Category: Articles and Books

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The Cultural Construction of the Bicycle

Before automobiles first appeared in urban spaces, parents regularly sent children outside to play in the street. Today, noone would hesitate to label any parent who did that as reckless. The cultural distance between then and now is substantial. Readers interested in its course should check out Peter Norton’s excellent, and consistently surprising, Fighting Traffic.

I am regular bike commuter in New York City, along with an increasing number of other people. Bikes, under the law, are supposed to follow the same rules of the road as motor vehicles. But many cyclists, here in New York at any rate, don’t. They slow rather than stop at red lights and stop signs. They weave around pedestrians in crosswalks. They go the wrong way on one way streets. It’s a great case study of why people obey the law: we cyclists break these rules because they seem so manifestly unsuited to our circumstances. I yield rather than stop for some red lights and some pedestrians, when it seems clearly safe to do so (although I draw my personal line at salmoning upstream in a one-way zone). But I would never in a million years blow through a red light when driving a car. Even in the middle of the night, even if  nobody is coming and I know nobody is coming, I sit there patiently in the empty intersection until the light turns green.

Can the law take the lead in developing rules that make enough sense for biking for transport that cyclists would obey them? Or must we await, as we did in the case of automobiles, a new cultural construction of bicycling? (As Norton demonstrates, a lot of people died in “accidents” while the new construction of the car was emerging.) Is the wait worth it if that new construction would be optimized by what my colleagues Sonia Katyal and Eduardo Peñalver might call bicyclists’ productive disobedience? Notwithstanding my wish for a more top-down approach, it seems that  lawyers and regulators have given more thought how to optimize traffic rules for driverless cars than for bicycles.

I was in London two weeks ago giving a paper, where the bike share system has made urban cycling even more ubiquitous than it is in New York. A few days’ observation found, just as in New York, cyclists ignoring red lights and going the wrong way on one way streets.  But I didn’t see one instance in London of two cyclist behaviors I see regularly here:  failing to stop for pedestrians and riding on the sidewalk.  London cyclists’ disobedience seems more productive than New Yorkers’.

17

Is Forensics Law?

I’ve blogged on these pages before about the claim, popularized by Larry Lessig, that “code is law.”  During the Concurring Opinions symposium on Jonathan Zittrain’s 2010 book The Future of The Internet (And How To Stop It), I cataloged the senses in which architecture or “code” is said to constitute a form of regulation.  “Primary” architecture refers to altering a physical or digital environment to stop conduct before it happens.  Speed bumps are a classic example.  “Secondary” architecture instead alters an environment in order to make conduct harder to get away with—for instance, by installing a traffic light camera or forcing a communications network to build an entry point for law enforcement. Read More

1

The Disclosure Crisis

Thank you to Danielle for the lovely (re)introduction and to Concurring Opinions for inviting me to blog this month.

The Washington Law Review hosted a symposium Thursday entitled “The Disclosure Crisis,” which covered everything from privacy policies to restaurant hygiene grades. The gist of the conference, on my view, was that the only thing piling up faster than examples of mandated disclosure as a regulatory strategy is the evidence it does not work. Time and time again, officials choose to intervene in a given area by requiring companies and others to reveal information so that individuals can protect themselves and police the market. And time and time again, disclosure ends up helping few if any consumers or citizens actually make better decisions.

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0

New Edition of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

It is a pleasure to announce the coming publication of a new edition of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, expected to be available around March 8.  Along with the vintage content from previous editions that has made this collection a long seller, I am adding essays from Buffett’s annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders since 2008, the date of the prior edition. New material addresses:

●the financial crisis and its continuing implications for investors, managers and society

●the housing bubble at the bottom of that crisis

●the debt and derivatives excesses that fueled the crisis and how to deal with them

●controlling risk and protecting reputation in corporate governance

●Berkshire’s acquisition and operation of Burlington Northern Santa Fe

●the role of oversight in heavily regulated industries

● investment possibilities today

●weaknesses of popular option valuation models

Some other material has been rearranged to deepen the themes and lessons that the collection has always produced:

● Buffett’s “owner-related business principles” are in the prologue as a separate subject

● valuation and accounting topics are spread over four instead of two sections and reordered to sharpen their payoff.

Those who are familiar with The Essays will notice from the accompanying image that we have made the cover snappier than has been our custom.  (Thanks for the cover design to Tim Colton, of Carolina Academic Press, which will continue to partner with me in the distribution of the book.) The main reason: the book’s traditional covers could be seen well in physical form but pictures of them, shown on the internet, could not. Since most sales are done over the internet these days, the cover needed a face lift.  

The adage remains, however, that one should not judge a book by its cover.  This book should continue to be judged on its content and organization, in which a distinctive investment and business philosophy is coherently articulated.  

Thanks to the many fans of the book, first published in 1997.  I hope you enjoy the updated edition.   And I hope to see many of you in Omaha for the Berkshire shareholders’ meeting in May. 

15

Harvard Law Review Symposium on Privacy & Technology

This Friday, November 9th, I will be introducing and participating in the Harvard Law Review’s symposium on privacy and technology.  The symposium is open to the public, and is from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM at Harvard Law School (Langdell South).

I have posted a draft of my symposium essay on SSRN, where it can be downloaded for free.  The essay will be published in the Harvard Law Review in 2013.  My essay is entitled Privacy Self-Management and the Consent Paradox, and I discuss what I call the “privacy self-management model,” which is the current regulatory approach for protecting privacy — the law provides people with a set of rights to enable them to decide for themselves about how to weigh the costs and benefits of the collection, use, or disclosure of their data. I demonstrate how this model fails to serve as adequate protection of privacy, and I argue that privacy law and policy must confront a confounding paradox with consent.  Currently, consent to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data is often not meaningful, but the most apparent solution — paternalistic measures — even more directly denies people the freedom to make consensual choices about their data.

I welcome your comments on the draft, which will undergo considerable revision in the months to come.  In future posts, I plan to discuss a few points that I raise my essay, so I welcome your comments in these discussions as well.

The line up of the symposium is as follows:

Symposium 2012:
Privacy & Technology

Daniel J. Solove
George Washinton University
“Introduction: Privacy Self-Management and the Consent Paradox”

Jonathan Zittrain
Harvard Law School

Paul Schwartz
Berkeley Law School
“The E.U.-U.S. Privacy Collision”

Lior Strahilevitz
University of Chicago
“A Positive Theory of Privacy”

Julie Cohen
Georgetown University
“What Privacy is For”

Neil Richards
Washington University
“The Harms of Surveillance”

Danielle Citron
University of Maryland

Anita Allen
University of Pennsylvania

Orin Kerr
George Washington University

Alessandro Acquisti
Carnegie Mellon University

Latanya Sweeney
Harvard University

Joel Reidenberg
Fordham University

Paul Ohm
University of Colorado

Tim Wu
Columbia University

Thomas Crocker
University of South Carolina

Danny Weitzner
MIT

4

Brin’s “Existence,” the Fermi Paradox, and the Future of Privacy

I just finished David Brin’s “Existence,” his biggest new novel in years.  Brin, as some readers know, has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for best science fiction writing.  He also wrote the 1999 non-fiction book “The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?”.  More about that in a bit.

Existence is full of big ideas.  A main focus is on the Fermi Paradox, which observes that we would expect to find other forms of life out there among the hundreds of billions of suns, but we haven’t seen evidence of that life yet.  If you haven’t ever thought through the Fermi Paradox, I think it is a Genuine Big Question, and well worth contemplating.  Fortunately for those who like their science mixed with fiction, Brin weaves fifty or so possible answers to the Fermi Paradox into his 550-page novel.  Does climate change kill off other races?  Nuclear annihilation?  Do aliens upload themselves into computers once they get sophisticated (the “singularity”), so we never detect them across the void?  And a lot, lot more.

It took me a little while to get into the book, but I read the last few hundred pages in a rush.  I’ve had the pleasure to know Brin for a bunch of years, and find him personally and intellectually engaging.  I was pleased to read this, because I think it will intrigue curious minds for a long time as our telescopic views of other planets deepen our puzzlement about the Fermi Paradox.

As for privacy, my own view is that the privacy academics didn’t take his 1999 book seriously enough as an intellectual event.  One way to describe Brin’s insight is to say that surveillance in public becomes cheaper and more pervasive over time.  For Brin, having “control” over your face, eye blinks, location, etc., etc. becomes futile and often counter-productive once cameras and other sensors are pervasive and searchable.  Brin picked up on these themes in his earlier novel, “Earth,” when elderly people used video cameras to film would-be muggers, deterring the attacks.  In the new novel, the pervasive use of the 2060 version of Google Glasses means that each person is empowered to see data overlays for any person they meet.  (This part is similar to the novel “Rainbow’s End” by Brin’s friend Vernor Vinge.)

Surveillance in public is a big topic these days.  I’ve worked with CDT and EFF on USvJones.com, which asked law academics to propose doctrine for surveillance in public.  Facial recognition and drones are two of the hot privacy topics of the year, and each are significant steps towards the pervasive sensor world that Brin contemplated in his 1999 book.

So, if you like thinking about Big Ideas in novel form, buy Existence.  And, if you would like to retain the Fair Information Principles in a near future of surveillance in public, consider Brin more carefully  when you imagine how life will and should be in the coming decades.

0

Call for Nominations for Foundational Works in Health Law

The American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, the Section of Law, Medicine & Health Care of AALS, and the American Health Lawyers Association seek nominations of foundational works of scholarship in health law, very broadly defined, published in English before December 31, 2010.  We intend to publish an edited volume in an academic press.

Nominations must be accompanied by a brief description, not to exceed 300 words, of the importance of the scholarly work, addressed to:

Ted Hutchinson, Executive Director

American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics

765 Commonwealth Avenue

Boston, MA 02445

thutchinson@aslme.org

 

The first round of nominations will close on December 31, 2012.

On behalf of the sponsors,

 Kevin Outterson

Boston University School of Law

mko@bu.edu

I. Glenn Cohen

Harvard Law School

igcohen@law.harvard.edu

3

Contracts in the Real World

Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter has been released by Cambridge University Press and is available here (amazon.com) and here (CUP site). We hope that teachers of 1L Contracts will assign it or recommend it next fall and expect student interest to be high. The book reviews classic cases and standard doctrines by applying them to current events.  According to colleagues whose endorsements appear on the jacket:

“In Lawrence Cunningham’s engaging new book, Contracts in the Real World, old chestnuts, the foibles of contemporary celebrities and holes-in-one are delivered with flair and without legalese. The neophyte will be informed by this fun book. I am sure Professor Kingsfield would enjoy it much as I did.”  – Joseph M. Perillo, Fordham

“The stories are fascinating, the issues are important, and the explanations are compelling. Lawrence Cunningham has written a splendid book.”- Steven Lubet, Northwestern

Contracts in the Real World is a fascinating account of how contract disputes are argued and decided, engaging the reader with stories involving celebrity parties or gut-wrenching disputes without losing scholarly sophistication. It is fit for general readers and students of the law, amply demonstrating the common sense that the common law of contracts brings to bear on the battles inevitably arising when promises are broken.” – Donald Langevoort, Georgetown Read More

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Harvard Law Review Symposium on Privacy and Technology: Call for Papers

The Harvard Law Review is hosting a Symposium this November on the topic of Privacy & Technology.  The Law Review is currently accepting abstracts for papers to be considered for publication in the Symposium Issue.  To be considered for publication, please send an abstract of no more than 750 words to HLRsymposium2012@gmail.com by June 15.  Space in the issue is limited and papers will be selected on a rolling basis, so early submission is recommended.  We strongly prefer abstracts for shorter essays that can be executed in fewer than 12,500 words (about 25 law review pages).

The following proposal gives a taste of what kinds of inquiries we are interested in. We are most interested in papers that challenge old concepts and categories and propose new ones that could potentially drive the development of privacy law in the following decades.

Today, we are witnessing astounding new technologies that efficiently gather, use, and analyze massive amounts of data.  These changes have created a set of profound challenges for regulating privacy, as existing regulatory approaches are straining to keep up with rapid technological advances.  The regulatory ideas and frameworks over the past few decades have failed to adequately respond to the constantly shifting technological landscape. Policymakers—among many different stakeholders—recognize that a new direction is needed for privacy law, but there remains much to be resolved about what direction it should head.  Moreover, deep divides have emerged in how different societies regulate privacy despite the increased need for governments and businesses to share information across borders.  These changes present challenges for the core conceptual underpinnings of privacy itself.  We thus stand at a crossroads about how to regulate privacy and even how to think about privacy.  The road forward will require a deep re-imagining of privacy in both theory and practice.

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Frischmann Predicts Prometheus

Thanks so much to Frank, Danielle, and Deven for inviting me to participate in this symposium. It’s a great pleasure to discuss my colleague Brett Frischmann’s timely, engaging, and important book about infrastructure.

I’m going to focus my comments on Frischmann’s theory of intellectual infrastructure and how it relates to the structure of intellectual property law. Just a few days after the release of Infrastructure, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories. That case presented the question whether certain diagnostic claims were within the scope of patentable subject matter under section 101 of the Patent Act. The Court held that they were not, in a manner that is strikingly consistent with Frischmann’s theory. Hence the title of my post. But Frischmann’s theory may also go a long way toward bringing some order to an area of patent law that has long been confused.

Let’s start with the concept of intellectual infrastructure. Frischmann explains that intellectual or cultural resources can be infrastructural in the same manner as physical goods. So long as the resource is a “nonrival input into a wide variety of outputs” (275), it satisfies the characteristics of infrastructure that Frischmann so richly describes. In turn, that suggests that the case for managing the resource as a commons is strong. Frischmann then explains how this concept applies to ideas. Ideas, he writes, often are infrastructure (subject to a number of complications that I’ll put to the side). So in his view, intellectual property should protect implementations of ideas but not the ideas themselves (286). To sort one from the other, Frischmann turns to the concept of abstraction in copyright law and argues that patent law should follow a similar path.

Now consider Prometheus. The inventors in that case discovered a correlation between the effectiveness of a drug and the amount of certain metabolites of that drug in a patient’s blood. Their patent claimed a method of optimizing the dosage of the drug based on that correlation. The method was simple: (1) administer the drug; (2) determine the amount of metabolites in the patient’s blood; (3) make an inference about drug dosage based on the correlation. Doctrinally, the question before the Court was whether this amounted to a claim on a “natural law” – the correlation between drug dosage and metabolism that happens in the human body – which would be unpatentable under a long-standing exception to the scope of patentable subject matter, or a patentable application of that law.

 

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