?
Perzanowski: Keep in mind that these people had precisely one exposure for ten or fifteen seconds to the short notice. He’d imagine that with repeated exposure you might see those results increasing more. Further, he’s not a professional user interface developer, and someone who has expertise in this might be able to improve it. It’s a promising avenue for improving consumer understanding but more work needs to be done. What we might see is instead of consumers learning is that they don’t bother to read it, which is the opposite of what we’d hope for.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
I, for one, welcome our new robot Law Lords.
Friends, I've been a terrible guest-blogger so far this month. My apologies. Life (and teaching... mostly teaching) intervened.
But one of the things I'm teaching is an experimental yearlong project-based seminar called the Policy Lab (link is somewhat obsolete), where students spend the first semester learning about an area of legal policy, and the second designing innovations to work on it. And for this first run-through, students have been thinking about legal technology and access to justice. They've learned about things like predictive coding, multijurisdictional tech-driven delivery of legal services, and artificial intelligence, and they've had virtual as well as physical visits from experts and people making waves in the area, including Dan Katz, Jake Heller, Stephen Poor, Tim Hwang, and Craig Cook, as well as more local folks---and now they're working on designing (though not fully implementing) technological tools to provide legal knowledge to nonprofits, as well as policy analyses of, e.g., the ethical implications of such tools. I'm really proud of them.
I'm also a confirmed parking and traffic scofflaw, who once beat a parking ticket with a procedural due process claim, and also once beat a speeding ticket by getting testimony about the laser evidence chucked on the good-old Frye standard (back in grad school, when that standard applied in California). So imagine my delight when I saw this story: "A 19-year-old made a free robot lawyer that has appealed $3 million in parking tickets". A Stanford kid, Joshua Browder, has written a webapp that (as far as I can discern without trying it out or seeing the code) quizzes people about their parking tickets (U.K. only, alas) in natural language, invokes what is sometimes called an expert system to discern a defense for them, then provides an appeal for them to file. Obviously, I have lots of questions and thoughts about this after the fold.
First, is this legal in the U.K.? How do folks feel about the unauthorized practice of law on the other side of the pond? And what about California? On some aggressive interpretations of UPL rules, we might think that the awesome kid is practicing British law in California. As this kind of service, and the services provided by companies like RocketLawyer, LegalZoom, and the like become more customized, and interact with people more like lawyers interact with clients, the UPL questions are going to get harder and harder. The natural language aspect of the parking ticket thing feels to me more like legal practice: you can easily imagine a client trusting an interactive, English-speaking app more than they might trust a more web 1.0 or 2.0 system of drop-down menus and such. Are the regulators going to quash this (especially now that he's looking to expand to New York), or are they going to get out of the way?
Second, to me, this level of legal tech innovation seems like an unmitigated good. Is there anyone scrutinizing the behavior of parking enforcement authorities right now (given that it's far too small-fry in most cases for lawyers), or is the parking ticket system in many cities nothing but taxation by another name, buttressed by the total lack of any real opportunity to challenge them? Browder might look closer to his temporary home, given that San Francisco is kind of notorious for its abusive parking tickets and they've been resisting the use of other automated systems to squeeze out a droplet of due process from the machine. As I've argued previously on this blog, nickel-and-diming people to death with penny-ante law enforcement directed at ordinary day-to-day behaviors is a threat to the kind of ideas underlying the rule of law, and maybe software can fix it where lawyers can't.
Third, to fellow prawfs: as folks like Dan Katz and Oliver Goodenough keep reminding us, this is coming to the rest of the law. Right now, the advances seem mostly to be looming over the discovery process, with stuff like predictive coding threatening to be the second level of the inexorable process of stripping the legal profession of the rents generated by document review (where outsourcing and offshoring were the first), as well as to relatively small-scale stuff like parking tickets, leases, etc. for small players. But as the technology gets more sophisticated, it has the potential to supplement or replace lawyers in more areas of law. (Right now, the most hubristic claims are being made by an early-stage startup called Ross... but what happens if those claims turn out to be even sort-of true?) What can we as law professors do about it?
One option is to get a lot better about teaching our students to be more comfortable with technology, as users as well as creators, even to the point of trying to teach them programming and machine learning. That's a strategy I'm interested in exploring further, but I also have some skepticism about it. It doesn't obviously follow from the danger of technology supplanting lawyers that the lawyers who will be best positioned to survive are those who are capable of operating in both domains. Whether that's true depends on the shape of the ultimate market: will it actually demand people with both legal skill and technological skill (perhaps to translate from one to the other), or will it favor people with pure technological skill plus a handful of really good lawyers to handle the most high-level work? My crystal ball isn't sharp enough to tell me, though I'm encouraging my students to tech up to the extent possible in order to hedge their bets. But what else can we do?
Sunday, January 31, 2016
The Supreme Court, On Demand
It has become almost a yearly rite: Congress introduces a bipartisan bill to require television cameras in the Supreme Court. The Justices express their concerns about the proposal. High-minded words are exchanged about the dignity of the courts versus the public’s right to know. Eventually the bill dies in committee.
The traditional arguments for cameras, such as public interest in following high-profile cases, or general appeals to transparency, are unlikely to resonate with the Court any more this year than in years past. But there is another case for Supreme Court cameras, and it stems from the federal judiciary’s own highly successful cameras program in the district courts.
In 2011, the Judicial Conference of the United States authorized a pilot program for periodically recording civil proceedings in fourteen federal district courts. The proceedings are then uploaded to the U.S. Courts website, where they are indexed and accompanied by additional information on the case. The entire process is conducted by the courts themselves, without media cameras or external video processing. The result has been a video library of hundreds of proceedings, ranging from pretrial conferences to summary judgment hearings to multi-day trials. The videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
The success of the district court pilot, which I explore in much more detail here, offers an excellent blueprint for a parallel Supreme Court program.
First, as the district court pilot has shown, both practicing lawyers and ordinary citizens stand to learn a great deal from actually watching Supreme Court proceedings. Watching the Court in action educates those in the legal profession about procedures before the Court, the issues of particular interest to the Justices, and ways in which an attorney might capture the interest and attention of the Court. For the public, watching the Court in action is all the more important: rather than allowing journalists and comedians define the Court’s work after the fact, the public can go straight to the source. Many studies suggest that watching an event on video (whether delayed or through live streaming) carries many of the cognitive benefits accrued from watching a live event. Whether the public would take advantage of this educational opportunity in any serious way is an open question, but at least that opportunity would exist.
Second, a recording (and/or live streaming) program would bolster the Court’s public legitimacy, by openly demonstrating the court’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Public support for the Supreme Court has been hovering at or below 50% for much of the past decade. At the same time, the public is increasingly seeking information through screen time. Watching the Court in action can demystify the judicial process and reduce public reliance in the messaging of politicians, reporters, and editorial writers. Supreme Court Justices, like all federal judges, are public servants. If they are proud of their work, they should welcome public viewing.
Finally, it suggests how the courts can achieve these educational and transparency goals without relying on the news media—the primary public concern of the Justices. Just as cameras have been placed in unobtrusive locations within district courtrooms, and the final recordings made available on the courts’ website, so too can recordings of Supreme Court proceedings be made available on its website, accompanied by rich contextual matter. The Supreme Court can also easily provide live streaming of oral arguments and case announcements without threatening the dignity or solemnity of the proceedings. Indeed, it may avoid the alternative, John Oliver-style, treatments. If the Court really wants to have some control over its own message, it cannot close its eyes and ears to the realities of the twenty-first century.
At least, we can hope.
N.B. -- The district court program has been an excellent resource for my teaching, and I recommend it highly for others whose students cannot as a practical matter visit the courthouse to observe proceedings.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Piling on Judge Posner
Cue the outrage: Judge Posner is in the news again for researching facts outside the record and using those facts in judicial opinions. His earlier research included issues of donning and doffing work clothes, dreadlocks in prisons, guns and danger, a traveling would-be preacher and campus geography, and a rabbi involved in a dispute with Northwestern University. Unlike some judges who do research but don't disclose it, Judge Posner is forthright about his research, discussing it at length in chapter 5 of his book, Reflections on Judging.
Although federal judicial ethics rules (Canon 3(A)(4)) are implicated when judges do their own fact research, in practice the propriety of the research tends to come down to whether judicial notice would be proper. For adjudicative facts (generally what Judge Posner is researching), judicial notice is only proper under the rules of evidence if it can be "accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." F.R. Evid. 201. (There is no exception for "background information," although such research might meet the requirements for adjudicative facts, or be mere harmless error). Especially at the appellate level, fact research can also mess with the burden of proof, the prohibition of judges as witnesses, and the requirements for admissibility of treatises under the hearsay rule.
Some of Judge Posner's research is entirely proper under those requirements. Some is not. And unless you count the availability of a motion to reconsider, it fails the procedural requirement of Rule 201: "On timely request, a party is entitled to be heard on the propriety of taking judicial notice and the nature of the fact to be noticed. If the court takes judicial notice before notifying a party, the party, on request, is still entitled to be heard." One of the concerns about independent judicial research is the loss of an opportunity to argue that the "facts" the judge finds are wrong, or are not indisputable, or have been misapplied. In addition, Judge Posner uses some of his research to draw inferences, and that is an area where an opportunity to be heard is especially important. In U.S. v. Boyd (the gun case) for example, research about the nature of ammunition and the location of buildings was used to infer that shooting a gun into the air at 3 a.m. in downtown Indianapolis created a "substantial risk of bodily injury to another person." In the traveling preacher case, Judge Posner drew a conclusion about the comparative desirability of speaking locations from Google's view of the college campus. The research involves not just "facts," but also inferences from those facts, and so research done at the appellate level, outside the record, with no opportunity to reply, can be particularly troubling.
But hold on a minute. . . .When I initially researched and wrote about the issue of judicial research, I did something I had never done before, and never expect to do again: wrote a law review article with two endings. Independent judicial research raises some significant policy concerns, and I worry about those, but there is also a powerful policy counterargument, and Judge Posner makes it in the most recent case, Rowe v. Gibson.
- This was a case with a pro se plaintiff, and the information disclosed by Judge Posner's research could easily have been put in the trial court record by competent plaintiff' counsel.
- The defendant's medical expert (whose views were challenged by information that can be found online, as well as by the plaintiff's own sworn statements about his symptoms) was himself a defendant
- This was not the review of a jury fact-finding, but a question of whether a fact issue existed that should be submitted to the jury rather than resolved through summary judgment. Judge Posner's research would thus lead to a fuller fact-finding process, not disrupt one.
To put it more broadly -- do judges need to accept a result that may be very wrong in "fact" (put even more strongly, a miscarriage of justice) even when asymmetrical party resources have severely skewed the record? Judges themselves are strongly divided on this issue, polls show. Regarding the Rowe case itself, opinion is split up the middle in an Above the Law poll (scroll down and click on "View Results"). Criminal cases may raise especially strong concerns. Seventh Circuit judge Diane Wood once noted that Internet research about street names cast doubt on a criminal conviction. U.S. v. Harris, 271 F.3d 690, 708 n.1 (7th Cir. 2001) (Wood, J., dissenting). However, even if we want to allow research to promote accurate outcomes, the need to give the parties timely notice and an opportunity to be heard is crucial.
This policy debate is not easily resolved, and one can construct a parade of horribles on both sides. In the meantime, lawyers would do well to take care at the trial level that important information is made part of the record.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Rentboy.com and the Internet's Role in Sex Work
On Tuesday, New York police officers and agents of the Department of Homeland Security raided the Manhattan offices of Rentboy.com (link is to the Wikipedia page). The company's chief executive and other members of the leadership and employment team were also arrested at their homes. According to the Complaint, rentboy.com, a social networking website that connects male sex workers to clients, has been the hub of a multimillion dollar criminal enterprise.
This episode, on the heels of another sex-related internet story at Ashley Madison, raises several questions. The broadest: Should prostitution be criminalized? Reasonable people disagree. The narrowest: Did rentboy.com commit a crime? At this stage, which just requires the government to offer facts that make the case viable, there is factual and legal sufficiency to move forward. I have additional questions: Why is this website a priority for the government? Has the internet made the problem of sexual exploitation worse?
For better or for worse, prostitution is illegal in New York and rentboy.com, the Complaint alleges, fostered, promoted, and facilitated prostitution. A brief read of the redacted Complaint shows the not-so-subtle advertisements individuals posted looking for clients: all of them were thinly veiled posts that included sexual preferences and costs. The website, which charged significant sums for sex workers to advertise, promoted the practice of prostitution by hosting events, giving out awards, and cutting out the middle man in the off-line sex work arrangement. Therefore, it is hard to argue that there is insufficient evidence to move forward.
Should prostitution be a crime and should city and federal law enforcement be spending time and money on investigating and prosecuting this particular website is another question.
Scholars far smarter than I have debated the merits of criminalization of sex work for decades. For some, the decision to commercialize one's body is empowering and the right of free, autonomous individuals in a democratic society. For others, prostitution is not a free and voluntary choice: it is either forced labor or someone's last hope for survival. In many cases, sex workers are victims of abuse and legitimizing prostitution promotes the very real harms some young people face when they are caught in the world of sex trafficking.
The victimization problem may be particularly acute for LGBT youth, though we don't have enough research to make an airtight case. There is a disproportionate number of LGBT youth in the commercially sexually exploited population. One study suggested that within 48 hours of running away from home, something LGBT youth are much more likely to do than their heterosexual peers, 1 in 3 homeless LGBT youth will be approached with offers or invitations to sell their bodies for sex. A Canadian study found that LGBT youth are three times as likely to engage in survival sex than their heterosexual peers. And survival sex -- exchanging sexual favors for food, shelter, clothing -- is a gateway to the sexual exploitation marketplace.
Not all men advertising their services on rentboy.com are victims. Indeed, there is no allegation in the Complaint that any advertisement for sex-for-pay was nonconsensual (although evidence of that may turn up). But that misses the point. Prostitution is illegal. The question of should prostitution be illegal is really a societal choice about whether we are willing to restrict one group's freedom -- that of willing sex workers -- to protect another's -- that of victims, of abuse and sex traffickers, who have no choice but to commercialize their bodies. New York has made the choice to protect the victims.
The internet law implications of this case are worth mentioning even though they are taking a back seat to the broader debate over sex work. With respect to jurisdiction: The website's offices are in Manhattan, under the jurisdiction of the Southern District. The Eastern District (Brooklyn) is leading this case because many of Rentboy.com's sex workers live and work in Brooklyn. DHS is involved because many of the transactions involved interstate commerce. The internet's reach, therefore, has not only given various different jurisdictions potential control over anti-prostitution litigation; it has also federalized it. But that is not the result of overzealous law enforcement eager to score an anti-gay victory. That is the nature of the internet and jurisdiction over it.
With respect to commerce: Rentboy.com has done one thing that anti-prostitution advocates have wanted for decades, and it has used the internet to do so. The website has arguably helped sex workers by eliminating the middle man, the "pimp", in a commercial sex transaction. Pimps, the evidence suggests, perpetrate much of the abuse inherent in the world of prostitution, so taking them out of the equation should be liberating to sex workers. But the website has also made a commercial sex transaction easier, which further perpetuates prostitution's culture of abuse and victimization.
Setting aside the broader discussion over (de)criminalizing prostitution, this story is another example of how we have to accept that internet life is part of "real" life, subject to the same laws as offline transactions and the cause of very real harms to real people. Rentboy.com cannot escape liability simply because it tossed up a disclaimer saying none of its advertisements are for sex-for-pay. Websites that facilitate prostitution still promote the same culture of victimization that New York has decided is bad enough to merit restricting the freedom of voluntary sex workers.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
Recommending Highly The Black Box Society by Professor Frank Pasquale
This is my last post for this stint (my third) on Prawfsblawg and I want to thank again for inviting me Howard Wasserman and the others who are doing the work of keeping going what Dan Markel, ZT”L started.
I also wanted to share a very interesting, well-written and important book that I’ve been reading this month by PrawfsBlawg alumni @frankpasquale called The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information. (Amazon). Professor Pasquale is a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law School of Law. In this book, Frank explains in clear, non-technical English what exactly is going on behind the internet technology we use every day. He explains how the sites we access on the internet are not just collecting information from us, but are selling it to others who are using that information in shaping the information we get back. So, and this among the more benign points, what you get when you run a Google (or other) search is probably very different than what I would. Google is not an automated index nor is a database like Lexis or Westlaw. Moreover, the information collected isn’t just shaping the advertisements we see on the screen, it’s controlling our access to jobs, credit, insurance, security clearances, and housing. As he explains, “you can’t form a trusting relationship with a black box.”
What makes the book of special interest to law professors is that it doesn’t just present the issue, it addresses the lack of legal restraints in the United States to regulate (or even monitor) the information private companies collect and the ways they use it. Frank makes a strong case, as he has in his scholarship, for the role of regulation not just in promoting transparency, but in regulating behavior. As he explains, “If credit scores can be regulated, why not the scoring systems used by digital advertisers and employers?”
Whether we directly use the internet to apply for credit, insurance or jobs, those offering these things to us have full access to extensive data about what we like, what we do, and how we are likely to behave. For example, they know whether we are willing to pay above market price for convenience. We are, he tells us, voluntarily opening our entire lives to commercial organizations who not only lack any obligation to keep our confidences, whose business model is to package and sell them.
While we were worrying about the government listening to our phone calls, we didn’t notice that “the state’s immense powers of compulsion and enforcement can now be enlisted in support of the black box technologies of the search, reputation, and finance sectors.”
I commend the book to you highly, as well as his NY Times Op-Ed overview but in the event you need more convincing, please see what others have said in Science, The New Republic, Slate, and The New York Times.
Monday, October 13, 2014
10 Lists I Read on the Internet That Made Me Feel Stupid
Maybe I'm just still pondering College Magazine's list of "22 Reasons Why Going to Law School is the Best Decision You'll Ever Make", which, unlike anything I've written, got picked up by Huff Post. All in good fun, sure, though perhaps over-selling the case and understating the seriousness of law school as a financial proposition.
But I must not be the only person to notice that the internet seems to have been taken over by lists. There they are at the bottom and sides of the screen on my tablet, just begging to be clicked on as I strain to get up that one last hill on the stationary bike. Yes, I know, it's all about ads, and getting to put a different ad up after each click on the list. Still...
It's as if the internets think people can only think in lists. I'm all for, say, numbered blog posts, to help make it easier for commenters to point out which aspect of my argument they found the most stupid. But among the problems with these lists is that their authors seem to gravitate towards the number 10, or 12 (unlike our industry's latest booster), but sometimes getting past eight requires adding a few entries that probably didn't belong.
I'll join the fun, though. Here's a list of recent lists I find silly:
I desire only to smell it, drink it, and dream of it.
I prefer to think of myself as a being of only thought and light.
Don't care what coast animates what character. Still cry every time Mufasa dies.
Seriously, Buffalo has an NFL team? Huh.
It's so obviously the best place to live in America we didn't even try for 10 reasons.
Holy Mother Goddess, pagans can go on and on and on...
Odd that "hurts" and "pain" aren't more prominent, or at least "Riggs, I'm getting too old for this ..."
No Tweets about conferences? That's like the most exciting thing we do, dude.
Back in my day, we used to call this a "mix tape".
Guessing Joe Slater knew most of them.
Friday, October 03, 2014
The Right to be Forgotten
Much of my scholarship concerns comparative constitutional law. An interesting example of such topics being addressed, beyond a law journal, is the recent article by Jeffrey Toobin in the Sep. 29 New Yorker titled "The Solace of Oblivion," https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/29/solace-oblivion. His article focuses on a European Court of Justice ruling that essentially ordered Google to delete any links to information regarding an individual in Spain, who had cleared up some financial difficulties that had been previously written about on the Internet. The ECJ said individuals had a right to prohibit Google from linking to items that were "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed." From a U.S. First Amendment perspective, such a ruling would almost certainly be an untenable speech restriction, especially given the vagueness and overbreadth of these criteria.
The article includes an interview with the Austrian born Oxford professor who is considered by Toobin to be the "intellectual godfather" of this right to be forgotten. The professor apparently sees analogies between Google retaining links to permanent blemishes about people on the one hand, and the Stasi, or other surveillance states, keeping records on people. It's a short fascinating article that I recommend to folks who want to learn more about the differences between American and European approaches to these issues. Students would find it especially accessible. The article has special relevance now in light of disclosures regarding NSA and other surveillance actions in the U.S. Yale Law Professor James Whitman wrote a seminal law review article addressing some of the underlying philosophical differences between the U.S. and Europe on privacy that has some similarities. "The Two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity Versus Liberty," 113 Yale L.J. 1151 (2003-4), https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1647&context=fss_papers
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
The Electorate and Attorneys
Thanks to the PrawfsBlawg folks for letting me join in again. Dan Markel's loss has been devastating, but I hope we can keep his mission alive here by going full speed ahead. As an Iowa-based law professor (Director of the Drake Constitutional Law Center), we have one of the key U.S. Senate elections occurring between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. They are battling to replace Democrat Tom Harkin. Some of you may know, from national new stories, that Braley got into trouble when he was filmed at an out of state fundraiser explaining, in part, that popular incumbent Senator Grassley is a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school. Moreover, Braley elaborated that Grassley may become leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Braley's statements were not good politics to say the least. In addition, the fundraiser apparently involved trial lawyers and Braley himself is a trial lawyer. Joni Ernst supporters have run that film clip often on television. On the other hand, Ernst has at times advocated abolishing the Department of Education, privatizing social security, and has not opposed impeaching President Obama. During a recent debate, she appeared to move to the center on some issues as would be expected. Braley did a good job in the debate but did not press her hard on certain matters.
What's fascinating though is that the Braley team has made no effort on television to defend the view that lawyers can play valuable roles in society, even though his campaign Web site does just that. The Web site mentions several instances of Braley helping the underdog against various powerful interests. Certainly, former Presidential candidate John Edwards used his work as a plaintiff's attorney at times to promote his candidacy. Presumably Braley's political consultants (who may know more than me) think the "attorney" word should go virtually unmentioned in television advertisements. But that has handed over the issue of who is the better person to Joni Ernst, as her campaign has run effective ads about her leadership in the National Guard. Moreover, she presents well on television. The polls show Ernst with about a 6 point lead. Whatever happens, it's sad to see the Braley team essentially abandon any defense of some of the good work that Braley likely did as an attorney, even if their strategy is not totally unexpected.
Thursday, September 04, 2014
Using GoFundMe for Litigation
Here is a creative way this local news anchor is trying to raise public awareness and money for defending his case against a non-compete he had signed with his former employer. Watch him and his litigation team explain their woes.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Looks like President O got an early start on that coconut
After the next inauguration, quipped President Obama in a hipster Tumblr interview today, he says he'll "be on the beach somewhere, drinking out of a coconut . . ." Maybe sooner than that, as the president proclaims at the beginning of the interview: "We have enough lawyers, although it's a fine profession. I can say that because I'm a lawyer."
So "don't go to law school" is the message he wants to get across. Larger debate, of course. But let's see what he says right afterward. Study STEM fields, he insists, in order to get a job after graduation. STEM study, yes indeed. But STEM trained grads often look beyond an early career as a bench scientist or an IT staffer, or a mechanical career or . . . that is, STEM-trained young people look to leverage these skills to pursue significant positions in corporate or entrepreneurial settings. Hence, they look for additional training in business school, in non-science master's programs, and, yes, even in law schools.
Tumblr promises #realtalk, so here is some real talk: Significant progress in developing innovative projects and bringing inventions to market require a complement of STEM, business, and legal skills. These skills are necessary to negotiate and navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment and to interacts with lawyers and C-suite executives as they develop and implement business strategy. Perhaps too many lawyers, but not too many lawyers who are adept at the law-business-technology interface. "Technology is going to continue to drive innovation," wisely insists President Obama. But it is not only technology that is this driver, but work done by folks with a complement of interdisciplinary skills and ambition.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
UF Law's (and My) New MOOC: The Global Student's Introduction to US Law
I am now officially part of a MOOC, which went online today. It has been a learning experience (!!), with the biggest lesson being that it is nowhere as easy as you might think to put one of these courses together. I plan to blog about the experience at length when I get a chance. For now, though, you might be interested in viewing the University of Florida Law School's foray into the great MOOC experiment: The Global Student's Introduction to US Law.
The course description is as follows:
In this course, students will learn basic concepts and terminology about the U.S. legal system and about selected topics in the fields of constitutional law, criminal law, and contract law. A team of outstanding teachers and scholars from the University of Florida faculty introduces these subjects in an accessible and engaging format that incorporates examples from legal systems around the world, highlighting similarities to and differences from the U.S. system. Students seeking an advanced certificate study additional topics and complete assignments involving legal research that are optional for basic level students. The course may be of interest both to U.S. students contemplating law school and to global students considering further study of the U.S. legal system.
My Senior Associate Dean Alyson Flournoy spearheaded the project, and we had excellent technical assistance, which was crucial, by Billly Wildberger. My colleagues Pedro Malavet, Jeff Harrison, Claire Germain, Loren Turner, Jennifer Wondracek, and Sharon Rush all provided lectures, and our research assistant Christy Lopez is providing support with the discussion forums.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Of (Courtney) Love and Malice
Today Seattle Police released a note found on Kurt Cobain at his death excoriating wife Courtney Love. Based on her subsequent behavior, Love cannot have been an easy person to be married to. I've been researching Love lately for an article on social media libel that I'm writing with RonNell Andersen Jones. Love is not only the first person in the US to be sued for Twitter libel; she's also Twibel's only repeat player thus far. According to news reports, Love has been sued for Twitter libel twice , and recently she was sued for Pinterest libel as well.
Love's Twitter libel trial raises interesting issues, one of which is how courts and juries should determine the existence of "actual malice" in libel cases involving tweets or Facebook posts by "non-media" defendants. As you probably recall, the US Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment requires public figures and public officials to prove actual malice--i.e., knowledge or reckless disregard of falsity--before they can recover for defamation. And even private figure defamation plaintiffs involved in matters of public concern must prove actual malice if they wish to receive presumed or punitive damages. However, US Supreme Court jurisprudence elucidating the concept of actual malice predominantly involves “media defendants”—members of the institutional press—and the Court’s examples of actual malice reflect the investigative practices of the institutional press. Thus, the Court has stated that in order for a plaintiff to establish actual malice, “[t]here must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication." [St. Amant v. Thompson] Actual malice, for example, exists if a defendant invents a story, bases it on ‘an unverified anonymous telephone call,” publishes statements “so inherently improbable that only a reckless man would have put them in circulation,” or publishes despite “obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of [an] informant or the accuracy of his reports." Id.
These examples have little resonance for “publishers” in a social media context, many of whom, like Love, post information spontaneously with little verification other than perhaps a perusal of other social media sources. The typical social media libel defendant is less likely than her traditional media counterpart to rely on informants strategically placed within government or corporate hierarchies or to carefully analyze primary sources before publishing. Moreover, the typical social media defendants has no fact-checker, editor, or legal counsel and is less likely than institutional media publishers to have special training in gauging the credibility of sources or to profess to follow a code of ethics that prizes accuracy over speed.
The issue Courtney Love's libel trial appears to have raised is whether it constitutes reckless disregard of falsity if a defendant irrationally believes her defamatory accusation to be true. I say "appears," because one can only glean the issue from media accounts of Love's libel trial--the first full jury trial for Twitter libel in the US. The jury found that Love lacked actual malice when she tweeted in 2010 that her former attorney had been "bought off." Specifically, Love tweeted: “I was f—— devestated when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote[sic].” Holmes sued Love in California state court for $8 million, arguing that the tweet accused Holmes of bribery. Love contended that her tweet was merely hyperbole. News accounts of the jury verdict in Love’s favor, however, indicate that the jury found that Love did not post her tweet with “actual malice." The jury deliberated for three hours at the end of the seven-day trial before concluding that the plaintiff had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that Love knew her statements were false or doubted their truth.
The Love case doesn't set any precedents, but it raises interesting issues for future cases. According to court documents and news accounts, Love consulted a psychiatrist for an “addiction” to social media. Certainly Love’s actions in the series of defamation cases she has generated do not seem entirely rational, but there is no “insanity defense” to a libel claim. Yet the determination of whether a defendant had “actual malice” is a subjective one, meaning that it is relevant whether the defendant suffered from a mental illness that caused her to have irrational, or even delusional, beliefs about the truth of a statement she posted on social media. It seems problematic, however, for the law to give no recourse to the victims of mentally disordered defamers pursuing social media vendettas based on fantasies they have concocted. As a practical matter, this problem is likely to be solved by the skepticism of juries, who will rarely accept a defendant’s argument that she truly believed her delusional and defamatory statements. Or at least I hope so.
And in case you wondered . . . Love's first social media libel case involved her postings on Twitter, MySpace and Etsy calling a fashion designer known as the "Boudoir Queen" a "nasty lying hosebag thief" and alleging that the Queen dealt cocaine, lost custody of her child, and committed assault and burglary. Love apparently settled that case for $430,000. Love's third social media libel case involves further statements about the Queen that Love made on the Howard Stern show and posted on Pinterest. Some people, it seems, are slow learners.
Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on April 30, 2014 at 06:30 PM in Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Lyrissa Lidsky, Torts, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (7)
Sunday, November 03, 2013
NYT v. Sullivan Anniversary Symposium at U. of Georgia
The University of Georgia Law Review is hosting an impressive and impressively well organized symposium honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. Justice John Paul Stevens is the keynote speaker, and David Savage of the LA Times will be giving a lunchtime talk. The panels of speakers discussing press issues old and new include Justice Steven's former clerk Sonja West, RonNell Andersen Jones, William Lee, Amy Gajda, Amy Kristin Sanders, Lili Levi, Paul Horwitz, and Rodney Smolla, and Hillel Levin will be moderating at least one of the panels.
I will be participating on the "new media" panel, discussing my paper-in-progress, "The Press and Constitutional Self-Help, Then and Now," a synopsis of which is below.
Once upon a time, the U.S. Supreme Court routinely decided press cases, but that period of time came to an end about twenty years ago. The Court’s disinclination to decide press cases kicked in just as the Internet began eroding the press’ traditional role as gatekeeper and translator of news and information and threatening the financial viability of traditional media. As we near the fiftieth anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan, it is striking how few landmark press cases have been decided since the Internet, and now social media, have entered the scene.
The Supreme Court decided the vast majority of its landmark press cases between 1964 and 1984, in what we media lawyers might now look back on as the “Golden Age” of press cases. These cases contain some of the Court’s loftiest rhetoric about the special role the press plays in our democracy. Yet these same cases recognize only negative press freedoms; they protect only freedom from government intrusions such as prior restraints or compelled publication but refuse to interpret the First Amendment to provide the press with “special” access to governmental information or institutions not available to other citizens or special exemptions from generally applicable laws that interfere with newsgathering. The Court’s refusal to recognize affirmative press rights during this period arguably suggests that the Court was merely paying lip service to the notion that the press plays a special role in democracy, for it seems intuitive that a “special role” should come with “special rights.”
I contend, however, that the Supreme Court that decided the press cases of the Golden Age was committed to a special constitutional role for the press but envisioned the press (or, more aptly, the media) as a true Fourth Estate—an unofficial branch of government capable of checking the other three by using its own powerful resources to safeguard its ability to play its special role. The Court assumed that, in most instances, the media could use its own political and economic power to gain access to government information, protect confidential source relationships, and fight overreaching by the executive or legislative branches. In other words, the Court assumed that the media could engage in “constitutional self-help” to play their role. But this theory of constitutional self-help depends on a number of assumptions about the media that were largely true in the 1970s but may not be today. Media that are economically and politically powerful, popular with the public, and united in pursuit of common goals may indeed be able to fight off threats to their ability to play a special role in our democracy, especially when government officials depend on the media to carry government messages to the public. In light of recent developments, however, it is fair to question the ability of new media to use constitutional self-help to access government information or protect confidential sources, for reasons I will explore further in my talk (and my paper). Fundamental shifts in the balance of power between today’s Fourth Estate and the three official branches may signal a need to reexamine the assumptions underlying the press cases of the Golden Age.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Libel Law, Linking, and "Scam"
Although I'm a little late to the party in writing about Redmond v. Gawker Media, I thought I'd highlight it here because, though lamentably unpublished , the decision has interesting implications for online libel cases, even though the court that decided it seems to have misunderstood the Supreme Court's decision in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal.
Redmond involved claims against "new media" company Gawker Media based on an article on its tech blog Gizmodo titled Smoke and Mirrors: The Greatest Scam in Tech. The article criticized a new tech "startup," calling it " just the latest in a string of seemingly failed tech startups that spans back about two decades, all conceived, helmed and seemingly driven into the ground by one man: Scott Redmond." The article further suggested that Redmond, the CEO of the new company, used “technobabble” to promote products that were not “technologically feasible” and that his “ventures rarely—if ever—work.” In other words, the article implied, and the title of the blog post stated explicitly, that Redmond’s business model was a “scam.” Redmond complained to Gizmodo in a lengthy and detailed email, and Gizmodo posted Redmond's email on the site. Regardless, Redmond sued Gawker and the authors of the post for libel and false light. Defendants filed a motion to strike under Califonia’s anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court granted the motion, and the California appellate court affirmed.
Unsurprisingly, the appellate court found that the Gizmodo article concerned an “issue of public interest,” as defined by the anti-SLAPP statute, because Redmond actively sought publicity for his company. The court described “the Gizmodo article [as] a warning to a segment of the public—consumers and investors in the tech company—that [Redmond's] claims about his latest technology were not credible.” This part of the decision is entirely non-controversial, and the court's interpretation of "public interest" is consistent with the goal of anti-SLAPP laws to prevent libel suits from being used to chill speech on matters of significant public interest.
More controversial is the court's determination that Gizmodo's use of the term “scam” was not defamatory (and thus Redmond could not show a probability of prevailing). The court noted that “’scam’ means different things to different people and is used to describe a wide range of conduct;” while the court's assertion is correct, surely at least one of the "different things" that "scam" can mean is defamatory. [For a similar statement, see McCabe v. Rattiner, 814 F.2d 839, 842 (1st Cir. 1987) ]. While the term "scam" is usually hyberbole or name-calling, in some contexts the term acts as an accusation of criminal fraud, especially when accompanied by assertions of deliberate deception for personal gain. However, the court found that "scam" was not defamatory as used in the Gizmodo article, relying heavily on the fact that the authors gave links to “evidence” about the fates of Redmond's prior companies and his method of marketing his new one. The court concluded that the statement that Redmond's company was a “scam” was “incapable of being proven true or false.”
It is clear that the court's categorization of the statements about Redmond as “opinion rather than fact” relied on online context--both the conventions of the blog and its linguistic style. The court asserted that the article contained only statements of opinion because it was “completely transparent,” revealing all the “sources upon which the authors rel[ied] for their conclusions” and containing “active links to many of the original sources.” Technology-enabled transparency, according to the court, “put [readers] in a position to draw their own conclusions about [the CEO] and his ventures.” The court also stressed the blog's “casual first-person style." The authors of the article, according to the court, made “little pretense of objectivity,” thereby putting “reasonable reader[s]” on notice that they were reading “subjective opinions.”
As attractive as this reasoning is, especially to free speech advocates and technophiles, one should read the Redmond decision with caution because it almost certainly overgeneralizes about the types of "opinion" that are constitutionally protected. The Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal clearly and forcefully indicates that a statement is not constitutionally protected simply because a reader would understand it to reflect the author's subjective point of view. Instead, the Milkovich Court held that a purported "opinion" can harm reputation just as much as explicit factual assertions, at least when it implies the existence of defamatory objective facts. Hence, the Court declared that the statement "In my opinion Jones is a liar" can be just as damaging to the reputation of Jones as the statement "Jones is a liar," because readers may assume unstated defamatory facts underlie the supposedly "subjective" opinion. Moreover, even if the author states the underlying facts on which the conclusion is based, the statement can still be defamatory if the underlying facts are incorrect or incomplete, or if the author draws erroneous conclusions from them. The Court therefore rejected the proposition that defamatory statements should be protected as long as it is clear they reflect the authors' point of view, or as long as they accurately state the facts on which they are based. [This analysis is freely borrowed from this article at pp. 924-25, full citations are included there.]
Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on June 18, 2013 at 03:24 PM in Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Lyrissa Lidsky, Torts, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Is a broadcast to everyone private under the Copyright Act?
For the final post in my extended visit here, I want to focus on another example in my series of discussions about formalism vs. policy in copyright. Today’s case is WNET v. Aereo, which allowed continued operation of a creative television streaming service. As I’ll discuss below, the case pretty clearly complies with the statutory scheme, much to the relief of those who believe content is overprotected and that new digital distribution methods should be allowed. This time, the policy opposition is best demonstrated by Judge Chin’s dissent in the case.
In the end, though, the case shows what all of the cases I’ve discussed show: copyright was not really developed with digital content storage and streaming in mind. While some rules fit nicely, others seem like creaky old constructs that can barely hold the weight of the future. The result is a set of highly formalistic rules that lead to services purposely designed inefficiently to either follow or avoid the letter of the law. This problem is not going to get any better with time, though my own guess hope is that the pressure will cause providers to create some better solutions that leave everyone better off.
Here are the basic facts. Aereo runs a system with thousands of dime size antennas. Each of these antennas can capture over-the-air broadcast television, but not cable or satellite signals. OTA signals are “free” – viewers don’t have to pay for access to them the way they do for cable.
Aereo then runs what is essentially a remote digital video recorder for each subscriber. That is, when a user wants to watch or record a program, the Aereo system tunes one of the antennas to the appropriate channel at the appropriate time, saves the resulting TV signal (a show) to disk, and then either streams it to the user over the internet or stores it for the user for later viewing.
Aereo does this for every single subscriber; if 10,000 people want to record a show, then 10,000 antennas store 10,000 copies of the program. Why, you ask, would it do something so ridiculously costly and redundant? Because it’s the law, of course. A prior case, called Cartoon Network stands for this proposition. Here’s the logic: a) a user can use DVRs to store recordings at home (relatively well settled law since the Supreme Court’s decision not to hold VCR makers liable back in 1984); b) a cable operator can store those DVRs at the cable site, because where a customer’s DVR is located does not change the nature of its use, but c) the cable operator must maintain each customer’s choices like a DVR, meaning that the customer chooses what to record, and that a separate copy must be maintained for each customer.
The question in Aereo, then, is whether this basic framework changes if the “cable provider” is now an “antenna farm” provider. There are some differences. The cable subscriber is paying a fee that allows for the rebroadcast of content from the cable operator to the subscriber. Without such a fee/license, such rebroadcast would be infringement. Aereo has no such license, and thus its service could be considered a rebroadcast, which is a no-no. Just ask the folks who tried to rebroadcast NFL games into Canada.
The Aereo Court agreed with the rationale in Cartoon Network, however; the license was not relevant. Instead, the individualized copies were simply not “public” performances. They were private: selected by the user, recorded in the user’s disk quota, and shown in that form only to the user. As the court noted, it was as if the user had a private antenna, DVR, and Slingbox located at Aereo’s facility, and the fact that Aereo owned it and charged for the service was irrelevant.
Judge Chin dissented from the opinion, and took an opposite view, best described using the original dissent’s text:
Aereo's "technology platform" is, however, a sham. The system employs thousands of individual dime-sized antennas, but there is no technologically sound reason to use a multitude of tiny individual antennas rather than one central antenna; indeed, the system is a Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law.
Judge Chin’s dissent goes on to argue that the formalistic reading of the statute fails, and that we should see Aereo’s acts for what they are: a transmission of content to members of the public, which thus constitutes public performance.
This disagreement is a great ending illustration of the cases I’ve blogged about this month. The tension between formalistic statutory reading and policy based glosses is palpable. In my last post, I made clear that I favor following the statute unless convinced otherwise.
But that doesn’t answer the fundamental question, which is: what do we make of all this? Sure, this case was rightly decided. Perhaps now this might lead to the formation of an efficient/licensed broadcast network streaming service that costs users less than Aereo because it is less resource intensive.
I’m not sure the Aereo ruling is the right one in the long run. One of the thorny issues with broadcast television is range. Broadcasters in different markets are not supposed to overlap. Ordinarily, this is no issue because radio waves only travel so far. When a provider sends the broadcast by other means, however, overlap is possible, and the provider keeps the overlap from happening. DirecTV, for example, only allows a broadcast package based on location.
Aereo is not so limited, however. Presumably, one can record broadcast shows from every market. Why should this matter? Imagine the Aereo “Sunday Ticket” package, whereby Aereo records local NFL games from every market and allows subscribers to stream them. Presumably this is completely legal, but something seems off about it. While Aereo’s operation seems fine for a single market, this use is a bit thornier. I’m reasonably certain that Congress will close that loophole if any service actually tries it.
Thus, dealing with what should be clearly legal under the statute is thornier than it appears at first. While I believe that more and cheaper streaming options would be a good thing, I wonder whether the disruption to local broadcast markets is the right way to get there. One thing is clear: copyright law is ill equipped to answer the question.Thanks again to Prawfs for having me, and I'll see you next time around (and in the meantime at madisonian.net).
Monday, April 29, 2013
Why I Decided to Construct a Free Online Casebook Available to Anyone for Civ Pro Using the H20 Platform
One of the nice things about tenure is that it frees you up to to do things you know are good for the world but may not be adequately valued in the tenure process. This summer I will embark on one such project, building a free online casebook for Civ Pro. I will be using the Harvard Berkman Center H20 "hack the casebook" platform. This great platform allows you to create "playlists" of cases and other materials that can be "remixed" by others, added to, etc. The initial goal of the project is to create a completely free H20 platform casebook for each of the firsy year classes, and I have stepped up to do Civ Pro.
Let me tell you a little bit about why I chose to do this because it may encourage others to join this great project or ones like it.
First, like others, I am shocked at how expensive textbooks have become for doctrinal 1L course. I realized that together my casebook and supplement (including the FRCP, major statutesm, etc) would cost my students $243 a piece and thus providing them with free materials would save at least $19,000 among my own students for next year. When multiplied over several years, as well as the possibility that other faculty would adopt this textbook and save their students money, this just seemed like a value creating proposition.In a time when students across the U.S. are struggling with the high price of legal education, I felt I should do what I could here.
Second, most of the materials I teach in my Civ Pro class are major Supreme Court cases (with a few Circuit and state court cases) that could be easily found and edited in public domain format, which the H20 platform makes easy. Just because of the way I teach my own course and the textbook I was using, I was already not assigning many of the notes that followed the cases and I was supplementing the book with additional materials (some written up by myself) so that the value the casebook was offering to my course that could not be found in the public domain was lessened. To be sure, I will still have to replace introductory sections of various parts of the book with my own write-ups as well as do editing of all the versions of the cases I will still use -- no small amount of effort -- but I might have felt differently about undertaking this if my casebook was doing more original work for me in the way I taught my course.
Third (and here I am purposefully not being specific and naming the casebook in question because, for all I know, all Casebooks in the field are similar in this regard): my casebook is more than 1200 pages long. I estimate that I use only about 300-450 of those pages in a 4 credit introductory course. It does have a compact addition for shorter courses, but unfortunately what it chooses to keep versus discard is not a good fit for what I use from the book. Before I decided to do the H20 version myself, I called the publisher of my casebook to see if I could "buy by the page" for the pages I actually use, a practice that some textbooks allow you to do. I was told I could not. Given that they have gone to the trouble of creating a "condensed" version I do not blame the authors/publishers, but this was the last straw for me in deciding to go it on my own.
This summer, along with my RAs, will be spent doing a beta version of the free H20 Casebook for Civ Pro that I will test out with my incoming 1Ls in the fall. I am incredibly grateful to Harvard Law School for allowing me to use my time (and RA time) for this project whose value will hopefully be externalized. I am particularly grateful to my dean, Martha Minow, since she is herself the co-author of a Civ Pro textbook (not the one I had been using), so she is basically authorizing the law school to fund a project that may cut into her own sales. She's just that kind of classy person! The beta version will be kept internal to my students for the fall, but if all goes well I hope to share it with the world in 2014 and perhaps others will want to adopt it.
- I. Glenn Cohen
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
On Policy and Plain Meaning in Copyright Law
As noted in my last post, there have been several important copyright decisions in the last couple months. I want to focus on two of them here: Viacom v. YouTube and UMG v. Escape Media. Both relate to the DMCA safe harbors of online providers who receive copyrighted material from their users - Section 512 of the Copyright Act. Their opposing outcomes illustrate the key point I want to make: separating interpretation from policy is hard, and I tend to favor following the statute rather than rewriting it when I don't like the policy outcome. This is not an earthshattering observation - Solum and Chiang make a similar argument in their article on patent claim interpretation. Nevertheless, I think it bears some discussion with respect to the safe harbors.For the uninitiated, 17 U.S.C. 512 states that "service providers" shall not be liable for "infringement of copyright" so long as they meet some hurdles. A primary safe harbor is in 512(c), which provides exempts providers from liability for "storage at the direction of a user of material that resides on a system" of the service provider.
To qualify, the provider must not know that the material is infringing, must not be aware of facts and circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent, and must remove the material if it obtains this knowledge or becomes aware of the facts or circumstances. Further, if the copyright owner sends notice to the provider, the provider loses protection if it does not remove the material. Finally, the provider might be liable if it has the right and ability to control the user activity, and obtains a direct financial benefit from it.
But even if the provider fails to meet the safe harbor, it might still evade liability. The copyright owner must still prove contributory infringement, and the defendant might have defenses, such as fair use. Of course, all of that litigation is far more costly than a simple safe harbor, so there is a lot of positioning by parties about what does and does not constitute safe activity.
This brings us to our two cases:
Viacom v. YouTube
This is an old case, from back when YouTube was starting. The district court recently issued a ruling once again finding that YouTube is protected by the 512(c) safe harbor. A prior appellate ruling remanded for district court determination of whether Viacom had any evidence that YouTube knew or had reason to know that infringing clips had been posted on the site. Viacom admitted that it had no such evidence, but instead argued that YouTube was "willfully blind" to the fact of such infringement, because its emails talked about leaving other infringing clips on the site - just not any that Viacom was alleging. The court rejected this argument, saying that it was not enough to show willful blindness as to Viacom's particular clips.
The ruling is a sensible, straightforward reading of 512 that favors the service provider.
UMG v. Escape Media
We now turn to UMG v. Escape Media. In a shocking ruling yesterday, the appellate division of the NY Supreme Court (yeah, they kind of name things backward there) held that sound recordings made prior to 1972 were not part of the Section 512 safe harbors. Prior to 1972, such recordings were not protected by federal copyright. Thus, if one copies them, any liability falls under state statute or common law, often referred to as "common law copyright." Thus, service providers could be sued under any applicable state law that protected such sound recordings.
Escape Media argued that immunity for "infringement of copyright" meant common law copyright as well, thus preempting any state law liability if the safe harbors were met.
The court disagreed, ruling that a) "copyright" meant copyright under the act, and b) reading the statute to provide safe harbors for common law copyright would negate Section 301(c), which states that "any rights or remedies under the common law or statutes of any State shall not be annulled or limited by this title until February 15, 2067." The court reasoned that the safe harbor is a limitation of the common law, and thus not allowed if not explicit.
If this ruling stands, then the entire notice and takedown scheme that everyone relies on will go away for pre-1972 sound recordings, and providers may potentially be liable under 50 different state laws. Of course, there are still potential defenses under the common law, but doing business just got a whole lot more expensive and risky to provide services. So, while the sky has not fallen, as a friend aptly commented about this case yesterday, it is definitely in a rapidly decaying orbit.
Policy and Plain Maining
This leads to the key point I want to make here, about how we read the copyright act and discuss it. Let's start with YouTube. The court faithfully applied the straightforward language of the safe harbors, and let YouTube off the hook. The statute is clear that there is no duty to monitor, and YouTube chose not to monitor, aggressively so.
And, yet, I can't help but think that YouTube did something wrong. Just reading the emails from that time period shows that the executives were playing fast and loose with copyright, leaving material up in order to get viewers. (By they way, maybe they had fair use arguments, but they don't really enter the mix). Indeed, they had a study done that showed a large amount of infringement on the site. I wonder whether anyone at YouTube asked to see the underlying data to see what was infringing so it could be taken down. I doubt it.
I would bet that 95% of my IP academic colleagues would say, so what? YouTube is a good thing, as are online services for user generated content. Thus, we read the statute strictly, and provide the safe harbor.
This brings us to UMG v. Escape Media. Here, there was a colossal screw-up. It is quite likely that no one in Congress thought about pre-1972 sound recordings. As such, the statute was written with the copyright act in mind, and the only reasonable reading of the Section 512 is that it applies to "infringement of copyright" under the Act. I think the plain meaning of the section leads to this conclusion. First, Section 512 refers to many defined terms, such as "copyright owner" which is defined as an owner of one of the exclusive rights under the copyright act. Second, the copyright act never refers to "copyright" to refer to pre-1972 sound recordings that are protected by common law copyright. Third, expanding "copyright" elsewhere in the act to include "common law copyright" would be a disaster. Fourth, state statutes and common laws did not always refer to such protection as "common law copyright," instead covering protection under unfair competition laws. Should those be part of the safe harbor? How would we know if the only word used is copyright?
That said, I think the court's reliance on 301(c) is misplaced; I don't think that a reading of 512 that safe harbored pre-1972 recordings would limit state law. I just don't think that's what the statute says, unfortunately.
Just to be clear, this ruling is a bad thing, a disaster even. I am not convinced that it will increase any liability, but it will surely increase costs and uncertainty. If I had to write the statute differently, I would. I'm sure others would as well.
But the question of the day is whether policy should trump plain meaning when we apply a statute. The ReDigi case and the UMG case both seem to have been written to address statutes who did not foresee the policy implications downstream. Perhaps many might say yes, we should read the statute differently.
I'm pretty sure I disagree. For whatever reason - maybe the computer programmer in me - I have always favored reading the statute as it is and dealing with the bugs through fixes or workarounds. As I've argued with patentable subject matter, the law becomes a mess if you attempt to do otherwise. ReDigi and UMG are examples of bugs. We need to fix or work around them. It irritates me to no end that Congress won't do so, but I have a hard time saying that the statutes should somehow mean something different than they say simply because it would be a better policy if they did. Perhaps that's why I prefer standards to rules - the rules are good, until they aren't.
This is not to say I'm inflexible or unpragmatic. I'm happy to tweak a standard to meet policy needs. I've blogged before about how I think courts have misinterpreted the plain meaning of the CFAA, but I am nevertheless glad that they have done so to reign it in. I'm also often persuaded that my reading of a statute is wrong (or even crazy) even when I initially thought it was clear. I'd be happy for someone to find some argument that fixes the UMG case in a principled way. I know some of my colleagues look to the common law, for example, to solve the ReDigi problem. Maybe there is a common law solution to UMG. But until then, for me at least, plain meaning trumps policy.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Impact of the “Lander Brief” in the Myriad (Gene Patent) Case – and an answer to Justice Alito’s QuestionThe Supreme Court heard oral arguments on April 15 in Association of Molecular Pathology et al. v Myriad, concerning whether human genes are patent-eligible subject matter. The case focused on Myriad’s patents on two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, involved in early-onset breast cancer
Surprisingly, many of the Court’s questions for Myriad’s counsel focused on what Justice Breyer dubbed the “Lander Brief” – an amicus filed on behalf of neither party by one of the country’s leading scientists, Dr. Eric Lander. (Lander was one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project and co-chair’s the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.) [Full Disclosure: I am one of the authors of this brief] Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Alito referred to the brief by name, and several other Justices were clearly influenced by the information in the brief.
I believe that the “Lander brief” was a hot topic of conversation because the Justices realized that it was central to applying the Court’s product-of-nature doctrine to DNA. Importantly, the brief demolished the scientific foundation of the Federal Circuit decision on appeal. The Federal Circuit panel held that human chromosomes are not patent-eligible because they are products of nature, but a majority found that “isolated DNA” fragments of human chromosomes (such as pieces of the breast cancer genes) are patent-eligible. The Federal Circuit’s distinction rested on its assumption that (unlike whole chromosomes) isolated DNA fragments do not themselves occur in nature, but instead only exist by virtue of the hand of man.
The Federal Circuit cited no scientific support for its crucial assumption – neither in the record below, nor in any scientific literature.
Embarrassingly, the Federal Circuit’s assumption turned out to be flat-out wrong. The Lander brief summarized 30 years of scientific literature showing that natural processes in the human body routinely cleave into isolated DNA fragments. Isolated DNA fragments turn out to be abundant outside of cells – including in cell-free blood, urine and stool. They are so common that they can be used for genetic diagnostics of inherited diseases and cancers. In fact, they are so prevalent that several scientific groups have shown that it is possible to determine the entire genome sequence of a fetus based on analyzing the isolated DNA fragments found in a teaspoons-worth of its mother’s blood.
Justice Breyer relentlessly pushed Myriad’s counsel to declare whether he agreed or disagreed with the Lander Brief. When the counsel finally declared that he disagreed, Justice Breyer demanded:
JUSTICE BREYER: Okay. Very well. If you are saying it is wrong, as a matter of science, since neither of us are scientists, I would like you to tell me what I should read that will, from a scientist, tell me that it's wrong.
The only reply that Myriad’s counsel could muster was to point to a declaration that had been filed (by Dr. Mark Kay) in the District Court case in 2009. (In fact, Dr. Kay’s declaration said nothing whatsoever about whether isolated DNA fragments occur in Nature. It concerned how to construe terms in Myriad’s patent.)
A few minutes later, Justice Ginsburg returned to the point:
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Do you concede at least that the decision in the Federal Circuit, that Judge Lourie did make an incorrect assumption, or is the Lander brief inaccurate with respect to that, too? That is, Judge Lourie thought that isolated DNA fragments did not exist in the human body and Dr. Lander says that --
MR. CASTANIAS: No, what -- I think Justice -- Judge Lourie was exactly correct to say that there is nothing in this record that says that isolated DNA fragments of BRCA1 exist in the body. Neither does Dr. Lander's brief, for that matter. And for that matter, those isolated fragments that are discussed in Dr. Lander's brief again are -- are what are known not -- not in any way as isolated DNA, but as pseudogenes. They're typically things that have been killed off or mutated by a virus, but they do not –
Here, Myriad’s counsel proved to be confused. Contrary to Mr. Castanias’s statement, the Lander brief (on page 16) explicitly stated that isolated DNA fragments were found covering the entire BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Also, “pseudogenes” had nothing to do with Lander’s brief; they arose in the ACLU’s brief for Petitioners and in Myriad’s reply. (“Pseudogenes” are sequences in the human genome that occur when RNA is rarely reverse transcribed into DNA; they are relevant to the patentability of cDNA but are unrelated to the patentability of genomic DNA.)
Justice Alito then jumped in, offering the only glimmer of hope for Myriad’s counsel:
JUSTICE ALITO: But isn't this just a question of probability? To get back to your baseball bat example, which at least I -- I can understand better than perhaps some of this biochemistry, I suppose that in, you know, I don't know how many millions of years trees have been around, but in all of that time possibly someplace a branch has fallen off a tree and it's fallen into the ocean and it's been manipulated by the waves, and then something's been washed up on the shore, and what do you know, it's a baseball bat.
In other words, Justice Alito asked whether isolated DNA fragments of the BRCA genes might be freakishly rare. Neither opposing counsel nor the Solicitor General had an opportunity to address Justice Alito’s question, because they had already spoken.
The answer to Justice Alito’s questions turns out to be: VERY common. A typical person contains roughly one billion isolated DNA fragments of the BRCA genes circulating in his or her blood.
The Lander Brief (in footnote 23) cites several papers showing that, in 1 milliliter of blood (1/4000th of total circulation), each nucleotide in the human genome was covered by about 250 fragments on average. In total circulation, this corresponds to about 1 million fragments (= 4000 x 250) covering each individual base. Across the length of the BRCA genes, this translates to about 1 billion fragments.
More explicitly, footnote 25 points to a web site published by Stanford Professor Stephen Quake (the author of one of the studies), in which he specifically reported the coverage of the BRCA genes in the blood stream. Dr. Quake’s data directly showed that a typical person carries roughly 945 million fragments of isolated DNA from the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
I was very happy the Lander brief has got this much attention, since I think that once the Court understands the fundamental mistake made by the Federal Circuit (and apparently Myriad’s counsel), as several of the Justices questions suggested they did at oral argument, the outcome of the case becomes clear. The Court actually can sidestep a number of more difficult questions in patent law (about the precise meaning of the standard under Diamond v. Chakrabarty for when a molecule is “markedly different” than a product of nature), because isolated DNA fragments of the human genome are precisely products of nature themselves.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Solving the Digital Resale Problem
As Bruce Willis's alleged complaints about not being able to leave his vast music collection to his children upon his death illustrate, modern digital media has created difficulties in secondary and resale markets. (I say alleged because the reports were denied. Side note: if news breaks on Daily Mail, be skeptical. And it's sad that Cracked had to inform Americans of this...).
This post describes a recent attempt to create such a market, and proposes potential solutions.
In the good old days, when you wanted to sell your old music, books, or movies, you did just that. You sold your CD, your paperback, or your DVD. This was explicitly legalized in the Copyright Act: 17 USC Section 109 says that: “...the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” As we'll see later, a phonorecord is the material object that holds a sound recording, like a CD or MP3 player.
But we don't live in the good old days. In many ways, we live in the better new days. We can buy music, books, and DVDs over the internet, delivered directly to a playback device, and often to multiple playback devices in the same household. While new format and delivery options are great, they create problems for content developers, because new media formats are easily copied. In the bad sort-of-old days, providers used digital rights management (or DRM) to control how content was distributed. DRM was so poorly implemented that it is now a dirty word, so much so that it was largely abandoned by Apple; it is, however, still used by other services, like Amazon Kindle eBooks. Providers also use contracts to limit distribution - much to Bruce Willis's chagrin. Indeed, Section 109(d) is clear that a contract can opt-out of the disposal right: “[Disposal rights] do not, unless authorized by the copyright owner, extend to any person who has acquired possession of the copy or phonorecord from the copyright owner, by rental, lease, loan, or otherwise, without acquiring ownership of it.”
But DRM is easily avoided if you simply transfer the entire device to the another party. And contracts are not necessarily as broad as people think. For example, I have scoured the iTunes terms of service and I cannot find any limitation on the transfer of a purchased song. There are limitations on apps that make software a license and limit transfers, but the music and video downloads are described as purchases unless they are "rentals," and all of the “use” limitations are actually improvements in that they allow for multiple copies rather than just one. Indeed, the contract makes clear that if Apple kills off cloud storage, you are stuck with your one copy, so you had better not lose it. If someone can point me to a contract term where Apple says you have not “purchased” the music and cannot sell it, I would like to see that.
Enter ReDigi and the lawsuit against it. ReDigi attempted to set up a secondary market for digital works. The plaintiff was Capitol Records, so there was no contract privity, so this is a pure “purchase and disposal” case. A description from the case explains how it worked (in edited form here):
To sell music on ReDigi's website, a user must first download ReDigi's “Media Manager” to his computer. Once installed, Media Manager analyzes the user's computer to build a list of digital music files eligible for sale. A file is eligible only if it was purchased on iTunes or from another ReDigi user; music downloaded from a CD or other file-sharing website is ineligible for sale. After this validation process, Media Manager continually runs on the user's computer and attached devices to ensure that the user has not retained music that has been sold or uploaded for sale. However, Media Manager cannot detect copies stored in other locations. If a copy is detected, Media Manager prompts the user to delete the file. The file is not deleted automatically or involuntarily, though ReDigi's policy is to suspend the accounts of users who refuse to comply.
After the list is built, a user may upload any of his eligible files to ReDigi's “Cloud Locker,” an ethereal moniker for what is, in fact, merely a remote server in Arizona. ReDigi's upload process is a source of contention between the parties. ReDigi asserts that the process involves “migrating” a user's file, packet by packet — “analogous to a train” — from the user's computer to the Cloud Locker so that data does not exist in two places at any one time. Capitol asserts that, semantics aside, ReDigi's upload process “necessarily involves copying” a file from the user's computer to the Cloud Locker. Regardless, at the end of the process, the digital music file is located in the Cloud Locker and not on the user's computer. Moreover, Media Manager deletes any additional copies of the file on the user's computer and connected devices.
Once uploaded, a digital music file undergoes a second analysis to verify eligibility. If ReDigi determines that the file has not been tampered with or offered for sale by another user, the file is stored in the Cloud Locker, and the user is given the option of simply storing and streaming the file for personal use or offering it for sale in ReDigi's marketplace. If a user chooses to sell his digital music file, his access to the file is terminated and transferred to the new owner at the time of purchase. Thereafter, the new owner can store the file in the Cloud Locker, stream it, sell it, or download it to her computer and other devices. No money changes hands in these transactions. Instead, users buy music with credits they either purchased from ReDigi or acquired from other sales. ReDigi credits, once acquired, cannot be exchanged for money. Instead, they can only be used to purchase additional music.
ReDigi claimed that it was protected by 17 USC 109. After all, according to the description, it was transferring the work (the song) from the owner to ReDigi, and then to the new owner. Not so, said the court. As the court notes, Section 109 protects only the disposition of particular copies (phonorecords, really) of the work. And uploading a file and deleting the original is not transferring a phonorecord, because the statute defines a “phonorecord” as the physical medium in which the work exists. Transfer from one phonorecord to another is not the same as transfering a particular phonorecord. So, ReDigi could be a secondary market for iPods filled with songs, but not the songs disembodied from the storage media.
As much as I want the court to be wrong, I think it is right here, at least on the narrow, literal statutory interpretation. The words say what they say. Even the court notes that this is an uncomfortable ruling: “[W]hile technological change may have rendered Section 109(a) unsatisfactory to many contemporary observers and consumers, it has not rendered it ambiguous.”
Once the court finds that transferring the song to ReDigi is an infringing reproduction, it's all downhill, and not in a good way. The court notably finds that there is no fair use. I think it is here that the court gets it wrong. Unlike the analysis of Section 109, the fair use analysis is short, unsophisticated, and devoid of any real factual analysis. I think this is ReDigi's best bet on appeal.
Even despite my misgivings, ReDigi's position is not a slam dunk. After all, how can it truly know that a backup copy has not been made? Or that the file has not been copied to other devices? Or that the file won't simply be downloaded from cloud storage or even iTunes after it has been uploaded to ReDigi.
If ReDigi, which seemed to try to do a good job ensuring no residual copies, cannot form a secondary market, then what hope do we have? We certainly aren't going to get there with the statute we have, unless courts are much more willing to read a fair use into transfers. The real problem is that the statute works fine when the digital work (software, music, whatever) is stored in a single use digital product. When we start separating the “work” from the container, so that containers can hold many different works and one work might be shared on several containers all used by the same owner, all of the historical rules break down.
So, what do we do if we can't get the statute amended? I suspect people will hate my answer: a return to the dreaded DRM. A kinder, gentler, DRM. I think that DRM that allows content providers to recall content at will (or upon business closure) must go -- whether legislatively or regulatorily. It is possible, of course, for sophisticated parties to negtotiate for such use restrictions (for example, access to databases), and to set pricing for differing levels of use based on those negotiations. That's what iTunes does with its "rentals."
But companies should not be allowed to offer content "for sale" if delivery and use is tied to a contract or DRM that renders that content licensed and not in control of buyers. This is simply false advertising that takes advantage of settled expectations of users, and well within the powers of the FTC, I believe.
But DRM can and should be used to limit copying and transferrability. If transferability is allowed, then the DRM can ensure that the old user does not maintain copies. Indeed, if content outlets embraced this model, they might even create their own secondary markets to increase competition in the secondary market. In short, the solution to the problem, I believe, is going to be a technical one, and that might be a good thing for users who can no credibly show that they won't copy.
And DRM is what we are seeing right now. Apparently, ReDigi has reimplemented its service so that iTunes purchases are directly copied to a central location where they stay forever. From there, copies are downloaded to particular user devices pursuant to the iTunes agreement. This way, ReDigi acts as the digital rights manager. When a user sells a song, it ReDigi cuts off access to the song for the selling user, and allows the buying user access without making a new copy of the song on its server. I presume that its media manager also attempts to delete all copies from the sellers devices.
Of course, this might mean that content, or at least transferring it, is a little more expensive than before. But let's not kid ourselves - the good old days weren't that good. You had to buy the whole CD, or maybe a single if one was available, but you could not pick and choose any song on any album. Books are heavy and bulky; you couldn't carry thousands of them around. And DVDs require a DVD player, which has several limitations compared to video files.
DRM may just be the price we pay for convenience and choice. We don't have to pay that price. Indeed, I buy most of my music on CD. And I get to put the songs where I want, and I suppose sell the CD if I want, though I never do. As singles start costing $1.50, it may make sense to buy the whole CD. Alas, these pricing issues are incredibly complex, which may take another post in the future.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Academics Go To Jail – CFAA Edition
Though the Aaron Swartz tragedy has brought some much needed attention to the CFAA, I want to focus on a more recent CFAA event—one that has received much less attention but might actually touch many more people than the case against Swartz.
Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer (whom I will call AA for short) was recently convicted under the CFAA and sentenced to 41 months and $73K restitution. Orin Kerr is representing him before the Third Circuit. I am seriously considering filing an amicus brief on behalf of all academics. In short, this case scares me in a much more personal way than prior discussed in my prior CFAA posts. More after the jump.
Here’s the basic story, as described by Orin Kerr:
When iPads were first released, iPad owners could sign up for Internet access using AT&T. When they signed up, they gave AT&T their e-mail addresses. AT&T decided to configure their webservers to “pre load” those e-mail addresses when it recognized the registered iPads that visited its website. When an iPad owner would visit the AT&T website, the browser would automatically visit a specific URL associated with its own ID number; when that URL was visited, the webserver would open a pop-up window that was preloaded with the e-mail address associated with that iPad. The basic idea was to make it easier for users to log in to AT&T’s website: The user’s e-mail address would automatically appear in the pop-up window, so users only needed to enter in their passwords to access their account. But this practice effectively published the e-mail addresses on the web. You just needed to visit the right publicly-available URL to see a particular user’s e-mail address. Spitler [AA’s alleged co-conspirator] realized this, and he wrote a script to visit AT&T’s website with the different URLs and thereby collect lots of different e-mail addresses of iPad owners. And they ended up collecting a lot of e-mail addresses — around 114,000 different addresses — that they then disclosed to a reporter. Importantly, however, only e-mail addresses were obtained. No names or passwords were obtained, and no accounts were actually accessed.
Let me paraphrase this: AA went to a publicly accessible website, using publicly accessible URLs, and saved the results that AT&T sent back in response to that URL. In other words, AA did what you do every time you load up a web page. The only difference is that AA did it for multiple URLs, using sequential guesses at what those URLs would be. There was no robot.txt file that I’m aware of (this file tells search engines which URLs should not be searched by spiders). There was no user notice or agreement that barred use of the web page in this manner. Note that I’m not saying such things should make the conduct illegal, but only that such things didn’t even exist here. It was just two people loading data from a website. Note that a commenter on my prior post asked this exact same question--whether "link guessing" was illegal--and I was noncommital. I guess now we have our answer.
The government’s indictment makes the activity sound far more nefarious, of course. It claims that AA “impersonated” an iPad. This allegation is a bit odd: the script impersonated an iPad in the same way that you might impersonate a cell phone by loading https://m.facebook.com to load the mobile version of Facebook. Go ahead, try it and you’ll see – Facebook will think you are a cell phone. Should you go to jail?
So, readers might say, what’s the problem here? AA should not have done what he did – he should have known that AT&T did not want him downloading those emails. Yeah, he probably did know that. But consider this: AA did not share the information with the world, as he could have. I am reasonably certain that if his intent was to harm users, we would never know that he did this – he would have obtained the addresses over an encrypted VPN and absconded. Instead, AA shared this flaw with the world. AT&T set up this ridiculously insecure system that allowed random web users to tie Apple IDs to email addresses through ignorance at best or hubris at worst. I don’t know if AA attempted to inform AT&T of the issue, but consider how far you got last time you contacted tech support with a problem on an ISP website. AA got AT&T’s attention, and the problem got fixed with no (known) divulgence of the records.
Before I get to academia, let me add one more point. To the extent that AA should have known AT&T didn’t desire this particular access, the issue is one of degree not of kind. And that is the real problem with the statute. There is nothing in the statute, absolutely nothing, that would help AA know whether he violated the law by testing this URL with one, five, ten, or ten thousand IDs. Here’s one to try: click here for a link to a concert web page deep link using a URL with a numerical code. Surely Ticketmaster can’t object to such deep linking, right? Well, it did, and sued Tickets.com over such behavior. It claimed, among other things, that each and every URL was copyrighted and thus infringed if linked to by another. It lost that argument, but today it could just say that such access was unwanted. For example, maybe Tickemaster doesn’t like me pointing out its ridiculous argument in the tickets.com case, making my link unauthorized. Or maybe I should have known because the Ticketmaster terms of service says that an express condition of my authorization to view the site is that I will not "Link to any portion of the Site other than the URL assigned to the home page of our site." That's right, TicketMaster still thinks deep linking is unauthorized, and I suppose that means I risk criminal prosecution for linking it. Imagine if I actually saved some of the data!
This is where academics come in. Many, many academics scrape. (Don’t stop reading here – I’ll get to non-scrapers below.) First, scraping is a key way to get data from online databases that are not easily downloadable. This includes, for example, scraping of the US Patent & Trademark Office site; although data is now available for mass download, that data is cumbersome, and scraper use is still common. That the PTO is public data does not help matters. In fact, it might make it worse, since “unauthorized” access to government servers might receive enhanced penalties!
Academics (and non-academics) in other disciplines scrape websites for research as well. How are these academics to know that such scraping is disallowed? What if there is no agreement barring them from doing so? What if there is a web-wrap notice as broad as Ticketmaster's, purporting to bar such activities but with no consent by the user? The CFAA could send any academic to jail for ignoring such warnings—or worse—not seeing them in the first place. Such a prosecution would be preposterous, skeptics might say. I hope the skeptics are right, but I'm not hopeful. Though I can't find the original source, I recall Orin Kerr recounting how his prosecutor colleagues said the same thing 10 years ago when he argued the CFAA might apply to those who breach contracts, and now such prosecutions are commonplace.
Finally, non-scrapers are surely safe, right? Maybe it depends on if they use Zotero. Thousands of people use it. How does Zotero get information about publications when the web site does not provide standardized citation data? You guessed it: a scraper. Indeed, a primary reason I don’t use Zotero is that the Lexis and Westlaw scrapers don’t work. But the PubMed importer scrapes. What if PubMed decide that it considered scraping of information unauthorized? Surely people should know this, right? If it wanted people to have this data, they would provide it in Zotero readable format. The fact that the information on those pages is publicly available is irrelevant; the statute makes no distinction. And if one does a lot of research, for example, checking 20 documents, downloading each, and scraping each page, the difference from AA is in degree only, not in kind.
The irony of this case is that the core conviction is only tangentially a problem with the statute (there are some ancillary issues that are a problem with the statute). “Unauthorized access” and even “exceeds authorized access” should never have been interpreted to apply to publicly accessible data on publicly accessible web sites. Since they have, then I am convinced that the statute is impermissibly broad, and must be struck down. At the very least it must be rewritten.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
The iPhone, not the eye, is the window into the soul
It is great to be back at Prawfsblawg this year. Thanks to Dan and the gang for having me back. For my first post this month, I wanted to point everyone to the most important privacy research of 2012. The same paper qualifies as the most ignored privacy research of 2012, at least within legal circles. It is a short paper that everyone should read.
The paper in question,Mining Large Scale Smart-Phone Data for Personality Studies, is by Gokul Chittaranjan, Jan Blom, and Daniel Gatica-Perez. Chittaranjan and co-authors brilliantly show that it is straightforward to mine data from smart-phones in an automated way so as to identify particular "Five Factor" personality types in a large population of users. They did so by administering personality tests to 117 smartphone users, and then following the smartphone activities of those users for seventeen months, identifying the patterns that emerged. The result was that each of the "Big Five" personality dimensions was associated with particular patterns of phone usage. For example, extraverts communicated with more people and spent more time on the phone, highly conscientious people sent more email messages from their smartphones, and users of non-standard ring-tones tended to be those who psychologists would categorize as open to new experiences.
There is a voluminous psychology literature linking scores on particular Big Five factors to observed behavior in the real world, like voting, excelling in workplaces, and charitable giving. Some of the literature is discussed in much more detail here. But the Chittaranjan et al. study provides a powerful indication of precisely why data-mining can be so powerful. Data mining concerning individuals' use of machines is picking up personality traits, and personality predicts future behavior.
The regularities observed via the analysis of Big Data demonstrate that you can aggregate something seemingly banal like smartphone data to administer surreptitious personality tests to very large numbers of people. Indeed, it is plausible that studying observed behavior from smartphones is a more reliable way of identifying particular personality traits than existing personality tests themselves. After all, it is basically costless for an individual to give false answers to a personality questionnaire. It is costly for an extravert to stop calling friends.
Privacy law has focused its attention on protecting the contents of communications or the identities of the people with whom an individual is communicating. The new research suggests that -- to the extent that individuals have a privacy interest in the nature of their personalities -- an enormous gap exists in the present privacy framework, and cell phone providers and manufacturers are sitting on (or perhaps already using) an information gold mine.
It's very unlikely that the phenomenon that Chittaranjan et al. identify is limited to phones. I expect that similar patterns could be identified from analyzing peoples' use of their computers, their automobiles, and their television sets. The Chittaranjan et al. study is a fascinating, tantalizing, and perhaps horrifying early peek at life in a Big Data world.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Software Patents and the Smartphone
I will be speaking at Santa Clara Law School's outstanding conference about Solutions to the Software Problem tomorrow. It promises to be a great event, with academics, public interest advocates, and government officials all weighing in.
As a lead-in to the conference, I want to discuss an oft repeated statistic: that there are 250,000 patents that might be infringed by any given smartphone. I'm going to assume that number is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. This number, many argue, is a key reason why we must have wholesale reform - no piecemeal action will solve the problem.
Here are my thoughts on the subject:
1. Not all of these patents are in force. Surely, many of them expired due to lack of maintenance fee payments.
2. Not all of the remaining patents are asserted. After all, we don't see every smartphone manufacturer being sued 250,000 times.
3. Many of these patents are related to each other or are otherwise aggregated together. Thus, there are opportunities for global settlements.
4. Even if you think that 250,000 is huge number of patents (and it is, really - there's not disputing that), it is unclear to me why anyone is surprised by the number when you consider what's in a smartphone. More specifically:
- A general purpose computer and all that comes with it (CPU, RAM, I/O interface, operating system, etc.).
- Active matrix display
- Touch screen display
- Cellular voice technology
- 1x data networking
- 3G data networking
- 4G data networking
- Wi-Fi data networking
- Bluetooth data networking
- GPS technology (and associated navigation)
- Accelerometer technology
- Digital camera (including lens and image processing)
- Audio recording and playback
- Battery technology
- Force feedback technology (phone vibration and haptic feedback)
- Design patents
The areas above are by and large "traditional" patent areas - they aren't software for the most part. And there are thousands of patents in each category, before we even get to the potential applications of the smartphone that might be patented (and these are of greater debate, of course).
So, yes, there are many, many patents associated with the smartphone, but what else would you expect when you cram all of these features into a single device? Perhaps smartphones are the focus of the software patent problem because, well, they do everything, and so they might infringe everything. I'm not convinced that this should drive a wholesale reform of the system. Maybe it just means that smartphones are underpriced given what they include. Not that I'm complaining.
Thursday, November 08, 2012
Cease and Desist
For nearly 10 years, scholars, commentators, and disappointed downloaders have criticized the now-abandoned campaign of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to threaten litigation against, and in some cases, sue downloaders of unauthorized music. The criticisms follow two main themes. First, demand letters, which mention of statutory damages up to and including $150,000 per infringed work (if the infringement is willful), often lead to settlements of $2,000 - $3,000. A back of the envelope cost-benefit analysis would suggest this is a reasonable response from the receipient if $150,000 is a credible threat, but for those who conclude that information is free and someone must challenge these cases, the result is frustrating.
Second, it has been argued that the statutory damage itself is unconstitutional, at least as applied to downloaders, because it is completely divorced from any actual harm suffered by the record labels. The constitutional critique has been advanced by scholars like Pam Samuelson and Tara Wheatland, accepted by a district court judge in the Tenenbaum case, dodged on appeal by the First Circuit, but rejected outright by the Eighth Circuit. My intuition is that the Supreme Court would hold that Congress has the authority to craft statutory damages sufficiently high to deter infringement, and that there's sufficient evidence that Congress thought its last increase in statutory damages would accomplish that goal.
We could debate that, but I have something much more controversial in mind. I hope to convince you that the typical $3,000 settlement is the right result, at least in file-sharing cases.
The Copy Culture survey indicates that the majority of respondents who support a penalty support fines for unauthorized downloading of a song or movie. Of those who support fines, 32% support a fine of $10 or less, 43% support fines of up to $100, 14% support fines of up to $1,000, 5% support higher fines, 3% think fines should be context sensitive, and 3% are unsure. The average max fine for the top three groups is $209. Let's cut it in half, to $100, because roughly half of survey respondents were opposed to any penalty.
How big is the typical library of "illegally" downloaded files? 10 songs? 100 songs? 1,000? The Copy Culture study reports the following from survey respondents who own digital files, by age group:
18-29: 406 files downloaded for free
30-49: 130 files downloaded for free
50-64: 60 files downloaded for free
65+: 51 files downloaded for free
In the two cases that the RIAA actually took to trial, the labels argued that the defendants had each downloaded over 1,000 songs, but sued over 30 downloads in one case, and 24 downloads in the other. As I see it, if you're downloading enough to catch a cease and desist letter, chances are good that you've got at least 30 "hot" files on your hard drive.
You can see where I'm going here. If the average target of a cease and desist letter has 30 unauthorized files, and public consensus centers around $100 per unauthorized file, then a settlement offer of $3,000 is just about right.
Four caveats. First, maybe the Copy Culture survey is not representative of public opinion and that number should be far lower than $100. Second, misfires happen with cease and desist letters: sometimes, individuals are mistargeted. One off-the-cuff response is to have the RIAA pay $3,000 to every non-computer user and the estate of every dead grandman who gets one of these letters.
Third, this doesn't take fair use into account, and thus might not be a fair proxy for many other cases. For example, the Righthaven litigation seems entirely different to me - reproducing a news story online seems different than illegally downloading a song instead of paying $1, in part because the news story is closer to copyright's idea line, where more of the content is likely unprotectable, and because the redistribution of news is more likely to be fair use.
Fourth, it doesn't really deal with the potentially unconstitutional / arguably stupid possibility that some college student could be ordered to pay $150,000 per download, if a jury determines he downloaded willfully. I'd actually be happy with a rule that tells the record labels they can only threaten a maximum damage award equal to the average from the four jury determinations in the Tenenbaum and Thomas-Rasset cases. That's still $43,562.50 per song. Round it down to the non-willful statutory cap, $30,000, and I still think that a $3,000 settlement is just about perfect.
Now tell me why I'm crazy.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Copyright's Serenity Prayer
I recently discovered an article by Carissa Hessick, where she argues that the relative ease of tracking child pornography online may lead legislators and law enforcement to err in two ways. First, law enforcement may pursue the more easily detected possession of child pornography at the expense of pursuing actual abuse, which often happens in secret and is diffcult to detect. Second, legislators may be swayed to think that catching child porn possessors is as good as catching abusers, because the former either have abused, or will abuse in the future. Thus, sentences for possession often mirror sentences for abuse, and we see a potential perversion of the structure of enforcement that gives a false sense of security about how much we are doing to combat the problem.
With the caveat that I know preventing child abuse is muchmuch more important that preventing copyright infringement, I think the ease of detecting unauthorized Internet music traffic may also have troubling perverse effects.
When I was a young man, copying my uncle's LP collection so I could take home a library of David Bowie casette tapes, there was no way Bowie or his record label would ever know. The same is true today, even though they now make turntables that will plug right into my computer and give me digital files that any self-respecting hipster would still disdain, but at least require me to flip a vinyl disc as my cost of copying.
On the other hand, it's much easier to trace free-riding that occurs online. That was part of what lead to the record industry's highly unpopular campaign against individual infringers. Once you can locate the individual infringer, you can pursue infringment that used to be "under the radar." The centralized, searchable nature of the Internet also made plausible Righthaven's disastrous campaign against websites copying news stories, and the attempt by attorney Blake Field to catch Google infringing his copyright in posted material by crawling his website with automated data gathering programs.
What if copyright owners are chasing the wrong harm? For example, one leaked RIAA study suggests that while a noticeable chunk of copyright infringement occurs via p2p sharing, it's not the largest chunk. While the RIAA noted that in 2011, 6% of unauthorized sharing (4% of total consumption) happens in locker services like Megauploads, and 23% (15%) happens via p2p, 42% (27%) of unauthorized acquisition is done by burning and ripping CDs from others, and another 29% (19%) happens through face-to-face hard drive trading. Offline file sharing is apparently more prevalent than the online variety, but it is much more difficult to chase. So it may be that copyright holders chase the infringement they can find, rather than the infringement that most severely affects the bottom line.
In a way, leaning on the infringement they can detect is reminiscent of the oft-repeated "Serenity Prayer," modified here for your contemplation:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the infringement I cannot find,
The courage to crush the infringement I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
All this brings me back to the friends and family question. The study on Copy Culture in the U.S. reports that roughly 80% of the adults owning music files think it's okay to share with family, and 60% think it's okay to share with friends. In addition, the Copyright Act specifically insulates friends and family sharing in the context of performing or displaying copyrighted works to family and close friends in a private home (17 USC s. 101, "publicly"). Thus, there is some danger in going after that friends and family sharing. If the family and friends line is the right line, can we at least feel more comfortable that someone to whom I'm willing to grant physical access to my CD library is a "real" friend than my collection of Facebook friends and acquaintances, some of whom will never get their hands on my vinyl phonograph of Blues and Roots?
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The New Normal
Two news items from across the pond highlight the adaptability of musicians, but also a highlight a shift from music as a good to music as an experience, necessitated by the ubiquity of file sharing.
+, the debut album by British singer and producer Ed Sheeran, has apparently been downloaded illegally more than any album in the U.K this year. Sheeran is sanguine about the whole thing, gushing on Twitter about purchasers and free-riders alike, because he concludes that both types of fans are buying tickets, and as Sheeran puts it, "I'm still selling albums, but I'm selling tickets at the same time. My gig tickets are like £18, and my albums £8, so ... it's all relative."
Venerable British pop stars Squeeze are also moving to a more DIY, performance-based financial model this year. Fans who attend concerts can choose to purchase a download of the show at a "pop-up" shop after each performance, and meet the band as well. To date, this is the only way for fans to get their hands on Squeeze's first new songs in 14 years...at least until they are posted online. Squeeze founder Glenn Tillbrook is also excited about this brave new world. Tillbrook states, "I love the opportunities and surprises thrown up by the digital age and the fading away of the major labels. Being able to innovate and take control of our own destiny is something I could only have dreamt of back then." And for bands like Squeeze, the old label-centric business model may well have passed them by. As Tillbrook notes, “With the traditional record label no longer relevant for us, our relationship with the merchandisers is increasingly important in order to help us deliver quality products for our fans.”
As I postulated a few months ago, with regard to comic books offered online, I can't help but wonder whether the end result will be less professionally crafted music because the system will support fewer professional craftspeople, or whether we'll just get more artists who are more comfortable with a DIY esthetic, and fewer that rely on big machinery or well-placed intermediaries to make things happen.
It may be that the most important thing a new artist can do is leverage networks and relationships. Here's an example: I'm a huge Josh Ritter fan. Chris Thile's band, Punch Brothers, recently covered a Ritter song, and offered a free download of it for fans that purchased the new Punch Brothers EP. How did I find out? I follow Ritter on Twitter, and he let me know. I wouldn't have otherwise purchased the Punch Brothers EP, but was excited about this opportunity. Once upon a time, you could rely on certain labels for a certain aesthetic in its recorded offerings. Relationships between artists might in the future do some of that same work.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
A Reminder to Hiring Committees: Don't Google The Candidates?
Here's some advice to hiring committee members travelling to the AALS conference: While it may be natural to search the internet for additional information about candidates for faculty positions, how you use the information you find may subject your university to legal liability. Here are two cautionary tales involving university hiring to keep in mind.
Cautionary tale number one illustrates that the refusal to hire an employee based on information gleaned from social media can sometimes give rise to a discrimination claim under Title VII. Two years ago, the University of Kentucky faced a Title VII lawsuit brought by a rejected job applicant who claimed that the University refused to hire him based on information about his religious views found by the hiring committee during an Internet search. Gaskell v. University of Ky., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124572 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 23, 2010). Evidence in the case indicated that the chair of the department conducting the search asked the candidate about his religious beliefs, which the chairman had "personally" researched on the internet. In addition, an email from a staff member to hiring committee members during the process noted: "Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with, but potentially evangelical." The case settled for $125,000 after a judge denied cross-motions for summary judgment.
Cautionary tale number two illustates that discrimination against hiring candidates on the basis of their political beliefs can subject state universities to liability for constitutional torts. This tale involves the University of Iowa's College of Law and the hiring of a legal writing instructor. In Wagner v. Jones, Teresa Wagner alleged that the College of Law refused to hire her because of her conservative political beliefs, and she sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The trial court granted summary judgment to the college, but a panel of Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
The Eighth Circuit determined that Wagner had made a sufficient claim of political discrimination to get to a jury. The court applied the following test (drawn from the Supreme Court's decision in Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle):
A plaintiff alleging First Amendment retaliation must first make a prima facie showing that (1) she engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in theemployer’s decision to take the adverse employment action. If a plaintiff makes this prima facie showing, then “a presumption of retaliation arises and the burden shifts to the defendant to advance a legitimate reason for the employment action.
The court found Wagner had presented evidence from which a jury could conclude that her polticial beliefs were a substantial or motivating factor not to hire her. Specifically, a deposition in the case indicated that the candidate's conservative views may have been discussed at a faculty meeting on her candidacy; there was also evidence that she was advised to hide the fact she'd been offered a job at Ave Maria during the interview process at the College of Law, and a contemporaneous email from an associate dean expressed concern that Wagner's politics could have played a part in the faculty's decision not to hire her. In addition, the court noted (several times!) that only one of the fifty faculty members of the College was a registered Republican at the time Wagner interviewed. There's more to the decision, of course, including full discussion of why the court rejected the argument that the Dean was entitled to qualified immunity. Regardless, the decision should be a reminder to hiring committee members at state schools not to use information found on the internet or anywhere else to discriminate against potential hires in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 29, 2012 at 02:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Employment and Labor Law, First Amendment, Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Life of Law Schools, Lyrissa Lidsky, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Sanchez on Broadband Deregulation and NSA Wiretapping
Thanks to round-the-clock efforts over the last two weeks to get a piece out the door this submission season, I have leaped into the running for the least-blogging-Prawfsblawg-guest-blogger ever. Fortunately, the piece is out the door to journals as of today (into, um, the teeth of an unraveling market.)
So, to blogging… My one-time housemate Julian Sanchez has an interesting post over at Cato’s blog speculating on the back history of the NSA surveillance program. He writes:
One of the great mysteries of recent national security surveillance policy is exactly why the controversial FISA Amendments Act of 2008 was necessary . . . . [I]n early 2007 . . . then–House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) publicly declared that a secret ruling by the (normally highly deferential) Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had found a problem with a National Security Agency surveillance program . . . . Most of us at the time assumed that the issue had to do with the greatly increased breadth of the surveillance NSA was trying to conduct—but flipping through the latest edition of David Kris and Douglas Wilson’s invaluable National Security Investigations and Prosecutions, I’ve just realized there’s another possibility that fits the public facts extremely well.
The possibility, he explains in a detailed post, is broadband deregulation. Interesting stuff!
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Free Speech Rights in Social Media for College Students: Tatro v. U. of Minn.
I've been working on putting together a comprehensive list of social media cases with a First Amendment angle, and I recently came across the fascinating case of Tatro v. University of Minnesota, 816 N.W.2d 509 (Mn. 2012), which the Minnesota Suprem Court decided at the end of June. In case you missed reading this case in June, as I did, here's a summary.
The University of Minnesota sanctioned Tatro, a junior in its mortuary science program, by giving her a failing grade in her anatomy lab and forcing her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation because she posted “violent fantasy” (pretty tame stuff, really) and “satiric” comments about her human cadaver on Facebook. Posting or "blogging" about her cadaver violated the University’s “Anatomy Bequest Program” policies, the Mortuary Science Student Code of Professional Conduct, and the rules of her anatomy course. She appealed the University’s imposition of sanctions on her speech through a writ of certiorari. The Minnesota court of appeals affirmed the constitutionality of the sanctions, and the Minnesota Supreme Court granted further review and also affirmed, basing its decision on the unique nature of the professional program in which the student was enrolled.
The Minnesota Supreme Court treated the case as one of first impression, noting that the constitutional standard governing “a university’s imposition of disciplinary sanctions for a student’s Facebook posts that violate[ ] academic program rules” is “unsettled.” Although the court of appeals had resolved the case by applying Tinker v. Des Moines Inc. Comm. Sch., the Minnesota Supreme Court held this standard to be inappropriate because Tatro was disciplined not for the disruptiveness of her post but for its lack of “respect, discretion, and confidentiality in connection with work on human cadavers.” The Court instead determined that the appropriate standard was whether the university had “impose[d] sanctions for Facebook posts that violate academic program rules that are narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards.” (The Court did not cite any particular Supreme Court precedent as the basis for this standard). Applying this new standard, the Court concluded “that dignity and respect for the human cadaver constitutes an established professional conduct standard for mortuary science professionals.” Having previously noted that the asserted purpose of the University’s rules was to “educate students” about their ethical duties in the funeral service profession and “maintain the viability of the Anatomy Bequest Program,” the Court found the academic program rules to be narrowly tailored even though they completely barred (!) blogging about cadaver dissection or the anatomy lab. Tatro clearly violated these rules by giving her a “cadaver a name derived from a comedy film” and engaging in “widespread dissemination” of her comments, first through Facebook and later through the news media. Consequently, punishing her for violating them did not abridge her First Amendment rights.
This case raises some interesting issues, which I'd explore in more detail if I weren't staring down the barrel of multiple deadlines. Some obvious questions raised are as follows: Is a standard proscribing "disrespect" unconstitutionally vague? How can a complete ban be narrowly tailored? (Can't help thinking of Atul Gawande's writing in this context.) Why doesn't ordering a psychiatric evaluation for "unprofessional" speech violate the First Amendment? (The Court didn't address whether the speech constituted a "true threat.")
As a media law professor, I noted with interest that my fellow media law professor Raleigh H. Levine, from William Mitchell College of Law, was an amicus in the case for the ACLU, along with Teresa Nelson.
Friday, August 03, 2012
The Ethics of Practice in the Cloud
Some helpful tips here from the ABA Annual Meeting on this cutting-edge practice issue. I had looked forward to improved mobile access to my work documents in Apple's iCloud service, including my federal appeals, after I upgraded to the Mountain Lion OS. But according to this piece, I may need to consider another cloud service option. Maybe I shouldn't uninstall Dropbox just yet. Time to research the cloud a little more closely!